Thursday, May 26, 2011

More on Children in Church

[I started to put this in the comment box of the original post and realized it was way too long...]

Sigh. It's hard to be a parent. That just about sums it up.

In the end we have to do the best we can, stepping back and evaluating occasionally (Have I gotten lazy about this? Have we slipped into this bad habit?), talking to our spiritual father, praying (yes, sometimes I forget), and trying to remember that on the last day we will be judged by God, not our neighbors.

I've been guilty many times of thinking, "My gosh! Would you LOOK at what that child is doing!", even though my child did it last week (or worse, will do it five minutes later). Yes, sometimes a child is being permitted to get away with outrageous behavior, but sometimes it's just something else. I try to remember to assume the best because unless I march up and ask, I don't know. Like I would do that. Maybe when I'm 80. (c;

Just to make everyone feel better (or smug, as the case may be) let me tell a short story:

We were at a slightly unaccustomed church for a few months one summer. We had a 2 1/2 year old, a 1 1/2 year old and a 6 month old (or something like that). The baby was fine - slept. The 1 1/2 year old was the type that you could put down and she'd stay there. The 2 1/2 year old, however, was a holy terror. I took her out (taking EVERYONE) when I had to. One weekday during a very poorly attended service, she broke away from me suddenly and ran up and down the pews, shrieking with laughter. I tried to head her off but it's hard when there are so many pews and I didn't feel that I could launch myself over them. I thought, "God, let the ground open up and swallow her!" Eventually another parishioner headed her off and I grabbed her and took her out. Apparently she hadn't learned because the next day she did the same thing. THIS time, Father came out of the altar (2nd priest), snatched her up and swept her out accompanied by howls. She never did it again. However, she did other things. ): She eventually got better and is a model child in church and has been for years.
As a contrast, I've seen other children who were so still and quiet that it was unnatural. I felt pretty bad when I mentally lined my children up next to those. Actually, our second was so "good" as a baby (Babies aren't "good" - they're babies - but you know what I mean.) that I wondered if something were wrong with her. I had been assuming that her sister represented "normal" and thus this was was "abnormal". They just lived at different ends of the spectrum. Same parents, different children. It's life.
This has been rather rambling. I haven't yet addressed the "what to do when you're in church with absolutely horribly behaved children who are being allowed to get away with murder" question. If the child is behaving badly, but the parent is attempting to deal with it, say the Jesus prayer, give them a break, offer to help, whatever. Some new parents never had good parenting techniques modeled for them. Some remember their parents dealing with seven other kids. It does make a difference. If you have similarly aged children, model behavior. People watch more than you think they do. After all, aren't you watching them? I have seen this make a difference myself.
The hard one is dealing with a situation in which the parents are doing absolutely nothing to control their child(ren). I suggest talking to your parish priest before you say anything to anyone else. Talking about it to others constitutes gossip and you will probably stick your foot in it if you go talk to the parents in question. The priest can hardly be unaware of what is going on if it is really disruptive and it's better for him to talk to them than you. Other things you can do in the meantime? If you have a good handle on your own kids (and only then), invite one of those to stand with you. Consider it a blessing. Distract them by pointing out what is going on. Carry them around to the icons. Help them light a candle (not advisable with some kids). Kindly but firmly stop behavior like jumping, hitting, making loud noises. This is not a total fix because children will do what they're consistently allowed to do and they're with their parents 99.999 % of the time. However, it may demonstrate some techniques to the parents. I've done this a few times and it bought the church 10 minutes of quiet. It was something. One thing to keep very firmly in mind:
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  [1 Cor 13:1-2]
Don't let anger, frustration, irritation and impatience get in the way of loving. "An empty church is a peaceful church" - we don't want our churches to be empty.


  1. We all need to support each other- because there is never an easy time to start attending church- so begin when they are babies and then you will have a nine-year old who can cantor (who was AWFUL when she was 3 and even 4)

  2. Thanks, again.

    I look forward to older children who are well behaved and can participate in the service. But I do not want this time to pass too quickly, no matter how much time I spend outside with my littlest boys!

    I loved the quote [1 Cor 13:1-2] .

  3. Your last point is so important. I've had someone fixate on my children and break out in anger whenever they moved or whispered. This is very hard to deal with. On the other hand, I've so often felt angry over children's behavior, mine and others'. Through these temptations, the evil one comes between us, when the whole purpose of coming to church is to be together in Christ. Just keeping this in mind can help us be more patient with the children and with each other.

  4. Exactly. I can get so wrapped up in trying to get everyone to behave perfectly that I'll get irritated at my youngest asking me a legitimate question (in a whisper) about a part of the service. That's not good. I can spread that impatience around too and don't need to or want to.

  5. "Don't let anger, frustration, irritation and impatience get in the way of loving. "An empty church is a peaceful church" - we don't want our churches to be empty." Precisely!

    I typically think the adults need more lessons than the children. I especially think people who are so openly opinionated about whatever the issue is, would do a lot more good with considering to help as opposed to adding to the problem at hand; that would ease a lot of the tension too. As if being overly helpful is ever a problem, I know I do genuinely and cheerfully try to assist other parents with young kids also, it always seems to be much appreciated. Mat. Anna, I declare... you need to do an adults lessons post too. :)

  6. I think I'm in enough trouble already!!

  7. Please forgive me for butting in, as a woman whose time as a mother of small ones is long gone, and a non-Orthodox Christian as well.

    Children develop language skills by listening to adults using language.

