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Guest Post – Dear Parents With Young Children in Church.

Today I want to express my gratitude to *that Mom* for giving me permission to reprint her blog post “Dear Parents With Young Children in Church.”  *That Mom* is a stay at home mama to two little boys and a pastor’s wife. Her blog is well worth exploring.

This particular post really touched my heart. I would encourage you to read it carefully and prayerfully consider the questions afterwards.

“Dear Parents with young children in church,

You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant car seat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper.  I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.

When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in ten years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echos of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know, it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people… and even on those weeks when you can’t see the little moments, it matters to your children.
It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it’s hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family – with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy – are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.”

Questions

  1. How often do you express your appreciation to parents who struggle to church with their young children?
  2. Do you make a point of telling these parents that they and their children fill the church with joyful noise?
  3. Do you tell the parents what you see the children learning week by week?
  4. What actions could you take to demonstrate to these families that they are vital members of the community?

EDIT: Our children’s ministry blogger responds to this letter in the postAn Open Letter to Parish Councils and Church Leadership. The conversation continues.

Sharon Harding

About Sharon Harding

I was born in England and immigrated to Canada almost 30 years ago. A graduate of Gloucestershire University (B.Ed.), I have been involved in children’s ministry since I was 16. Over the past 12 years I have written for a variety of Christian Education curriculum resources. I also write a blog at rediscoveredfamilies.com encouraging parents to build strong connections with their children. When I am not working I enjoy painting, reading, and pottering around the Internet.
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34 Responses to Guest Post – Dear Parents With Young Children in Church.

  1. This is a great post. I try to continaully remind the congregation of the importance of the children in our midst, however, it seems always undercut by the ‘sigh’ of another person being annoyed at the child’s laughter, or the stern glances that state ‘you should be out in the hall’.

    In my last parish I had a parishoner come with her kids for the first time and then heard someone whisper ‘can’t she have her kids shut up for a minute!” She left in tears. To her credit, she came back. But it took a lot of convincing that the Christian community was one of love and care.

    This is a great reminder of the importance of the children, and our call to nurture, care, and respect even the smallest amongst us. Thanks.

    • Sharon Harding

      Ohh your heart must have sunk when you heard what had been said. Unfortunately we cannot prevent the sighs, stern glances and whispered comments. Still I think it does help if others in the congregation do provide positive feedback in the form of smiles and verbal affirmations.
      I also think (and I say this with much trepidation) that as congregations we need to lovingly talk to those people who make hurtful comments and explain the harm they do. I can’t decide who should do this though. I think it probably needs to be someone other than the priest.

  2. Profile photo of Nancy

    Fantastic post. I’m so glad you shared it here. I’ll definitely be stopping by *That Mom*’s blog to read more of her writing. My husband and I recently started taking our kids to church (and returned to church ourselves) and it has been a wonderful experience. The church we go to has made us and our kids feel like we belong there. And as one really nice older person said to me on about the fourth or fifth Sunday we attended when I apologized for the racket my kids made during the service, “There is no such thing as a loud child in church, dear. We are all here to worship in our own way, and the little ones just do it best out loud.”

  3. Profile photo of Elizabeth

    I like this article very much, as well, and am pleased that it’s being shared.

    I’m an Anglican priest and the mother of three young boys. My children are my best teachers and I learn a great deal from our young friends at church, as well. I make a point to tell young families and those visiting with us that I know it is much easier to plan and preside at a Sunday morning eucharist than it is to keep one (or three!) children and those around them happy all the way through it. My husband has done this for years. I tell these families what I tell my own children, that its their job to make noise, make a mess, play, and rest in the knowledge that they are loved by God and called to love others. My husband sometimes jokes that those who plan the services don’t always seem to have received the memo.

    I guess it’s for this reason that one thought did come to mind once I’d finished reading the article. If it’s true that worship shapes who we are as the Body of Christ, we would all do well to “sit quietly and behave in worship” less often, regardless of our age. I hate to think what kind of church our children will have left for them, and the kind of witness it will have, if we don’t.

  4. The church is for everybody we should sing “Welcome Everybody” every week and encourage all to attend.

  5. I love this, I have been there, I see and hear it today and it warms my heart.

  6. Profile photo of Sally

    We left our church when it was the minister in charge who was unaccepting of children. Not surprisingly, the average age of the congregation at the church he had retired from was over 60. I think that church still exists, mostly because of its own endowment. Focus on music as a way of reaching out to the unchurched or those who have been absent for many years. Reach them by what is sung (by the choir), not said or read.

