This past weekend during a service, The Pope told a few new mothers to happily nurse their hungry little babies. Now, I’m not entirely sure if there were hungry, though probably, and I love that The Pope told the mothers to nurse-away! And let’s face it, feeding those hungry babes is sure to keep them happy and quiet, allowing the service to continue in peace. But what about the rest of us with our squirmy little infants and toddlers? Today on Clean & Proper we’re discussing some church etiquette tips for children and infants.
If you are a regular church-goer you know there are different service times and for specific reasons. In the Episcopal Church, there is usually one service that does not include music or hymns. It tends to be the most formal of the services, and the earliest service on Sunday. Later in morning is the traditional Episcopal service with the choir, organist and standard hymns and readings from The Book of Common Prayer.
Somewhere in the middle of those two services, or after, is a service specifically designed for families. During the holidays this service might include a special Easter service just of the kiddies to attend with the parents, separate from the full service taking place simultaneously in the Chapel. During Christmas, this service might include the traditional Christmas Pageant, featuring the story of the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, it’s important to be familiar with the different services offered by your church–or temple or mosque, depending on your religion–and the audience for whom each service is designed.
Now, keeping that in mind . . .
Etiquette is always important for children, especially in a house of worship or during a formal occasion such as a wedding or funeral or memorial service. However, during the family focused services I am inclined to say etiquette is slightly less of an issue. Why? Because those services are designed with squirmy toddlers in mind. And if I realized anything this past Christmas during gate 3 pm family service, it’s that every pew if filled with at least two families, all with little tykes, all squirming, eating, jabbering, crying and laughing.
What if you’re attending one of the services not designed specifically for the kiddies?
1. Bring silent snacks.
Bring snacks that will not crumple all over the floor (crackers), snacks that are not super loud when dropped (something in a giant container), and snacks that will not disturb others. Obviously children have their preferences, but try to keep others and the church in mind when deciding what treats to bring for your little one to get them through the service.
2. Nurse away.
If you’re still in the breastfeeding or bottle-feeding stages, do what you need to do. Depending on your comfort level, do use the designated nursing/family rooms which are often right outside and designed so you can still view the service or listen to it. Our temple has a great room where I can go with Mae, but still view the service through a window. The Naval Academy Chapel–where we often go on Easter Sunday–has a separated room with a TV where I can view the service. As a new mother I always left the pew to nurse Mae so that I would have some privacy and not disturb others. As a mother of a 2-year old who is now past the stage of nursing, I say if you want to nurse in the pews, then do it. Nurse away!
3. Bring age-appropriate, respectful activities.
What do I mean by that? Do not bring crayons for your 2-year old, if he or she will color all over the hymnal or church pews. Do bring crayons if your 3-year old will only color on the church bulletin handed out during each service. Do not bring loud toys that your child is bound to throw, or those toys that make sound.
Here’s the bottom line–religious sanctuaries are for the people. We all know children can be squirmy little rugrats that make noise and scream. If your child is being disruptive to others, take your child outside or into one of the family rooms to calm down, enjoy a snack, or play with his toy truck. If your child can get through a service by silently snacking on some oyster crackers–Mae’s favorite!–then let your child enjoy the service and who cares if she’s going to eat through the service. Just, pick up any crumbs and if your child becomes a disturbance, remove him or her temporarily.
Take into consideration your house of worship, the audience and the service. If it is a wedding or funeral, remove the child. If it is a holiday family service designed with children in mind, your kid is fine. He or she can stay and be one of the other loud children hollering throughout the service.
When it comes to etiquette, especially with managing children, always be respectful and aware of your surroundings and those you might disturb, but also remember you’re a parent with a young child who is always bound to disturb someone. It’s just life and God knows children are loud!