I’m Failing to Parent in the Pew
By Vanessa Rasanen
That Sunday was pretty much like any other, except my husband actually had the day off work and was able to join us for church. I don’t know if having him there with us caused me to drop my guard or what, but shortly after the Lord’s Supper had concluded and our pastors were returning the chalice and such to the altar, I looked up to see our almost three year old little girl smiling at me from the other side of the chancel railing.
Somehow she had slipped away from me and her Godmother while my husband was out in the narthex disciplining the five year old… and we hadn’t noticed! It was then our seven year old who went up to retrieve her.
Whether it’s the toddler initiating a game of tag mid-service or the older kids fighting over who-knows-what even though they know they’re supposed to be following along, I’m acutely aware that my parenting is on full display for our congregation. And I realize that to most of the folks I’m falling far short in those duties — because when others say “pick your battles” they don’t intend for me to let the mid-pew battles slide.
Basically I don’t discipline enough. I don’t keep a short enough leash. I don’t make them mind. I let them get away with too much. My kids are running amok, and I appear to, at best, be oblivious to their disruptive behavior or, at worst, just not care that their actions are annoying everyone. I appear to have given up.
In short I’m failing. Nearly every Sunday.
And I don’t disagree. I know I’m dropping the ball. Most Sundays I’m solo with all four kids, because my husband has two jobs that require weekend work at least twice a month, usually three times. And it is hard! First, it just plain sucks to not have our spiritual head with us to receive the Word and Sacrament especially knowing he regrets not being able to be there (not all vocations are M-F 9-5, after all). Second, I only have two arms… I’m missing my second pair when he’s working or flying or training.
But it’s not just that it’s hard to contain four little balls of energy in a small area for over an hour while insisting they whisper and stop using the pew bibles and hymnals to build forts for the stuffed animals and hot wheels they found in the diaper bag. If only!
The reason I appear to have given up parenting in the pew is I — to some extent — have given up.
By 8am I’ve already been up for three hours trying to shower before the kids get up, make breakfast for everyone (and hope I get a bite, too, even if it’s just whatever they didn’t finish), get everyone dressed and changed and semi-presentable (even though that usually means foregoing, yet again, taking a hairbrush to the girls’ hair — yes, that’s a nice to have, not an essential), and then get everyone in the car on time. Not a ton to do, but each task has likely resulted in arguments, time-outs, yelling, fighting, and nagging.
I’ve tried to read the readings for the day to them, but in my exhausted state I can’t remember which Sunday after Trinity it is… and the kids are bickering instead of listening to me, anyway. (God’s Word still hits their ears even if a frustrated and frazzled mom barks it at them over their squabbling, right? Maybe? Please? I’m trying!!!) I’ve then told the kids to get shoes on ten times, and yet they’re still running around having a sword fight — at least in socks. I’ve told the oldest to get in the van and get his youngest sister buckled, and yet he’s wandering around (still without shoes) asking if he can wear a hat to church. I’ve changed the baby, and yet he’s just had a poo explosion right before I get him in his car seat. I’ve left half-eaten food on the table, because I’ve run out of time to properly clean it up, and gah I left the diapers in the house!
By the time we get to the Divine Service, I’m spent. I’m tapped out. I’m exhausted.
But I’m there.
I made it to church. With all my kids (though one is probably trying to slide down the banister while another is running around the narthex saying hi to everyone). And while I may look like I’m ignoring their not-quite-whispered conversations and that I’m not caring that my daughter’s meandering from our pew to our friends’ pews is distracting, my anxious and tired mind is in fact plagued with everything I should be doing. I should be making my kids fold their hands and participate in the liturgy. I should be showing them how to follow along in the hymnal. I should be encouraging them to pay attention instead of playing.
And I’m worried. Worried they aren’t getting anything out of being there. Worried they are bothering everyone. Worried others think ill of my husband for not being there though he’d prefer to be. Worried we are failing our children by not being more like that family or this family or whoever.
But again, we are there.
Every week. Every Sunday. Even though it’s hard and I’m sure some folks wish we wouldn’t bother so they could actually hear the Word and the sermon — we are there. There to confess our sins (and there are many!) and to hear absolution from Christ spoken by our pastor. There to receive God’s precious gifts and to kneel with our brothers and sisters in Christ at that railing to receive His Body and Blood — even if the two littles are actually sitting on the railing with the three year old excitedly waving hi to her favorite elder, another is trying to stick her head through the railing, and the other is telling her to stop.
We may be distracting and I may be failing, but by the grace of God we are in that pew right where we all belong.
Your story sounds much like mine when my 4 were much younger and when my husband worked weekends. Rest assured that few think ill of your efforts as they’ve been there themselves! This too shall pass and they will get older and getting to church on time will require a later am alarm clock thankfully. Less chaos will rule the morning and your concerns will move on to other challenges like “Who’s that boy you’re texting?” and “What time are we leaving for that college visit?” You’re doing all the right things, hang in there!!!
I’m there too. You’re not alone in this struggle. If we’re living out our beliefs throughout the week, then they’re getting it..it’s not just about Sunday morning. And, our presence, with our kids…regardless of their appearance or actions, is testimony to others. Let them not judge us for what we are doing or not doing; let them pray for us, thank God for us, and extend grace to us.
You’re doing it right, sweet sister. And killing it.
