Saturday, April 14, 2012

Behave Yourself

I have about five readers (and I love each and every one of you) but today, I'm soliciting opinions from those of you with older kids.

At what age did your children sit through a church service? Or, perhaps more accurately, at what age were you forcing them to sit through a church service?

Some background: I was raised Catholic, but am now Episcopalian. (That describes half my congregation, actually. I only know a few "cradle Episcopalians"-- most of us are ex-Catholics. Although, as my dad says, being raised Catholic is kind of like being a recovering alcoholic-- you're always Catholic, even if you're not practicing. Heh. Anyway, I digress.)

Our church is small but warm and supportive, and it has an active kids' program. We go to the children's service; it's short, and no one minds noise or activity. Elle is about as far from a shrinking violet as it is possible to get, so we spend most of the service walking around the church. She's quiet and well-behaved, and comes back for communion and part of the pre-communion stuff (she likes the Great Amen, and is a fan of bells), but mostly, we're active. She'll also stand in front of the little low altar (the space is customized for the kids' service) and watch, or dance if there's music.

My parents think "children need to learn to sit still in church." And I agree with that. I also think, however, that an under-two toddler is not likely to sit still yet, and I don't care-- as long as she is quiet, and not disturbing anyone, it doesn't bother me if she wants to walk around.

My mother actually said that she's quite sure that Elle is "bothering the crap" out of everyone at the children's service by her behavior.

Now, I wouldn't allow her to do this at the full-fledged adult service. That's why we don't GO to the full-fledged adult service. There's a nursery, but right now she's in her clingy mama phase so she won't stay there. Our church also has a little side area for kids, with books and soft toys, but she's not really at the age where she has the attention span to stay there for more than a little while, so an hour-long service is just not a great idea right now. I absolutely agree she'd be a problem at that.

But for the 30 minute children's service? Where kids are handing out communion and babies are on the floor?

Opinions, moms, please. (If there's a dad out there, he's welcome to chime in as well.) Do I need to start forcing Elle to sit in my lap? Because I can do it; I'm a stone bitch if I need to be. I just feel like if she's quiet, and not getting in anyone's way, that it's all right. She goes to church every Sunday. She's starting to learn the songs. She knows many of the other kids and parents. We are part of the community there, and she looks at this as part of our life, and she will grow up with this community and this faith woven into her childhood.

Isn't that my priority?

If I'm off-base, please tell me.


Citations said...

You know I am a Curmudgeon in a big, big way. So bear that in mind.

Part of me agrees with your mom, part of me thinks you strike a very nice middle ground between never taking your child to church and being flagrantly unmindful of the people around you who might be trying to pray (in church, of all places).

As I dredge my cobwebbed memories for what I did when mine were that small, it seems to me I mostly didn't take them until they were maybe about 2 and could understand that they had to (a) sit still, and (b) be absolutely quiet; and they were also old enough to understand that (c) it wouldn't be forever. They could suck it up for an hour, and they did. Therefore they could also behave themselves in nice restaurants, and they still reap the benefits of that ability when they come visit. ;)

Sometimes I find myself in a children's service (yes, I go to church, it happens) or it's a holiday with a limited mass schedule and I am forced into close proximity with small, active children. The ones that are silent are so much more tolerable than the noisy ones or (and I really can't believe it) the ones who are having a full meal during the service.

But yeah, they're all distracting when they're moving around. Not everyone at the kids' service necessarily has kids, and even if they do they might hope for a minimum of hubbub so they can commune with their Maker and get a few things off their mind.

I guess I also saw it as a good opportunity to teach the kids self-discipline, respect for their neighbors, awareness of social situations and the behavior appropriate thereto, and the understanding that they really could do almost anything, even being still and silent, for an hour. That's not going to happen with a baby, but it can happen surprisingly early.

More than anything you have to trust your instincts and do what is best for you and your child. It is not in you to be rude or thoughtless, and weaving church into your regular life is absolutely critical, imo, to successfully raising children, and you are the best judge of how to do that.

You asked, so I answered. :)

Miss you!! And I have a present for little miss that I think you will enjoy. I hereby promise to get to the post office before... Mother's Day. Yeah.

J said...

Yeah, she doesn't have any concept of time yet-- she's JUST starting to grasp "first we'll do X, and then we can have Y." When she can really get that, and understand a little more about time, then I can say "If you stay with Mama and are quiet, we can go play after church." Right now, though, there's none of that; it's all immediate.

I am focusing on trying to keep her mobile in the back of the church, rather than walking around up front; at least that's less distracting.

Citations said...

Yep, you'll know when she gets to the point where she can grasp the concept of "for a little while" versus "forever." :)

Pat said...

I guess I'm even more curmudgeonly than Citations.I didn't take my kids to church on a regular basis until at least age 5 for two reasons: I worried about bothering other people, and all their moving around/making noise bugged the crap out of ME! Of course you know our church doesn't really have a children's mass, so dirty looks towards others with small kids were rampant (or maybe it was just my imagination). That said, it sounds like your church does a better job of actually having a children's mass in place. Age 2 is pretty young to sit still that long in church, but if you and others can tolerate it, then go for it.