for release Friday August 22, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Back to Church
We all know September as "back to school" time; no matter if you haven't been in school for 50 years and your kids finished 20 years ago. Maybe we can think of September as "back to church" time too-even if you haven't been there either for a long time. Use now to plan ahead a little.
It is hard to start going to religious services if you have gotten out of the habit. Many young adults get out of the habit during their college years-accompanied by maybe examining and questioning all the beliefs and values they grew up with. Then, they get married and kids come along and if you think crawling out of a college dorm bed by yourself and getting to church by 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning was hard, try getting two adults and two preschoolers and an infant there on time.
A woman wrote to me recently asking for tips on dealing with small children in church and I thought that would be a great idea for a topic. Perhaps children at your church are automatically shuttled off to the nursery, but if you have your children with you for even part of the service, here are some ideas to help having children participate in worship services go smoother. Incidentally, it does help to try getting as much stuff ready the night before as possible, like laying out all their clothes (let them choose their own if they are old enough, and have a rule of no changing their minds in the morning), packing the diaper bag, and collecting any things you need to take for classes or other business. You may also want to lay out everything for breakfast and set the table to save time and stress. When I tried this for several months it went beautifully as long as it lasted.
The Sunday I remember best when I was trying this "lay everything out the night before" plan was when I had everything ready to go on the table, refrigerator or counter for our usual eggs, bacon and rolls breakfast, and we woke up the next day to a blanket of ice covering everything. We were not able to go to church but I certainly enjoyed feeling pampered with having everything almost "done" for us-an unplanned side benefit. Here are specific ideas for services:
1. My first suggestion is probably obvious: bring mess-free snacks like Cheerios or raisins for them to nibble on at the point they get really bored or restless. I was a shameless user of "gum" as a treat to keep my children quiet after they were a bit older. Probably my worst moment in church came one time when I had been invited to speak in a church; my husband and our two children had traveled with me (youngest not born yet). Right at the moment the pastor was introducing me, our kids were arguing over a toy and I was trying to shush them with gum. My husband was telling the two year old that she would be punished if she didn't straighten up. I felt like all the eyes of the congregation were on us. (You always feel that way if your kids are acting up.)
2. Have some toys that are played with only in church. Pack them in your diaper bag or some other special backpack or satchel your children use only at church. My father was famous for the box of "trick dogs" he kept in the pocket of his Sunday suit, and we were always fascinated by the magnetic forces that kept the dogs running from each other or sticking together. He also kept wintergreen candy in his pocket, as his father had.
3. Have special "church" books on biblical stories or topics they can read only at church.
4. Lower your expectations for a peaceful church service. Don't be afraid to assert rules; other worshippers will appreciate you keeping your children in line, but don't worry excessively about occasional noise or even crying. Just remove them promptly from the sanctuary if they make a lot of noise.
5. Don't let siblings sit next to each other if possible (gets tough with more than three kids). Don't generally let them sit with friends (although this practice varies from church to church). I always enjoyed (and still do!) sitting together as a family unit.
6. Use the nursery freely; it is a place where children can feel love and acceptance even if they are "playing." We enjoyed keeping our children in the worship service for longer and longer periods as they got older, and we felt that they should be able to tolerate a full service by the time they went to school.
I hope these ideas are helpful. Carving out worship time as a family is valuable not only for your faith, but for having something you do together as a family. While sending your children to church is good, taking them yourself is better and will mean more to the children.
Do you have any tips you'd like to share on coping with children during religious services? Send to:
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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