Monday, April 25, 2011

children in church

Aaron and I both grew up attending church worship services with our parents. We remember sitting (mostly) patiently and participating whenever we were able.

So, naturally, when we became parents we had visions of our children sitting quietly and respectfully with us in the pew at church. We decided early on that it wouldn't be routine for our children to spend the service in the nursery. We wanted them to be comfortable (and eventually enjoy) sitting with us in church. We wanted them to have the opportunity to worship Jesus alongside us. As a family.

That vision quickly went out the window when Camille was just a few weeks old and started going through a colicky phase. Was this ever going how we imagined it would?

Even as she got older it didn't get much easier. Occasionally she would do a really good job in church, and occasionally she would go to the nursery to play.

Each Sunday we would pack up stuff the diaper bag with sippy cups, snacks, books, quiet toys, and crayons. And each Sunday we would find ourselves sitting in a pew drowning in a sea of kids things. And we would still have a squirmy, unsatisfied, and bored child with us.

Now that we have two children, and now that Levi is getting older, this has only gotten worse. Not only are we still drowning in a sea of kids things, but our kids are fighting over the toys and books, they are walking up and down in the pew and trying to crawl under them, and they are crabby and disrespectful when we tell them to sit and be quiet. (I realize that Levi is only nearly a year old, but he has progressively become harder and harder to handle in church over the past month or two.)

And then last week I read this blog post by a mother of many children.

And realized we were going about this all wrong.

And Aaron and I had a discussion about what we really wanted while we attend church with our children. We realized that we weren't raised sitting in a pew full of crayons, snacks, and a multitude of quiet toys. We were taught at an early age that church isn't a place for children to be entertained. It's an opportunity for children to worship. We didn't simply want quiet kids. We wanted our kids to participate with us.

We realized that our family needed a church etiquette overhaul.

And what better time to start than Easter Sunday?

On Saturday we prepped Camille for the changes in sitting in church that were going to happen the next day. I told her that she wouldn't be getting a "busy bag" (yes, she always got to pick a busy bag at church in addition to all the kid paraphernalia we brought from home). I explained that she was old enough to listen in church, sing with us when it was time to sing, and fold her hands with us when it was time to pray.

And she didn't complain.

Before we left for church on Sunday morning we told her she could pick one Jesus book to bring with her to church. We also picked one for Levi to look at. And we decided that if either of our kids needed to be brought out of the service for one reason or another, they would sit on our laps without anything to play with. When they calmed down then we would bring them back into the service and they could have their book to look at. I also reminded Camille what was expected of her and encouraged her by telling her I knew she could do a great job.

When we got to church Camille did fine when we reminded her that she wouldn't be getting a busy bag. We also chose a front pew to sit in. And in doing so, I wondered how many times we would have to walk all the way up the aisle to take the kids out.

I was shocked at how well Camille behaved during the service. But I suppose I shouldn't have been. She is a smart girl and she does know what behavior is appropriate and what behavior isn't. Just by clearly telling her our expectations and taking away all the distractions she was able to step up and participate with us.

Levi also did well sitting on our laps. Aaron took him out once for a few minutes during the sermon, and I took him out once to nurse him (this almost never happens, but he hadn't nursed in a while and didn't have time for a snack before church). It was a long time for him to sit quietly, but even he showed improvement from how he had been doing in church the past couple of months.

We know that not every Sunday will go this well.

But we also are thrilled to finally be on the right track to worshiping together as a family. I'm looking forward to continuing this way of parenting our children during church. I'm also planning on reading this book to see what other insights we can learn about how to encourage family worship.

And we'd love to hear any advice you have about encouraging our children to participate with us in church! As we all know, parenting is an ongoing process that is constantly changing. Once we figure one thing out we are faced with a new challenge!

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GreenGirl said...

That's awesome...
you have the cutest kids.
I still remember going out to dinner with my parents and grandparents to NICE restuarants and behaving.
My parents never brought coloring books, etc. Same goes with church. I grew up going to a catholic church and we didn't have childcare so I sat with my parents...and acted appropriately.
It's super refreshing to hear of parents PARENTING.

You are Aaron are great role models for your kiddos!