My recent Q&A post included the topic of keeping children quiet in church, and elicited the following comment from a reader. Maybe you understand how she feels.
Oh, Kim! I am feeling so defeated about having our littles in church! We have worked so hard with our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old and they do pretty well. We have great conversations (esp with the 4-year-old) about the things we learn in church. We have a 12-month-old foster-adopt son who is getting to a challenging stage (vocally and “sitting still”-wise), and because we cannot use Biblical, physical forms of discipline with him, we are struggling with how to train him.
Add to that: our lives have just been turned upside down–we found out we will have his newborn sister placed with us (surprise!), and I am 4 days postpartum with our third bio-baby. We will have five kids, and the oldest is 4!
Even if my husband is always with us in the pew, we don’t have enough arms between us to hold all the babies, let alone train them! I am especially discouraged because in a few weeks, once the youngest can be out in public, we have to begin the church-hunting process in this not-child-friendly city. What will people think when we walk through a church’s front door and cause chaos in the sanctuary? Back when we only had the older two, we once visited a church that asked us to sit in the foyer seating area because children were not allowed in the sanctuary for “videotaping” purposes.
I guess I realize I am overwhelmed with lots of things, and worried about being rejected by believers when we most need the support of a good church.
I hardly know where to start. I want to offer a dozen pieces of advice and encouragement all at once, along with a shoulder to cry on. I’m just beginning to come out of the post-partum fog, so let me remind you of one huge thing: Even though your concerns and challenges are very real, everything looks and feels even worse now while you are riding that rollercoaster of hormones and sleep deprivation. If you can just take the next few months one day at a time, you’ll be able to look back and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that it wasn’t quite as bad as you thought it would be. I know this because I was a basket-case when we had a wedding, a move, and a baby all in short order, closely followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and hordes of happy houseguests. It was overwhelming to me at the time, but looking back I can only blame hormone-induced stress. It was a loud and busy time, and everyone but me was having fun.
But you do have your hands full, and they’re getting fuller. You are overflowing with blessings, and overflowing is stressful.
It sounds like your biggest concern is finding a church that will love and accept your family. I don’t know where you live or what your doctrine is, but I strongly recommend you look for a church on the NCFIC.org site (National Center for Family-Integrated Churches). These are congregations from many denominations that encourage families to keep their children in worship with them, so they will joyfully tolerate the disruptions as you train your children to sit quietly. While they may be able to point you to a nursing room or cry-room, nobody will give you dirty looks for having your children sit with you, or suggest that you send them to children’s church.
If you don’t find a suitable listing in your area, you might want to ask around on Facebook (or I’ll ask here for you) and see if anyone knows of congregations in your area that are not listed on the NCFIC site.
I understand that corporal discipline is not an option with your 12 month old, but there are other ways to teach him.
- Many families recommend regular daily times of quiet listening as practice for worship.
- During church, when my little ones get too noisy and I take them out, I don’t entertain them. I make sure being taken out is less interesting than sitting in church. For example, quiet toys might be allowed in church but not when you take the baby out of the sanctuary. Certainly don’t reward him with a trip to the nursery if you are trying to teach him to sit quietly in church.
- A firm vocal command can be effective. Just tell him “no,” softly but firmly with no hint of a smile. If he smiles in response, don’t let yourself smile back.
- Be self conscious not to encourage the baby to squeal and play. Funny faces may keep his attention, but who do you blame when he laughs and squeals? My babies are quieter when they face forward rather than facing me.
- If you can work it, a nap is the perfect way to keep a baby quiet during church. Yes, they might fuss a little before they doze off but then you are rewarded with an hour of sweet silence. I don’t know about your schedule, but for us worship falls squarely into naptime for our babies.
When it comes to the mechanics of worshiping with lots of little ones, we have found two seating techniques that were very helpful when we had lots of little ones:
- You and your husband resist the temptation to sit right next to each other, placing troublemakers between you and on your laps. With 2 children between you, one in each lap, one on the far left and another on the far right, you can have 6 children sitting on or next to you and your husband. While it doesn’t solve every problem, keeping them within easy reach does allow you to notice problems and address them promptly.
- If you really, really want to sit together – and I don’t blame you – try this. I like it better than the first idea. Rather than stretching out in one long row, have some children sit directly in front of you. Sometimes this is more effective than having them sit next to you, because they are directly in your line of sight while you watch the pulpit. This also allowed my husband and I to sit together while keeping an eye on 7 or 8 children – one on each lap, one to the left of us, one to the right of us, and several in front of us. I won’t name names, but we still do this with our troublemakers and fidgeters.
Having two newborns is going to be tricky no matter what you do, but remember: moms do it all the time. It’s called twins. Seek out moms of twins, and get advice. Most are glad to help.
And speaking of help: once you find a family friendly church, seek out a baby-loving teen who is willing to help you during the service. Our girls have been known to sit with the little ones of another family when both parents are occupied with needy wee ones.
Do you have advice for Karen? Let’s hear it in the comments.