Finding our Way with Faith, Prayer, and a Toddler

Toddlers at Church I New Orleans Moms Blog
Photo Credit Amy Cherie Photography

My son was baptized when he was 8 weeks old, and he hasn’t been back to church since.

He has, however, starting saying prayers, and we’ve been actively reading The Jesus Storybook Bible since he was a year old.

I am Catholic, and my husband is Presbyterian. At one time, I was very connected to my faith and very involved in the church. As time has gone on, I have practiced my faith at home and at mass on occasion, but not as often as I would like (or should). With the arrival of Pope Francis, my desire to practice my faith has become stronger. My husband, though, does not really have much of a feeling one way or another, and he is amenable to raising our son Catholic.

Why we haven’t taken him to church yet

But I have failed at this. For the last 2.5 years, my biggest fear is that we will go to church and that our son will be loud, talk, make a racket and be disruptive to the other parishioners. I don’t want him to go to church and associate it with anything bad or being fussed or getting dirty looks when he fidgets or talks out of turn. I remember being young and having older parishioners shush me or give me a look when I would fidget out of boredom and being unable to understand fully what was going on. I don’t want my son to have a similar feeling about the church.

Instead of having this happen, I have just avoided going with him altogether. Our church no longer has a cry room, and I’m just not sure of how to adapt to going to mass with him regularly. Honestly, sometimes I wish there was a children’s mass where the typical routine was a little more lax, the mass was shorter and more exciting for a small child. When I was young, I sort of loathed going to mass and often used it as an opportunity to try go back to sleep, read through the hymnals, or annoy my parents to go home, and I didn’t get much out of the experience. Sometimes I wonder if there is a church out there that caters to small children.

As I grew older, I learned more and began to enjoy the message. We wholeheartedly want our son to have a relationship with God, and while we are choosing to raise him Catholic, we are also fully open to him choosing whichever religious path he is most comfortable. I’m not sure where to start. I know that when we drive past church, Andrew says, “Jesus’ House!” but what else will he understand? At what age do we really start to teach them about religion, spirituality, and faith? How do we go about doing so? How do we have them assimilate into the church experience where they can enjoy and learn about their faith at such a young age?

Introducing prayers to toddlers

Navigating Faith with Children I New Orleans Moms Blog

When it comes to prayers, we are also struggling. We read from our Jesus Storybook Bible pretty regularly, as the bible stories are written in a way that kids can understand and relate to. (Who am I kidding, it makes it easier for ME to understand, too!) We also have a Veggie Tales devotional book that is great with little prayers and lessons included; however I am concerned we are not doing enough.

We haven’t attempted to teach Andrew any of the traditional Catholic prayers yet, and we are not sure when to do so and the traditional bedtime prayers that come to mind feel morbid. (Now I lay me down to sleep… If I shall die before I wake…). Is it just me? When I try to get him to say a prayer, he sort of looks at me blankly, although he does hold his hands together. It is at these moments that I start to wonder, “Is this because he has never been to church?” “Am I failing him as a parent and as a Catholic/Christian?”

When it comes to parenting, it is always a work in progress. It is the same when it comes to faith and religion. I suppose we have taken some baby steps, but it seems like maybe now is the time to take that BIG step and go to mass.

How do you integrate faith and religion in your home? If you are Catholic, how do you adapt to mass with your toddler? What are your prayer suggestions for small children?

20 COMMENTS

  1. Andie, great article! I can relate being raised Catholic. My husband and I were talking about this a few weeks ago. Our kids are 5 and 6 and were baptized in his UCC church in New Orleans. Which is an hour from our house. My in-laws take the kids to church once in a while but they have been asking to go lately. We have a Catholic Church near us but in their eyes we aren’t married since we weren’t married in a Catholic Church nor were our kids baptized in one. Our kids did go to a private preschool and my 5 year old can recite the entire Psalms 23 verse on demand. We get on our knees every night and pray with them. It’s slim pickings with the churches we would feel comfortable with near us. We are very conscious about having our kids experience first hand donating to those in need first hand whether its taking a tour of the food bank to see why they do what they do and personally hand them money to donating blankets to the Covenant House etc. At this age I feel they’re getting more hands on Christ like experiences than sitting in church.

    • See, I love that you all do Christ-like things to teach them spirituality, etc. It is also very hard to find a church that you are comfortable with! I totally get it! Thank you for commenting!

  2. We take our 2.5 year old to church almost every week. Sometimes she’s loud, and sometimes we can’t wait to leave, and we have actually left early a couple of times, but usually she’s surprisingly interested in what’s going on (and she wants to sing and participate). Most importantly for your concerns, we have had MANY people thank us for bringing her…especially when she’d loud! They say that there’s no more joyful sound in church than the sound of a child. You can imagine these goodwill ambassadors are usually grandparents or even great-grandparents. Try to find a church that welcomes young families (even if there’s no cry room or children’s service). You might be surprised at how welcoming a congregation can be. After all, children are the future of the church!! Oh, and goldfish and coloring books help, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck!

    • Thank you! We are going to try this Sunday at my childhood church- hoping it is welcoming to kids! I am hoping to find a parish that has a children’s service, though…. I think even I would enjoy that! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for commenting and for your tips!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great article! We are regular Mass goers, and I guess when my daughter was about 2 1/2 she started to understand a little more that Jesus lives in church and that we are quiet in church. When we still had the paci, she really loved going since church and bedtime where the only times she got her paci ๐Ÿ™‚ We go to St Jude so it’s a little louder in general, so that’s helpful. But she’s learned her routine is that she gets to bring two books and one baby and she gets to pick which ones she’ll bring. Between a almost three year old and almost one year old, not every week goes smoothly, but overall they are well behaved. And we’ve only been told one not so nice comment. But, we constantly are told how well they behave and how happy people are that we bring them. Prayer wise, she knows the sign of the cross and she’s getting better with the meal time prayer. The only other”catholic” prayer we regularly say is that Hail Mary but I think that’s mostly because it’s one I say often. I really believe that if Mass and prayers are part of there day to day routine, they will eventually start to understand.

