Monday, November 28, 2016

Being Present in Mass Despite the Chaos

Photo Credit: Ben White

Each year on Thanksgiving, I wake up, get the turkey ready, and then I run off to morning mass - by myself. It is the only day of the year I intentionally attend mass alone. But I need it.

The rest of the year I am in mass with my little ones. Currently ranging in age from 4 - 13, my little ones are at times quiet and respectful during the service. No scratch that.  They are, most of the time quiet, but we are still working on the respectful part. When my oldest alter serves he is definitely quiet and respectful. The rest of the time... well it isn't always pretty. But I digress.  Despite attending mass weekly and during the school year twice a week, they struggle to get through the mass. They act like a bunch of children.  Which they are.  When the big ones were little ones, I used to to dream about the time when they would all sit quietly and listen attentively. I don't know if that time will ever come.

Here are the two truths - they are the only two things Mom's need to know about surviving mass with children.

1) You aren't at mass for your children's benefit. You are there for YOUR benefit and YOUR relationship with God. Sure it helps to set a good example. But you are His daughter and He has requested your presence.

2) Jesus said "let the children come to me".  God wants them there, present, with you.

I have read countless pieces of advice and given a little advice of my own, on how to survive mass with children. Top tips include having special 'quiet' toys or books for mass time or leaving them in childcare, taking children out of pews, keeping children in pews, sitting close to the front, standing far in the back, whispering and threatening and kissing and, well, spanking. I have found that the best influence on behavior for my children was just time. Once they started kindergarten at our parish school, and start attending mass weekly with their class, they really seemed to get the hang of it. I know that is not super comforting to the mama of a 15 month old. Sorry.

Although The Baby still likes to pretend she is sleeping and thus she can't participate, and my older boys just can't seems to keep their hands to themselves, I can say we have graduated to a stage in family life that we can survive mass without turning red in anger (or embarrassment), or having to pull children out of the pews. Most weeks. It isn't because of any magic parenting voodoo I perform. Quiet the opposite. I mentally check out to what is going on besides me and mentally check into what is going on before me. Because even once the children can sit in the pews, they are still super distracting. So I had to carve out special time and lay down some ground rules.

My older children have learned NOT to interrupt the Homily to ask mommy about what is for lunch (or whatever). They do NOT interrupt me when I am kneeling in prayer. And that is pretty much it.

"Are you more important than Jesus? Because you are interrupting and we were just talking"

"Did Jesus ask you to ask me that? Because I am pretty sure he inspired the priest to give us this homily and now I am missing it? Wait your turn."

Now every family is different and we can't check out mentally the whole mass, but having these two times as really sacred times in mass, when I can really be present, makes the rest of the mass much easier. I do the readings before we come because I get them sent to my email In-Box via Blessed is She each morning. I have already taken a few minutes to read and reflect before I even get out of bed. If I miss a little of the responsorial psalm because I am separating the boys (already!), then that is less of a big deal. If I have to take The Baby to the bathroom during the offering I am fine with that. If someone has kicked off her shoes, whatever, I really don't care. In the grand scheme of things it isn't worth getting worked up over.

I am here for Jesus & Jesus wants us (even the kids) to be here.

So relax. Take a deep breath. Go over the readings before you arrive. If you attend mass with a spouse talk about carving out your special time during mass when you really expect the children (and spouse) to not interrupt your time with God. With a little intentionality maybe you can learn to become really present in mass despite the commotions around you.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Transitioning through the Transitions of Parenting

"Enjoy these times…. they go so fast"

When the midst of battling a 3- year old who won't use the potty, a 2-year old who insists on standing in the grocery cart, a 16 month old who refuses to eat anything but applesauce, or getting up every 3 hours to nurse the baby, it can be hard to really appreciate 'these times', and they certainly don't seem to be going by fast

My father-in-law said something like that once and I responded by responded (with love and gentleness in my heart that I hope came out in my voice) "What was so great about when your kids were young? Do you even remember those times?" and he chuckled admitted that part of life was a blur. Much like the hours or days of a mother's labor, the early years of parenting thankfully are often a blur for parents and children alike.

Children don't actually have the capacity to remember the early years because their brains aren't developed (click here) in that area. And it is a good thing too. I think our children's rate of brain development is a gift from our Lord so that they can't hang those early parenting mishaps over our head "Mom, remember when you…"

Appreciating the early years of parenting can be a challenge because parenthood is just so exhausting. Once you have been through a challenge or milestone with one child, it does become easier to appreciate that challenge with subsequent children because you enter into the circumstance with both experience and perspective. As you encounter a tough stage you have the recognition that you WILL get through this. It was so helpful, when struggling with Gracie and the "blending" on her homework, for me to remember how much I struggled with JR.  He HATED reading aloud to me. He HATED sight words.  We made up a sight-words tickle time to get through it. So I took a deep breath with Gracie and reminded myself that in a few weeks or months this wouldn't be our daily battle. She has now joined her brothers in making me crazy if I call "lights out" because like me, they all obsess about books.

Just try to keep things in perspective. The things that are a struggle today won't necessarily be a struggle tomorrow. Most kids are potty trained before school starts. Your children will be too. If they don't like carrots, keep trying but also give them peas. They won't always need help packing their lunches for school.  They will learn to read, and write, and add and subtract.  And they will eventually sleep too.  Although walking them through many of these things will become less difficult for you.

Christy from Fountains of Home wrote about the difference in a parent's perspective on newborn sleep from the 1st baby and the 5th. She writes:

"I remember staying up at all hours, rocking, nursing, shushing her and completely believing this was how the rest of my life was going to play out. I would never sleep again. Ever. And I believed that with my whole being.

Because it was my first baby and I had no concept of a baby's insanely fast growth and the heightened speed of time once you have children, and thus could not fathom a time where my child could ever function, let alone sleep at all, without my constant attention. Sure, I was completely exhausted and irrational, but the thought of ever sleeping again seemed to be at similar odds as an alien landing on my lawn."

Christy speaks a truth that resonates with us all as we venture through a new tough season of parenting.  Maybe it is parenting a hormonal teen, or a sassy 6 year-old.  Some of the seasons end more quickly (due to our awesome parenting?), other seasons we just muddle through hoping it is just a stage and not the new normal.

For those who are stuck in a really tough time - a house fire, a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, job struggles, a really sick child or spouse, or other really hard times, your stages are different and I just can't speak to that. I can only pray that the larger the struggle and the longer the battle, the more grace God will poured over you. And at some point, God willing, you will have the ability to look back at the sleepless nights and gallons of tears shed, and you will be a beautiful example to others. You will have survived that nasty season of life.

In 20 years, we may look back at our earlier years of parenting with some nostalgia, but for now as I look at my friends with littler ones I can smile and think "I am so glad we are past that stage".  And when I am in some tough stage itself, I am trying (with God's abundant Grace) to appreciate the struggle for what it is, and how it is shaping me, knowing it won't last forever.

Thanks for stopping by and hang in there!

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