I remember the deep, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach each time we pulled into the church parking lot. I would look back at my precious toddler’s face and wonder how I was going to make it through the two-hour liturgy. How much time would I spend chasing him around today? How often would I have to take him out to the back so he wouldn’t distract others? Would I get a chance to pray at all today? Would things ever get better?
Taking young children to church is just plain hard. I have three young children (ages 7, 3, and 2) and a husband who frequently serves at the altar. I am absolutely exhausted at the end of liturgy!
In the Orthodox Church, we believe that children are full members of the church who can and should participate in all aspects of the Divine Liturgy. That means that we don’t send children out to Children’s Church and most churches don’t have a nursery. And, I love this theology. Last week I shared my post Engaging Children in Church: Tips and Tricks for Parents to offer some ideas and encouragement for parents of young children.
This week I want to switch the focus. Many of you do not have young children. Perhaps your children have grown. Maybe you are single or married without children. What is your role? How can you interact with that young mother struggling to survive liturgy?
How to Encourage That Young Mother at Church
1. Tell Her She is Doing a Good Job
We mothers are our own worst critics. We are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us how we should be–the perfectly organized house with creative touches, the time spent doing craft projects or going on amazing outings with our children, the “breastfed/ cloth diaper/whole foods/ insert other ideology here” approach to parenting that we should have.
And we fall short every time. We know our mistakes and failures. We know that our children are being too loud and distracting you during Liturgy. We know that our toddler shouldn’t run toward the altar shouting with delight at seeing his daddy. We know and are truly trying our best.
One morning after Liturgy (during which my toddler did exactly what I just described!) a woman came up to me and said, “I just want you to know that you are doing a good job as a mother.”
I about wept.
This woman had two teenagers. She knew what I was going through, and she provided the support and understanding that I needed. Such a simple comment–but I have never forgotten it.
2. Love Her Children
There is no surer way to love a mother than to love her children. Ask her about them: how old are they? what are they learning right now? what is their favorite thing to do? Let her share stories of the weekly triumphs and struggles of her little ones.
Get to know the children yourself. Make it a point to say hello to them and ask them a question each week. If you have been going to church with them since they were born, tell them about their baptism. Children love to hear stories about themselves! Over time they will come to know that you are a trusted adult who cares about them. Children need to have role models outside of their parents, to understand that they are loved by the grown ups in church.
3. Offer to Lend a Hand
Once you have built a relationship with the mother and children, it will be quite natural to offer help.
Here are a few ideas:
-Hold the baby for her so she can focus on the toddler.
-Take the toddler for an Icon Walk (a walk around the perimeter of the church where you point out icons and explain their meaning) so she can pray in peace for a minute.
-Help a school age child follow along in the liturgy book.
-Take one of the children up for communion.
-Explain what is going on in the Divine Liturgy. Give a play-by-play commentary.
-Offer to watch a child during coffee hour so she can have time to chat with adults.
-Give the child a job to do after Liturgy. Kids love to help! Perhaps they can help you wash dishes, count money from the offering, wipe tables, put Liturgy books away, or weed a flower bed.
Remember the woman I told you about earlier? The one who told me I was doing a good job? She also has taken my children to communion, held babies, let my son “help” count the offering money, and so much more. What a gift.
4. Tell Her You Are Glad She’s Here
As much as I love the Liturgy and long for communion with God, there have been weeks when I wondered if going to church was worth it. By the time I got three children clean and dressed, drove 40 minutes, tried to keep them still and quiet during Liturgy, and then watched them during coffee hour, I had nothing left in me. Why go at all?
So, tell the young mothers in your parish that you are glad they are there. You are so happy that they bring their children to church–yes, even the squirmy ones who cry.
Be the Church that says, as Jesus did, “Let the little children come to me.”
And be the Church that welcomes the mothers with “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-ladened, and I will give you rest.”
*If you would like more inspiration as you raise your children in the Orthodox faith, please follow my Facebook page. Each day I share posts and tips of my own as well as those of people much wiser than me. Join the the community and discussion! You can also follow me on Pinterest where I post many resources for Orthodox parents.