Bells rang and incense rose as the priest lifted the Host. I closed my eyes in an attempt to focus. A gentle tap on my shoulder pulled me from my prayer. Again.

I am a mom of four kids six and under, so let’s just say that at Mass, I am not praying blissfully next to my children, whom I’ve successfully launched into Catholic adulthood; I am instead in the trenches, hoping God smiles down on my (futile?) efforts. I know Sundays can feel stressful or downright harrowing, and I have no seasoned wisdom to impart. I hope simply to offer encouragement and some “best practices” that work for my family.

Being There Is What Counts

While the pressures of having behaving and engaged children feel so pressing, here is the truth: Just going to Mass is the most important thing we can do. As parents, we often white-knuckle our way through and worry if we look like the train wrecks we feel we are. But Jesus tells the children—both us and our little ones—to come to Him. Even if the person behind us chooses a new seat or we head to the cry room ten times or our kid is the one that somehow makes it to the sanctuary in the middle of the consecration, Jesus wants us there. And who else are we there for except Him?

As a side note, attending Mass is a good parenting exercise. An otherwise silent Church can be the place where we feel the most pressure to enforce rules and where screens are a no-no. Plus, we grow in humility when disaster inevitably strikes and we walk the aisle with a screaming kid. I say inevitably because if it hasn’t happened yet, it is coming. Offer it up for the souls in purgatory, and try to let it go.

But What About Me? 

I have found recently that, because Mass feels like I’m just going through the motions, I need personal time with Scripture and Jesus in the Eucharist. On Sundays especially, I wake up early and spend time with the readings. I know I am not going to be able to hear a good chunk of them, and what little I hear often doesn’t get the undivided attention it deserves. Plus, when I catch only one minute of the homily, I at least have some context.

And when those post-Communion prayers I once cherished are frequently interrupted, I know I need to find personal time with Jesus in the Eucharist. Holy hours are ideal, but even minutes alone in adoration are gratifying. Of course, personal prayer is no substitute for the Mass, but I am finding in this season that I often need to supplement.

Practical Tips

As far as keeping everyone happy at Mass, here are some tips I have found helpful:

  1. Allow Sundays to be joyful. Ultimately, if we want to raise children who love Jesus and attend Mass, we have to make both church and Sundays in general positive. I’m not advocating for ignoring inappropriate behavior at Mass, but draconian rules or nitpicking will only intensify negative feelings for both us and our kids. The time before and after Mass should be joyful, too. Make fun Sunday traditions (ours is a fancy family brunch after Mass). Enjoy post-service playground time with other families. Allow Sunday to be extra special—a feast day, a family day.
  2. Arrive early, and sit near the front. Ten extra minutes to situate our belongings, set the kids up with an activity, and just pray for God’s grace works wonders. Plus, my kids pay much better attention when they can see what is going on, and I engage them more when I can easily point out what is happening. Yes, the walk to the back is longer, but I find I have to take it less.
  3. So much of the Mass feels out of their reach, so engage little kids as much as possible with the tactile elements. Bless yourselves with Holy Water. Light a prayer candle after Mass. Allow the kids to put the money in the basket.
  4. Be adaptable. The Mass times we attend or what we bring will change based on naps or our season of life. Sometimes, the kids need just one toy; often, we rotate through a small bag of Christian toys. (We use Easter baskets as opportunities to support Christian businesses and buy Mass activities.) Our expectations can and should change.

To Snack or Not to Snack?

Until the Church makes a definitive statement, utilizing snacks at Mass is a personal choice. My husband’s and my philosophy is that snacks are a last-ditch effort but not off the table. Jesus wants our kids in the pew, and with multiple young children, both parents need to be there as much as possible. The cry room tends to be our least favorite place because our children behave like it’s a free-for-all, so we go only for particularly challenging situations. Our current rule is to limit snacks to the littlest kids (the goal being to stop around two years old), to hold the kids off as long as possible during Mass, and to offer the snack one piece at a time (to avoid feeling like they’re having a picnic). But again, what works for us may not align with the discernment of other parents.

Final Thoughts

Those of us attending Mass with littles have to be gentle with ourselves. Even if we leave feeling frustrated, simply going to Mass, despite the challenges it presents, is blessed. If we can be consistent and show how much the Mass means to us, we will hopefully enjoy the fruits of our labor in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, we can just do our best, adjust our routines to accommodate this season of life, and remember that God is a Father who desires to have an up-close-and-personal relationship with His children.