Running on Faith: The highs, lows of Sunday Mass (with children)

By Shelley Metcalf
Catholic Spirit Staff

Since I became a mom more than 11 years ago, Sunday Masses have had their highs and lows. Some Sundays, I walk out of Mass high-fiving God and patting my children on the shoulder for their good behavior. Some days I slink out the side door a few steps behind my kids with my head hung low in total embarrassment. 
This past Sunday I realized I didn’t have any recent Mass horror stories (everyone knows the ones I am talking about –– the child screams the whole time or crawls under the pews and ends up in the front row without the parent noticing or draws all over the seat cushion with a marker). Maybe my kids (who are now 11 and 8) have finally realized that Mass is a good thing. Maybe I have finally realized that it’s normal for them to be a little fidgety and not pay attention to every single detail. And quite possibly it’s a combination of the two, and God’s way of proving to me that family Mass time is important. 
First of all, let me say that our parish recently started a 5 p.m. Mass on Sundays that really works well with my family’s schedule. It is the perfect ending to one week and the perfect beginning of a new week, for us. Plus the music is great! We used to jump around between the Saturday Vigil and the early Sunday Mass depending on what was going on, but the beauty of the 5 p.m. Mass on Sunday is that nearly everything is wrapped up for the weekend and we can really focus on Mass, rather than fitting Mass into our schedule.
Secondly, my kids are at really good ages right now. I say this a little hesitantly because I know the teenage years are fast approaching and I don’t want to jinx anything. However, at 11 and 8, they old are old enough to whisper, to take themselves to the restroom and to follow along with the Mass. Granted I still have to sit between them because they cannot keep their hands off one another, but a mom has to do what a mom has to do.
Thirdly, I am older and perhaps a little wiser. I try really hard not to sweat the small stuff. I have established that in our house we go to Mass every Sunday. We don’t fight about it because we are going and that is that (I know this could change in the teenage years). I have also realized that my kids are actually paying attention (mostly). For instance, my son recognized recently that the same Psalm was sung two weekends in a row. He leaned over and whispered, “Hey, that’s a repeat from last week.” And you can bet there were lots of questions when a Eucharistic minister had to chase down a man who did not consume the Eucharist immediately. All the way home that day, we talked about consuming the Body of Christ at the altar and not taking it back to the pew. 
Finally, God is very, very good. He was good back in the days when taking my children to Mass was hard in that somehow he kept pulling me back to that sacred space. There were many Sundays when I would lie in bed fighting that “I really don’t want to go” battle in my head. However, God always brought us back, Sunday after Sunday. And God is good right now when Mass is truly a sacred experience once again. Those really hard days make me appreciate these days even more.
I want parents/grandparents/guardians of young children to know that you are not alone in your struggles. Parenting and raising children in the faith is not easy, but it is worth it –– in particular every single minute that we spend in church with our kids is worth it, even if the kids are not on their best behavior and the parents are frazzled. 
I pray regularly for parents of “littles” at Mass. If there is one piece of advice that I would give them, it is “Don’t stop.” They won’t be little long so just keep bringing them back every Sunday. One day, you will look back on those hard days and smile, I can almost guarantee it.
I give thanks to our good and gracious God for two great (albeit fidgety) kids, a wonderful parish and Sunday Masses with my little family. Good and bad, high and low, I intend to relish every single one of them!