I have talked to so many parents who don’t go to church regularly because they have small children who can’t “behave” in church. You don’t feel as if you are getting to particiapte in the Mass; you aren’t getting anything out of it, because you are constantly attending, correcting, diverting your toddler (or older child) who won’t sit stil and/or who won’t be quiet. I’ve been there. All parents have been here. My kids are 10 & 8, and can’t behave in church if they are near each other. Sometimes I still wonder, “Why Bother?” If you ignore them, they get worse. If you correct them, you may just be another player in the Great Distraction. When they were smaller, my husband insisted they could not bring books or anything to keep them busy while at Mass. I thought that was inviting trouble to sit down and partake with us, but that’s how we went. I left church angrier than I went in most weekends. Finally, I found a few tricks that helped.
I bought books that explained the Mass for both of them. I also bought some books that had short biographies on the saints. Lots of pictures is important in these selections. View some options here: http://www.catholiccompany.com/Learning-the-Faith-c36/
Since my youngest was about 3 years old when we decided to buck up and go to Mass even if they did create havoc, she couldn’t read and the above books didn’t keep her occupied for very long. I asked my mother and mother-in-law to clean out their drawers of all those holy cards they have received over their lifetimes. I bought two $1 photo albums and filled them up with the prayer cards. which usually have a picture on one side and wording on the back. Some were tri-fold prayer cards, some with medals & 1 or 2 small Chirstmas cards with the Holy Family on the front. So simple, and yet, it worked. They loved taking out the cards, looking at the back, switching them around, putting them back. Busy hands make quite kids! As they got older, the saint books worked the best.
I heard Sean from Morning Air on Relevant Radio share his experience, which was what all of us have suffered through. A priest once told him that just being there is enough. Eventually they get it. You may not have the Mass experience you hoped for, but look around. (Try not to do it longingly) at the couples and individuals, old enough to have adult children, who are sitting alone. Are their children joining them at Mass, with their grandchildren? The church is a family and you are a part of it. Your children are a part of it and we hope they will be coming to Mass for a long time. They are the future of the Church (don’t cringe: we all have to start somewhere.) It’s okay to step out to the cry room or the narthex when your little one has had enough. Come anyway, you still get to hear a part of the readings. Come because you want to receive the Eucharist. Btw, the foks who give you sour looks about your squealing, writhing 2 yr old, smile at them. Make sure you wish them peace when the time comes. If they really wanted a quiet Mass, they would have gone to the 7 AM service. : )