Monday, 11 August 2014

The Toddler-in-church Challenge

"Let us pray."

Those three words have come to strike fear into my heart.

Not because I'm not a Christian. I am. I've been going to church since I was around 17 years old, and I've been attending my current church for nearly 9 years. I like going to church, it keeps me in touch with my spirituality when the demands of life make it hard to do so day to day, and it's nice to be surrounded by people who have broadly the same beliefs as me, if only for an hour or so a week.

No, the reason the phrase, "let us pray," fills me with dread is because that signals a part of the church service where the congregation is quiet. Except now, my toddler is part of the congregation. And she doesn't really do quiet.

Some weeks she does OK - she will happily munch through the box of snacks, or draw with the paper and pen, that we have cannily brought along to entertain her until the offering is taken and I breathe a sigh of relief while taking her out to the 'creche'. (Actually, the creche sometimes just consists of the two of us playing in another room, but at least it's somewhere she can move around and make a noise.)

But other times things don't go so well. The offering isn't taken in it's usual place, meaning I've no idea when to take Eleanor out and end up sat in the pew for longer than she can cope with. Or she's just in a particularly lively mood and doesn't want to be quiet and sit still (and will happily announce that at the top of her voice). At times like that, I don't enjoy church.

It's frustrating. I am very thankful to God for my daughter. And I am thankful for exactly who she is - for her energy, her curiosity, her confidence, her vivacity, her physical agility, the joy she finds in playing pretend and re-imagining stories she's read or seen. But when I'm in church, all of those things I'm thankful for suddenly become challenges. She's noisy, she's fidgety, she climbs on the pews, runs up the aisles, tries to stage-crash the preacher, shouts lines from TV shows - in short, she's 'unruly'. And I'm acutely aware of the eyes and ears of the rest of the congregation with their myriad parenting styles and experiences, and I worry about what they think of me as I desperately try to persuade my wonderfully lively daughter to do the very things she's just not built to do - sit down and keep quiet.

It's not the fault of the church - it just happens to be a time when there aren't many other children Eleanor's age in the congregation. A few years ago, there were more, and so there would have been power in numbers - at least I wouldn't be the only one trying to keep a toddler entertained. But those children have either grown up or moved on. And I'm sure nobody is really casting aspersions on my parenting, in fact I've only ever had positive comments about how lively she is, so that is probably my own neurosis. But the fact remains that it is a very uncomfortable time for me. I don't want to stop going, but equally I often find it so stressful that church is no longer very spiritually fulfilling.

I'm not really sure what the answer is here, but I would love to hear the experiences of other Christian mums. Is this a common situation? Are there ways of handling it? And, most importantly, does it pass? Oh please tell it passes!!

1 comment:

  1. A friend passed this on to me - I currently drag a four (and a very important 3/4) year old and a two and a quarter year old to Morning Prayer most Sundays.

    It does get easier, and I think having two is actually helpful, because I am not the sole source of amusement. We walk, because it's only three quarters of a mile away, which helps burn off some energy before we go in. I also encourage dancing during the hymns (we have a fairly open children's corner). No creche, because we go to the more formal morning prayer rather than the informal 11 o'clock. Formal liturgy actually helps me, because Nothing Ever Changes (we're C of E, we don't do change), so I know exactly where we are during the service without having to stop and think. I've given up hope of paying any attention to the sermon or the intercessions, as soon as they start I whip out a book and start reading to them. I keep a running commentary going on where we've got to, whether this is a quiet bit or a noisy bit. L (the 4 year old) has taken to singing during the hymns. Admittedly it's songs from 'Frozen' rather than anything on the actual service sheet, but it's a start.

    If they start getting restless we go on a holding-hands walk to look at stained glass windows/flower arrangements/any seasonal additions like the Easter Garden or a crib. I miss the Anglo-Catholic church I used to go to, statues and Stations of the Cross and extra chapels would make entertaining them far easier. If the worst happens and a riot breaks out, we leave. We go home. I've only had to do it once, actually, ever since saying "if you don't quieten down we are leaving " has been enough.