  7. I love this article and that our Church is filled with joyful noise week after week. Our children frequently out number the amount of adults present. The best comment I have heard in church came from my son who was 5 at the time when he ran up to Daddy after running and spinning and jumping in the aisle during worship and asked “Daddy, do you like how I dance for Jesus?” Our kids really do worship in thier own way.

  8. When we were new parents, we were members at a great church, and as our little lady grew, she began to find her voice. And she loved Pastor Dan’s sermons. She viewed them as her personal weekly chat with Pastor Dan and almost always had something to say in return, as he spoke. After a time or two of this, we made a sheepish apology to Pastor Dan about the little lady who sat in the back and constantly chattered, loudly, to his sermons. His response was something that stayed strong in my heart, and is one of the first things we look for in a church now. He said, ‘ She’s fine. She’s part of our church too. And if we don’t expect them to participate and make noise when they are two, how can we expect it at 22?’

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  11. Thank you for this post. As parents of seven we have had comments from both sides including and anonymous letter telling us we should bring our kids to church when they are older. We have had compliments too. Please do everything you can to encourage families to bring their children to church.

  12. This is a fabulous piece! I am one of seven children, and can easily recall those “looks” in church. I wonder how my mom and dad did it every week, they just kept on keeping on. I came back to The Body of Christ after a long absence. Thanks for the reminder that we are all part of this Body, Every last, least , lost and little one. Thank You!

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  15. I have been working on a blog series about keeping children in church (http://creeksidebiblechurch.org/childreninchurch/). I appreciate this post as the questions about whether the family integrated model for church can/does work. In theory it is excellent, in practice it seems much harder.

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  18. Thanks for this, I honestly don’t go to Church for this very reason! My toddler wont let me leave him in the toddler room or let alone leave my side. He would prefer to make a noise so innocently that yes both hubby and I are embarrassed or flushed.

  19. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! PLEASE read.

  20. Profile photo of

    Thank you for posting this…I actually saw it through FB. I am a mother of 6 and have kept my kids in church with me since the beginning. I have been looked down upon for not leaving them in the nursery or children’s church. It wasn’t because I didn’t trust the person or my kids wouldn’t behave for said nursery worker…it was because I wanted to be with them while I worshipped my Lord and Savior. I wanted them to see their mom humbly praising Him. I wanted to teach them how to behave in church. I wanted to be with God’s special gift to me. I wanted a lot of things.
    Instead, I have been berated for not letting others serve me…for not trusting my “church family”…for setting my children up to fail when and if I ever did leave them in nursery…for disrupting the service…and even been told that I was disrupting the Holy Spirit from moving in the church because of my kids. We have always sat in the front of the church in the first pew so that the kids can see what is going on (and there are always Bibles, Hymnals, papers, pencils, etc. in the backs of the pews that are a constant distraction for the kids, so sitting in the front avoids that), and we were even asked to sit at the back of the church. We were so heart broken. Still, we didn’t want to cause a rift, so we went to the back of the church. And still, when the kiddos were a little too loud, people would turn around and give us the “look”. And the sound they made really wasn’t that loud at all. The pastor was the one who asked us on behalf of someone in the church, even though he said he couldn’t believe it was being asked and he really didn’t care. If he didn’t care, then why did he ask? Where was the leadership then?
    I try my best to make sure that my kids are well-behaved in church, and have even sat out in the hall when the baby was crying or being truly disruptive…but I have to tell you…I am so sick of bitter old men and women who have forgotten what it is like to have children giving me judgmental looks and sighing and shaking their heads when my four year old dances in the front of the church while praise music is being played thinking she is a beautiful princess of God’s and wanting to dance in His house to His music. I am so sick of people not loving one another…people who are commanded to do so…I am so sick of trying to please people…and it is changing me for the worse. I have caught myself actually pinching my daughter for being too loud and giving my kids the “look”…the same look I find being given to me…the one I hate. I don’t enjoy church anymore…I feel judged and frowned on…
    So, to those of you who might read this…don’t change unless led by the Spirit to do so. Don’t turn into me. Love that your kids are there. Don’t cave to the pressure of man-made laws. Praise loud and clear…dance if you want…just like David. And to those of you without kiddos…please encourage that mom. Please encourage her letting her little girl dance in the front of the church. Please encourage them that it is o.k. for the baby to whine a little or even to coo too loudly. And if you are a pastor reading this…it is especially important for you to lead…don’t let this behavior continue…and let that mom know that your sermon isn’t going to be ruined if the baby cries…PLEASE!!!! I beg you. Thanks for listening.

