I'm writing this in response to a friend who is struggling with getting back into church with two toddlers in tow!
Now, I dont have it all figured out and am not some amazing super mom or anything. But I did want to blog about and share what WE do and what seems to be working for us.
For starters, my church is small. I'm talking a "big crowd" would be 50ish. Usually its more like 30 or so folks. And yes, that does make a difference, sometimes for the better (everyone is close) and sometimes for the worst (small room, small group, baby/kid sounds stand out and you often find yourself with the ONLY kid in the room).
Our church has no nursery. We just recently in the last year even had a Sunday School class/location for kids under 5. And that was because I started it. I have since moved up and taken over a new class as Isaac reached the point of staying without me, and the other little girl had not reached that point yet so it made more sense for her grandmother to take over the class rather than have two adults and two toddlers. That "class" is also accepting of any child under 5, so its even a fit for infants, we have no new babies at this time so the class is just growing with Isaac (age 2 1/2) and T (age 1 1/2). I didnt even know they made materials for that age group, but they do. They have their very own take home Sunday School lesson and everything. They spend the class watching Praise Baby DVDs, coloring, playing musical instruments, and of course just playing. But they do get praise and worship music and a story. Which is plenty for a 1 and 2 year old!!
Anyway, I'm digressing....Sunday School...didnt always have one. For a good while Isaac had to go in with me in the adult class. It worked for a while but I was not getting fed in the class. It was a combo of the class style (new teacher/materials) and wrestling a toddler. But, in reality, I think it was God pushing me to start the ball rolling and help provide something our church needed...a nursery/toddler class and classroom. At first it was me providing it, now I tell Isaac to go to class and he waves and says "bye bye Mama" and runs off.
Now...on to church. Church is much more difficult. The congregation is expected to be quiet. Toddlers are not quiet. Babies are not always quiet. I spent most of the service for the first couple months in the back room nursing Isaac. Though I did miss part of the sermon, I usually made it back out to the sanctuary for the last part and was able to gleam some nuggets which God usually placed the right nuggets at the right time.
Then Isaac started crawling. We did have few Sundays I had to grab him before he took got too far away. Then he started walking...and running. He got up to the front of the church a couple times before I grabbed him. There were a few snickers and "he wants to preach!lol" comments, but generally it didn't happen often. Oh sure, those Sundays I was nearly in tears when I left church. I was mortified, stressed, embarrassed, but now, looking back after they were over, they were a brief time period, and its not like it was something I had to deal with every day.
And since we attended church for a while everyone was familiar with us. Knew me, Isaac, and were willing to help. Even if all it meant was sticking out an arm and stopping him as he whizzed by. Or telling him "no" when I had my back turned and we tried to grab a votive out of the window (our church has now gone to battery operated tea lights!lol). Or the teenage girls love helping me carry Isaac to the car. Or sitting with him while I make plates at potluck. Now Isaac LOVES to sit with our Pastor's wife. She is my "bookend" on the pew helping keep him inside the pew and not OUTSIDE in the isles. He has climbed up in her lap, HIS CHOICE (and she doesnt mind one bit!) the past three Sundays in row. She even started bringing him stuff in her bag...crayons, coloring book, small toys, cookies (per my approval). He now tells her "ThankYou" when she pulls them out, and after church he puts the back in her bag and gives her a hug.
Now...my church bag. What I take to help keep Isaac quiet. I always have crayons, even if I don't have a coloring book he can color on the program (which for some reason is more fun anyway). I always have a book, a couple trucks, and animals (dinos, cows, etc.) I also always have a drink (water or juice usually)for him. Those little Tummy Ticklers work nice because I can keep them in the bag and if I am rushed I have a drink on hand, they are fun for kids and a special treat, and they dont spill! They are a little pricey, but a great "keep quiet" treat. Snacks. Before it was puffs and stuff, but now that Isaac is older I do bring stuff like cookies and suckers. Dum Dums are great because they are cheap and they are small, just right for little kiddoes and not TOO much sugar. I figure so what if he ruins his lunch, its not like I let him eat a sucker before lunch everyday or anything. Plus, he rarely finishes one.
I usually save stuff like the snacks for as long as possible and try to hold out until preaching time. A few car sounds and talking is generally not too noticeable during song service. And if I keep the sweet snacks until preaching they quiet him down better when they are "new". Plus, some Sundays I can avoid using them all together. Sometimes he'll fall asleep and sometimes he'll play quietly the whole time.
Oh sure, I have Sundays I want to pull my hair out . Some Sundays when I leave saying "Whats the point?" Some Sundays I am just SURE everyone is glaring at me. Did have one Sunday where the guy behind me moved up a seat...I was so embarrassed. I felt awful. Then someone, usually an older person whom I am sure is exasperated at my child, will come up to me and tell me how children are heritage of the Lord. And how they love seeing him grow. And how they can't wait to see if he becomes a preacher or singer or his role in the church. And its all worth it. Every moment of fighting and hair pulling, because had I not endured that, my son would never have an understanding of church. It doesnt matter how disruptive he is, he IS learning what church and being in church means. And one day...that will become evident.
Now my church does not have a nursery option for during service. And I'm ok with that. In the event we had a nursery I am not sure I would use it. My opinion is that I think it is important for kids to be in service if its reasonably possible. To me, its important that my child learn to sit in service like adults do. Not saying using the nursery is wrong, or having a nursery is wrong, just for my family I like my son learning what church is all about. Not that they don't learn in kids church or nursery or anything like that. Just my weird viewpoint! lol
You may also note that I don't mention my husbands involvement in helping during church, well he does not attend with us. I'd rather not go into that right here in my blog. Just know he is an awesome amazingly helpful wonderful Daddy, he's just not in church with us at this time.
Now, what we do may change when it (if) becomes two kids instead of one. But I am optimistic that we will make things work and that it will fall in place.
I think the enemy uses our kids against us a lot of times. He uses them to cause us frustration and grief and a sense of being overwhelmed. And church is just one example of that. I have fallen prey to that many many times myself. And just now, for the moment anyway, I have overcome that. I recently started going back on Sunday nights, something I convinced myself I couldn't do because of Isaac, and I have been greatly rewarded for that step. And Isaac has been wonderful.
I hope this can help someone. And if you have any kids in church tips, please share!