  4. My husband and I are practicing Catholics, and we have 4 children under the age of four. We have always taken them to church every Sunday, since they came home from the hospital. Some days the kids act wonderfully, sometimes we don’t hear a word of the liturgy, and some days we want to rip our hair out. But we go anyway. We both feel that the only way kids know how to behave in church is to GO! We stay in the cry room just because our laps are outnumbered, but we sit in the congregation if we’re with other family members. We don’t expect them to sit silently the entire time, but we do encourage them to sit quietly during certain parts of the Mass and use whisper voices the rest of the time. We bring quiet toys/books sometime if we anticipate them being antsy. I encourage you to at least make an effort to go. Even if you can’t give your undivided attention to what is happening on the altar, God is working on your heart and filling your soul with grace; and doing the same to your child/children. Crying, tantrums, etc. are all beautiful sounds in Mass because it means the young church is alive and growing!

    • Carol, may I ask which Catholic churches you know of have cry rooms? We just moved to New Orleans, and I’m having a really rough time finding a church that works for us. I’ve been told that nurseries and cry rooms aren’t really part of the traditional Catholic culture here. At nearly 8 months pregnant, I find that going to mass with two little ones only to struggle the whole time keeping them quiet is too much to handle. I usually find myself standing out in the heat in front of the church dealing with my 18-month-old for 90% of mass. My husband is there right now without us :/ We’re on the Westbank, but we’d travel pretty far to find a church with a cry room!

  5. We find our son (2.5) is picking up prayers, songs, Bible verses just from our exposing him to them. These little guys (and gals!) are like sponges! We pray at meals and before bed. We haven’t taught any specific prayers, but he’s caught on to holding hands and bowing heads at mealtimes. Recently he’s started to pray along with my husband before dinner. He spontaneously made up his own “prayer” just from hearing us every night. It goes, “Dear God, Mommy, Daddy, his brother’s name, his own name, Jesus’s name, Amen. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really, but God gets it! Then I say a prayer, too. We fairly often listen to Bible songs in the car and at home, and he’s learned a lot of lyrics! But it took a while! We’ve also taught him some short-ish Bible verses just by saying them over and over to him. I feel pretty confident that he does not understand most of what he says or sings, but the seeds are there, and they’ll grow in time. I take my kids to church every week, but, we are not Catholic. They go to nursery and learn a Bible story and have positive interactions with Christian adults. I (and my husband when he’s not at work) get to go to Sunday School and the worship service without being distracted. We’ll go through the “this-is-how-you-behave-in-big-church” when our kids are four or five.

    • this is something I wish our church had! I think it would make the experience much easier! But we are definitely reading the bible and verses and saying prayers at night. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Jesus said let the little children come to me ๐Ÿ™‚ I believe an open arms church echoes that practice. I’m a member of Rayne United Methodist and children are definitely welcome. As with any place, I think it’s the parent of the child who is most bothered by him/her. Most other people see their normal noises as cute/joyful.

  7. Great topic, Andie! We’re not Catholic, but it is something we have been struggling with in a recent move we made away from NOLA. Our church in New Orleans was so welcoming to children. It’s been hard adjusting to a different mentality in a different state where the “seen and not heard” philosophy is especially strong at church. The most important thing, though, is that you are making an effort. Keep at it! And BRAVO for sharing your faith with all of us!

  8. Love this article! We bring and have brought our 3 year old almoste very week for his entire life. Like the others, it is not always a piece of cake, but others are welcoming and encouraging. One time I actually apologized to a lady behind us and she said, “don’t ever apologize for bringing your child to church”. I tried cry room when he was a baby, but stopped because I found that some of the other parents used cry room as an opportunity not to teach and encourage their children to sit quietly. One mother actually tried having conversation with me as though we were in a coffee shop. In my opinion, there is no way child is learning how to behave in that environment. Right now, we are in the newly potty trained phase and my little one has figured out that saying he needs to go means a fun trip to bathroom at the back of church. So we do that probably 3 times per mass. He is picking up parts of the mass. He loves shaking hands and saying peace to everyone around us! My tiny piece of advice? Just try it. It likely won’t be easy first time. But you never know until you try. And I have found that people love having children in church!

  9. Don’t be so hard on yourself! I doubt any toddler understands the concept of prayer. That said, I, too, felt badly about not taking my son to church when he was smaller. My husband isn’t Catholic so he doesn’t attend church. I was a little intimidated by the idea of flying solo at mass with a little one. Fast forward a few years and now my little guy is five and I have a 10 month old baby. I made a goal for myself going into this year – take the kids at least once a month to church. I usually end up going twice a month, and sometimes we leave early. In my mind, that’s okay, as long as I am making an effort to get them into that routine so that it won’t be so foreign to them when they get a little older. I also don’t want them to ask their teachers “what’s church?!” when they start going as a class at school – LOL. Good luck! Cut yourself some slack!

  10. I am a 60ish married woman without children. I love to see children and hear them – some noise and fussing is just fine by me. Most of the older people have been in your shoes and do not expect perfect behavior and will be understanding. If your child starts screaming or loudly crying, just take him or her to the back or outside. Bring some quiet toys and books to keep them occupied. Let them absorb the holiness and Presence surrounding them.

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