    • Sharon Harding

      Oh Angelique I am so sorry that your church experience has been so hurtful. I don’t understand the comments you have received, especially the one about disrupting the Holy Spirit. It sounds to me as if the Holy Spirit moves every time your daughter dances before God. What a wonderful gift that is and how I would love to watch her. What a shame your congregation doesn’t recognize it. Please know that not every church is the same. Perhaps it is time to find a community of faith that would welcome you and your family. I admire your perseverance. Please don’t give up.

  21. This is wonderful! It’s also why I started taking my children to church for them (http://bluegrassredhead.com/blog/why-i-take-my-children-to-church) and have kept going because of the love and support I felt there!

  22. When I first started going back to Church over 30 years ago, I was then a lone parent struggling with a son who has adhd. He and I where welcomed even though he ran up the aisle shouting I’m a train I’m a train. He is now 40, still has a few problems so please don’t judge

  23. I was this women. A pastor’s wife with 6 children in eleven years. I remember making a comment to a lady in our first church about not being sure why I bothered to come, and I never forgot her loving response. ” You are just getting them in the attitude of Worship” I have since shared that with some overwhelmed mom’s. Thankful that my now 15 to 27 year olds are still all in church with three of my four sons in Ministrial pursuits themselves. We actually survived and believe it or not I miss those days.:-)

  24. Thank you for sharing this. The Lord blessed me with sweet words of comfort through you. Thank you for listening to the call. God Bless~ your sister in Christ Jesus, Meagan

  25. Very true, we get in discipline and embarrasment mode, and its only later we see what they’ve learned, I have been going to church for a year and was pleased to see my daughter read and sing along from the giant screen at church, it took a year but she is singing now!

  26. I just want to say thank you for posting this wonderful article! I had a terrible experience when my twin girls were 7 months old. I had taken them with me to a cousins baby dedication out of the state. Of course I had them in the sanctuary with me, my mother had one baby and I had the other. The babies were doing great and the minute one of them made a small peep the PREACHER pointed at me and said please take your child out and to to the nursery! I was appalled and mortified no less. I wanted to hide somewhere and cry. My pastor at my church has always been very open to having children and babies in the services and encourages it actually, so I never expected to be called out in the middle of the church service.

  27. Mothers of young children – whatever you do, DON’T do what a young mother I witnessed did. After attending the traditional service, I was leaving the church through the back door. Hearing a commotion, I checked it out. A mother was standing over her child looking down at him. I asked if I could assist her. She informed me that her son (at most 3-years old) was misbehaving in church, so she brought him outside. I noticed that his pants were down and when I coaxed her into picking him up, as she was pulling the pants up, I saw the bright red backs of his legs. In our conversation, the mother mentioned that her son didn’t like to go to church. I can understand why and I wept for the boy. Whenever I saw them again, I went up to them and chatted with the mother and exchanged greetings with the son. Whever you are, please pray for Ethan, his mom, and his younger sister. Thank you.

    • Sharon Harding

      Ohh my goodness! What a terrible message is being sent to that young boy. That is so sad :(

      • Profile photo of Jennifer S

        So what are ways we as church/witnesses can protect the child(ren) from abusive behaviour without also alienating mum?

        Linda’s work on building a relationship with the family seems like a good start but it also sends a terrible message if child learns by silence or non-intervention that church (still) tolerates beating people in God’s name.

        Not just at church. Overheard at mall on weekend – “Come with me. Now I’m going to have to spank you.” As a bystander wasn’t sure what to do. In this tech age follow and openly record whatever happens next (with the calm explanation when the inevitable challenge comes that I am uncomfortable with adults hitting children because I think it is wrong, so I want to have an accurate record), or is that too provocative?

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  • Thanks for this, I honestly don't go to Church for this very reason! My toddler wont let me leave him in the toddler room or let alone leave my side. He would prefer to make a noise so innocently that yes both hubby and I are embarrassed or flushed.
    • This is a fabulous piece! I am one of seven children, and can easily recall those "looks" in church. I wonder how my mom and dad did it every week, they just kept on keeping on. I came back to The Body of Christ after a long absence. Thanks for the reminder that we are all part of this Body, Every last, least , lost and little one. Thank You!
      Cute images of people