Reader says: "I would like our children to be fully involved, engaged and enjoying it. At the moment, I feel that all they do is sit there quietly, not particularly participating and simply waiting it out."
Mrs. Ed says: Sitting quietly is highly underrated. If two boys are sitting quietly in Mass, you're doing something right. Waiting it out is better than fighting it out. Or sighing it out. Or sleeping it out.
Reader continues: "...lots of his school friends don't attend Mass or any worship services. So, he now pronounces loudly -- and frequently -- how boring Mass is, how dull it is, that he doesn't want to be Catholic any more, etc. ... Do 8-year olds generally 'enjoy' and participate in Mass? What about 6-year olds?"
Mrs. Ed says: First of all, huge disclaimer: I know NOTHING about boys.
But, it's not at all unusual for children to get bored during Holy Mass. Hang in there, Mom! Most children get bored. They just don't get it yet -- that's okay. Keep the big picture in mind. You're on a journey with them, and it's a long haul.
In my rather limited experience, most children get really revved up about their first Holy Communion, both in preparation for it and when it actually happens. Sometimes that excitement carries them for some time -- how many of us have seen our first Communicants beg to go to daily Mass so they could receive Jesus again? It's lovely, and sweet, and energizing but it doesn't always last. Again, hang in there. You haven't ruined them.
As the kids get a little older, boredom seems to return again for a time, but that's part of the long haul, too. We have to keep pulling back the curtain, showing our children a little more about their faith as they grow and mature, offering them new ways to experience God. It's a lifelong process of growth. It's a relationship. That's the real issue. How do we keep helping them nurture that relationship so that it will grow over the years?
But, back, specifically, to Mass with kids. One of the things I've always tried to do is to let my children see my own desire to be at Mass. It's always helped to completely center the day around it -- Sunday is for Mass, no exceptions, no excuses when we're out of town. We just go. We remain faithful to God no matter what, and no matter how we feel on a particular morning. Most of the time, I long to be at Mass. But I also think it's okay to be honest with children (those who are old enough to understand) about the fact that sometimes even we grown-ups don't feel like going. We all get tired, overextended, etc., and have those days when Mass can feel like one more thing to do. By being honest with our children about this, we can set an example about how to handle temptations. We show them that we're willing to submit our wills to God's, and we're helping them learn how they can do that, too.
It has always helped our family, too, to make Sunday a special, fun, family-centered day. We do things together -- walks, game nights, movies -- we relax, we eat donuts. Atticus often cooks a special dinner. I think when children come to associate Sunday with all kinds of other close, loving memories, it helps them to associate it (and Mass) with God's love, too.
When Ramona was five, I wrote this:
to celebrate Holy Thursday she drew a picture of Jesus and His apostles and then starting gift-wrapping things she found around the house, because "people should have presents when we're happy." Did she understand all that we would feel and remember at last night's Mass? No. Did she understand that we were happy that Jesus gave us the Eucharist? Yes. The rest will come.
.. I watched Ramona yesterday, when she drew her picture of Jesus. Her eyes were shining, and she was brimming with joy. And I thought, for a moment, that one of the reasons the Church wisely gave us Lent and penance, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, is that we grown-ups sometimes forget to shine.I want to strive to have my children see me shine. (I fail often, but it's worth striving for.)
We've tried to share with our kids that our faith is a huge part of our lives -- it is woven through so many things that we do, and Mass is one more part of that. Celebrating feast days, saint days, baptismal birthdays, doing fun activities that bring the faith alive -- these things can truly make a difference in helping kids to get excited about their faith. Have fun with your faith, and your kids will, too.
A friend of mine recently hosted her first meeting of a boys' club at her house -- they talked and read about archangels, made cardboard swords and ice cream bucket-lid shields, and when it was time for snacks, the boys all got to stab their devil's food cupcakes before they ate them. I laughed out loud when I heard this. I must admit that it never occurred to me to have kids stab their cupcakes. But, this is apparently the sort of thing that boys live for. (It's a good thing I didn't have boys. Really ... a very good thing.) Great activities and ideas are all over the place -- just start Googling, or check out some of my archives, especially those under "Liturgical Year." (But not if you have boys. We've never stabbed our cupcakes here.)
Those are some initial thoughts, though I know I've just scratched the surface. I'd love to follow up on some of the following:
- Letting go of an ideal about what I should get out of Mass when I'm there with children
- Sensitive kids and Mass
- Homemade aids that can help young children through Mass
If anyone has anything to add to the conversation, please do!
(Part II is here.)