Dear Vanessa – You are not failing. You are in church with your children, in spite of everything you go through in order to make that happen. I had only one child, and he was pretty well behaved in church so I didn’t have the experiences you’re having. But restless, noisy children can and do move beyond that stage. A couple in my husband’s first congregation had little kids who were constantly in motion, and it was sometimes very distracting. But eventually it dawned on me that over the course of weeks and months, those restless little ones had become much quieter and calmer. Were they listening to the sermon? At their ages, probably not. But they had learned to behave in church. And church is the only place where that can be learned! And church is the place where the Holy Spirit, working through the hymns, the liturgy, the lessons, and the sermon, can touch even little ones in ways we as grownups may not be aware of. So keep doing what you’re doing, and try not to worry about what other people are thinking. All of you are where you need to be, and you’re getting something out of every service, even on Sundays when it doesn’t feel that way. Things WILL get better!
We felt the same way even with two parents at church. We have a bag of file folder games that only come out on sundays. In the bag are also crayons and activity books only for sunday. Also a busy book when they were younger.(And yes our 6 year old still builds forts wIth scriptures and hymnals. All normal behavior.
Many times as parents when we feel guilty, insecure, or self-conscious about our abilities to parent we believe everyone in the world is watching us fail and judging us on it. In reality, many of those people in your church probably don’t even notice your kids and your parenting, or lack of. And many of them are or were parents at one point and probably thought your child being behind the alter smiling back at then was cute or funny. Parenting is REALLY, REALLY TOUGH!!! Give yourself a break, cut yourself some slack, and don’t be so hard on yourself.
An older member (now in glory)of my of churches told me how when her children were little she stopped going to church. The pastor called and asked why she wasn’t in church. She said that the kids were noisy and crying (and in those days it was women and children on one side with men on the other) so she had no help. The pastor asked, “do you know what’s worse than a crying baby in church?” This sainted member replied, “No.” The pastor said, “One who has never had the chance.”
Keep on bringing the little ones.
You are NOT failing!! you –and they–are there! A couple of suggestions that may help in the short term: When one has to ‘go say hi’ to a favorite other family or person, ask that person if the child could sit with them, even if just for part of the service. I was amazed at how well my grands behaved when seated in ‘someone else’s pew’. Sometimes the child would come back to mom mid-sermon, but that wasn’t a problem at all. Another commenter has a bag with ONLY CHURCH items – those books, toys, etc. can only be accessed on Sunday during church. This also worked for us, with varying degrees of success. Another observed that kiddos DO become quieter, and it is the repetition and continuing determination on your part, that will help accomplish that. (You know they won’t be on the ‘wrong side of the railing’ as a teen, unless they are the acolyte, right?) And an anecdote to enlighten: On the theory that DAILY REPETITION teaches even faster than once a week, a pastor’s wife began when her first child was just old enough to sit up in her lap, and DAILY spent 45 minutes to an hour just sitting that way, quietly, no distractions, perhaps some hymn cd playing in the background, but every day. As more children came along, they all sat together, no talking, or books, or food, or anything else but sit. every. day. When Sunday came, it was no big deal to sit still, for most of the service. I don’t think I could have done it, but she did!!! So, do your kids ever ‘play’ church? Maybe sometime that would work, too. Best wishes, my dear, You are doing it right!!!
From the other side of the age gap, I would weep for joy to have little ones in our church service again. (nobody younger than 13, only 4 teens, everyone else is over 30, or 60!) You KEEP Going!
I have 4 kids 2 and 3 years apart. They are now in their 40s and 50s. I had a job. Somehow it was different. I wasn’t a better parent but we didn’t have the same problems with rambunkious kids? I see it everywhere.
I LOVED this post! Love to hear someone being honest. As a mom of 9, I have thought/felt everything you’ve said here.
I’m there with you :) Maybe we should start doing what the older folks in our church remember: the parents told them that the little room off the chancel was where the devil lived, and if they didn’t behave, they’d have to go in there with him. ;)
Stephen M. Travis
Wow, Vanessa! You’ve described my life every Lord’s day (with few exceptions), now that my wife has joined the Church Triumphant last year. I just do what I can, and leave the rest up to God. Exposure to the Word is what matters, whether it comes from a hymn, the pastor, a teacher, or you. Just “cast that seed” liberally, everywhere, and often, and let God the Holy Spirit do His work!
I really feel terrible that I didn’t do more to help my poor wife when she was here; I am a professional pilot, (sounds like your hubby is one, too) but thankfully (?) I never got my dream airline job that would keep me away from my children during weekends, holidays, etc., and require a stranger to raise them half of the month, even though I have been trying. God has kept me in my “okay” job that keeps me home everyday, including weekends and holidays, so that I can fulfill my more important vocation of Dad-the-single-parent. TO ANY MEN READING THIS: Do more to help your wives in their vocations, or else suffer the consequences later (in my case, guilt, more gray hair, many painful revelations about myself that need resolving, and probably a shorter lifespan…). IDEA: Just find the one thing she hates to do the most and do it or have it done for her, for example.
Take care, and you are included in my prayers, as are all other Moms and Dads going it alone, whether at times or all the time.
Thank you so much! I have three small children and can relate. My intentions are often so good, even though it looks like I brought a circus with me and I can’t wrangle the trained poodles. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is Christ– His intentions to serve my family through forgiveness, Word and Sacrament.
thanks again sister