    In church they hear the songs, hear the chanting, etc. and they are exposed to language that they would not encounter anywhere else. AND it is not "dumbed down" for them. (There is a time and place for children's songs, stories, etc. but they NEED the exposure to "grown up" language in church.)

    Also,having the icons to look at, the smells of the incense and watching all that goes on in the Divine Liturgy, the colorful vestments, etc. It's a very rich environment.

    Little babies and small children NEED to be exposed to varied experiences to develop healthy mental abilities and I think that one of the best things a parent can do is to take their small children to church on a regular basis.

    Even if they are restless, or don't seem to respond to what is going on, it is important for them to be there.

    I know this is not exactly "spiritual" advice, plus I'm not Orthodox, (yet;)) but from my experiences as a visitor to Orthodox services, and as a former teacher, this is what I would love to point out to parents.

  8. There is a child at church who has caused me repeated frustration as I tend to see (or think I see) the mother doing little to control the child. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.

    This last Sunday afternoon, at a baby shower, the mother of this child stopped me on my way out and told me what a delight my Elizabeth is to her. She told me that that morning's liturgy had been a particularly difficult time for her with her children, after having to get them ready by herself, getting to church late, etc., as her husband does not attend. Apparently, Elizabeth walked by "with her little yellow shoes and big blue eyes" and smiled at this woman after church, and as a result, this woman's mood changed for the better.

    I say this not to toot my own horn, or the horn of my daughter, but to say what a humbling experience it was to me. Here I was, judging, all the while also being frustrated with my own squirmy daughter, but this woman was, miraculously, blessed and cheered by something as small as a smile from a toddler. Such a reminder to keep my heart humble and pray for myself and others rather than give into frustration and judgement.

  9. Carlyn, you're not 'butting in'! That's what this is for! You are absolutely right. If it weren't important for the children to actually be in Liturgy or Vespers or whatever, then why bother? It's a lot easier to shunt them to a nursery or not go at all. But it IS important. So it's worthwhile to keep truckin' on.

    Sarah, I've had experiences like this too. I can't remember specifics, but the feeling you described is so familiar. I felt so shriveled and petty when I realized what I had been thinking. It's good to have reminders. Thank you.

  10. Shriveled and petty - how accurately that describes those feelings, isn't it? I know there were times I was sure that I could describe in minute detail the exterior of the church, because I spent so much time staring at it with my kids on the porch. Time passed, though, and now one is an adult, and the other firmly in his teens.
    Lord have Mercy on all of us, and let the children lead us. Hugs.

  11. Thank you, from a mama who is in the middle of it.

    Our parish is in the middle of a wave of new babies (Praise God!) bringing the number of small children from 3 on any given Sunday to 12 or 15 on the same Sundays - that much growth in 2 years is a lot to handle for some people in our parish. And because so many of us are adult converts, we are learning together with only a handful of examples. It's hard work, but good. And hearing my two year old sing the Trisagion and learning to participate in worship is worth the days when all we do is pray in the library.

  12. I'm joining this conversation a bit late, but I had to chime in because I'm in the middle of it with four very young children.

    Our parish has A LOT of children. Every Sunday is a battle of the wills with our children. Once in a while, we have a good Sunday where the children behave and listen, but for the most part, we are constantly reprimanding and redirecting them. We have gotten to the point where we outgrowing our building, so my family has decided that rather than be in the middle of the chaos, we stand near the back. This isn't ideal, but this is what we have to do right now.

    One thing that has helped is bringing a child (or two) into the choir. My husband sings bass and will bring our oldest and one of the younger two with him. This frees me up and also enables him to teach the children while in the choir.

    Many times I have fallen into the trap of looking at other children and feeling in adequate. My oldest has a very hard time staying still, our daughter never stops talking and our one year old is just busy and needy. It makes for an interesting time... and this Sunday will be our first as a family of six (I'm being churched!). It is very difficult not to compare my active children to the calm/quiet ones.

    We once had an older lady in our parish comment on how much she loved seeing the younger children interact, even during the Liturgy. That helped me to loosen up a little bit, but I still have very high expectations.

    I also love when people offer to help out. So, for any of you who are older and without younger children, PLEASE offer to help. Most mothers/parents with young children would love the assistance. I know I would.

  13. Actually Michelle, you've accidently brought up a good point. There are mothers out there who are usually referred to as "altar widows" (but choir counts too). It's even more fun to do all of this when it's just you and your husband is otherwise occupied. One help is that my oldest son is in the altar serving so that leaves me with only four. But it is all the more needful to offer help to those who are "alone" in church.

  14. I should make it clear that I meant parents who are alone in church for *any* reason, not just 'altar/choir widows'.

  15. You can add husband who travel for business to that list :)

  16. what excellent advice (both of them)!

    We aren't able to attend as often as we'd like, and we travel 2 hours to get to liturgy. By the time we get out of the car, the last thing our girls (2 and 4) want to do is stand quietly in church. I worry that they'll grow up hating church because of the long car ride.

    But, somehow they do okay. I can see that the oldest is really starting to improve (just as the younger one gets worse). I'd really like to move toward the front, but haven't had the guts yet!

    I'm guilty of sometimes tuning them out when I get caught up in the liturgy. Then I realize how loud they've gotten and I'm horrified! Thankfully, my husband is more attentive than me, and everyone around us is very kind. :)

  17. Laura, I feel you. We used to drive 1 1/2 hours to church and had to get there at least 1 hour early because Father was serving. By the time Liturgy started, my youngest had already used up all of his "good" time so it was a struggle. He got better (and worse at times) as he got older.


Thanks for leaving a comment!