Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot

I’ve talked before (and here), although not recently, about having small children and babies in church. I was thinking earlier about some things that seem obvious to those who have figured it out, but not to those who haven’t. You know, the things that you think “Duh! WHY didn’t I think of that BEFORE??” Here are a few. This is a list I’d like to call “Not Shooting Yourself in the Foot”

1. If you bring your baby/toddler to church in hard-soled shoes and you attend an uncarpeted church, take the shoes off when you get to church. If you are lucky enough to have a child who does not like to take off running when they get the chance, or lie on their stomach and drum their feet on the floor, then God bless you. The rest of us do better to take the child’s shoes off when we get there. Children and babies will still try to thump and make other noises, but it is a lot more muffled in socks. If you are worried about slips and falls, put the socks on them that have non-skid soles. Of course, this doesn’t take the place of training them to not stomp and drum their feet, but it helps during the transition period.

2. Feed your small child before church. They have little tummies and can’t make it that long. Older children can try fasting for communion at the discretion of your spiritual father, but little ones can’t do it. This much may be obvious. What may be less obvious is this: don’t feed them sugar. Give them something with protein in it so it has a little sticking power. Hungry children are unhappy children. Children hyped up on sugar are difficult to contain.

3. If you have one of those “spitty” babies, time your nursing or the bottle carefully so that they’re not armed and loaded right before communion. No one wants to consume the gifts embedded in spit-up. And don’t put that gorgeous embroidered bib on for communion. Put something on that can be burned if necessary.

4. Children who are taken to communion from infancy usually don’t ever have any problems. If you’ve converted with a small child or have a baby or toddler who for some other reason is not accustomed to going to communion, do not carry him up to the priest on your hip. The child will automatically turn his entire body away from the spoon and you’ll never get anywhere. Carry the child in front of you, facing out, holding one arm under his bottom. Fold his arms over his chest and keep them there with your other arm. He will have a hard time squirming away from the spoon and he will also get in the habit of crossing his arms to go to communion.

5. This is advice to help out your priest. If your child is short, even if they are capable of going to communion on their own, walk behind them and pick them up to the level of the chalice when they get there. Your priest and his back will thank you. If you have a small infant, cradle him in your left arm if your priest is left-handed and in your right arm if your priest is right-handed. He won’t have nearly as much trouble aiming for the mouth that way.

6. In general, the more children are taken to church the better they behave. Not taking them because you have some idea that they’re not well-behaved enough to attend is only making your job harder. Step out and deal with problems as they arise, but continue to go to church. And anyone should be able to tolerate small baby-noises during a service, but if you have all-out screaming, do everyone a favor and remove the child until he or she quiets down. If you are a two-parent team in church (and not an altar or choir widow) trade off so one parent doesn’t always miss everything. Enlist the help of godparents or other willing victims people. Cheer up – it doesn’t last forever. I miss having little ones in church now.

7. However, choose your services carefully. Going to the Royal Hours of Nativity – essentially more than two hours of psalms and readings with no “activity” – with a small child or a baby who is past the age of sleeping through it, is probably asking for trouble. Some of you may have those lovely children who can sit quietly for 3 hours with no stimulation. I never had one of those. If you have to only go to part of a longer service like the Great Canon, then something is better than nothing. Just choose unobtrusive times to come and go.

In addition, I want to point out a post that Michelle just put up about some church books she made. These are not just for taking to church, but may be used during family prayers or just whenever. She did a lovely job and is willing to share her work!

4 thoughts on “Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot

  1. I appreciate these tips – things I had no idea about or had never thought about. We will baptize our first “cradle” Orthodox child on Palm Sunday, so all this is good to know.

    One thing I would add to your list (not that you asked for collaboration here…) is to consider preparing older children (converts) for first communion in terms of its taste. Our son was just shy of 9 when we were chrismated, and upon receiving communion, he pronounced “yuck.”

    Memorable, but also embarrassing.
    Fortunately our priest is a kind and understanding pastor.

    (another) Elizabeth


  2. these are great tips! Many of us have long drives to get to church- we are an hour away- so I can give the little ones some breakfast before we leave, but then they might become hungry during the middle of Liturgy. So- I bring something non-messy like string cheese for them to eat a few minutes before they go into the church


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s