To Take or Not to Take… my little kids to Mass (is the question)

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that today was a crap day. I did something I swore I’d never do any left church before it even started because I just couldn’t deal with my kids bad behavior on my own. I had already dealt with whining about getting changed out of one set of t-shirt and gym pants into another (a set that had not been slept it), complaining about being bored before we even got into the building, flopping around banging into stuff and a toddler doing laps around the pew before even twenty people had gotten into the church. So I picked up our Mass bag (you know that magical bag filled with quiet goodies meant to save us all) and hauled the kids out of the building, past all those kids who, you know, behave at church, into our minivan and home.

We’re not in an easy phase – both my husband and I work weekends (I work full weekends every other week and my husband works every Sunday). Our options to get to church as a family are limited (all Masses on Saturday night happen in a single hour window) and my options on Sunday, which I have to do myself if we miss Saturday, are similarly limited even with a Newman Center. There is no way to divide and conquer without someone missing Mass at the moment – no Mass I can get to before Ben leaves for work Sunday morning and no Mass I can get to Sunday evening after he gets home. We can’t have someone go to an early Saturday evening and someone to a late Saturday evening because they all overlap. It’s really frustrating.

All the “good mother” blogs say we need to take the kids, it’s important, that they’ll be religiously stunted without the Mass. Children belong in the Church! We don’t mind the noise! Please come cry and breastfeed and slam kneelers down on our feet because we love the little children just like Jesus!

Great. Fine. Here, you take them. I’d like to be able to pray and listen and have Mass feel more like something I’m doing because I want to rather than I have to.

But you know what? I’m kind of over it. The struggle is making the church a miserable experience of my kids and me – no one is getting much and we’re all frustrated and near tears at the end. I don’t want to force this so much that my kids run from it as soon as they are able. I want us to go regularly, but I also want my kids to see me going because I want to, to see my love of going…. but right now I think all they see is me scowling and snapping my fingers and counting to three. I’d rather go on my own and let them stay at home constantly and have them know I’m going to do something I love, knowing that when they’re old enough they too can be a part of it than keep with this the way it is. I’d rather Mass be something special they get to do a few times a year until the age of reason that excites them than this weekly dread that brings tears and frustration.

I also want my kids to have a appreciate and deep love for the fine arts, theatre and opera…. but that doesn’t mean I take them weekly two hour long concerts and just shrug off the fact that no one can hear anything over their feet thudding on the seats in front of them and overly loud whispers of “IS THIS OVER YET!?” (no, it’s been five minutes…. just 115 more to go!)

There has to be a happy medium. There need to be better options in our Parishes so we actually have Mass times that don’t all overlap. We need less stigma about nursery programs and we need dialogue about whether childcare for children under the age of reason is a valid exemption. Just today I frantically texted a BFF with frustration steaming out of my ears “Is this exemption list something that was created when most families had nannies, servants or live in relative and multiple options for Sunday Mass because churches had more priests? When you could send the servant to 5 a.m. Mass so there was someone to watch the little heathens while you went at 10?” She, who is much more orthodox than I, pointed out that the “grave reasons” are similar in language to the talk around abstaining in NFP – where as I thought it was a more set it stone list (illness, caregiving of the ill, work, life risk, etc.) so maybe I’m being too scrupulous?(never thought I’d see that day!) Maybe we need the higher ups to talk more about obligations when most families don’t work Monday/Friday schedules or have to do 12 hour shift work or have non-supportive spouses or no waitstaff to thrust our bundles of joy on.

My day eventually got better – my kids calmed down, my son learned a big lesson, he spent the entire day trying to help me, they even found and did one of the Oriental Trading Company crafts I had set aside for Pentecost of their own volition. We made brownies. The baby napped and we watched hours of My Little Pony. The day got better, but I still don’t know what’s going to happen next Sunday when I’m again on my own trying to fulfill my obligation while wrangling these two. I’m not trying to encourage laziness or bad excuses or trying to weasel my way out of an obligation, but maybe I can share this and start a dialogue.

Thanks to everyone who has already given a lot of support and love over IG. It’s really helped today.

21 thoughts on “To Take or Not to Take… my little kids to Mass (is the question)

  1. Been there – and we only have 1 kid to get ready for mass and he is 7 so…Have you thought about a weekday mass that might fit better into your schedule – I find they tend to be a bit quicker and your grave reasons are your own grave reasons and you don’t need to justify them to anyone else.


  2. Super hard. I really hope you write that letter, these are valid concerns. You know you’re doing the absolute best you can for yourself and those sweet kiddo’s, and God see’s that too. 🙂


  3. Does the church offer a nursery for the children? Ours is staffed by a wonderful lady with teen helpers who care for infants and children up to age 5. Both of my children attended the nursery so I could attend Mass. I needed that time to have a bit of peace for myself to get through the week (I’m a high school teacher, and my husband is non-Catholic and attends only at Christmas and Easter.) When the kids were ready, I took them with me (son was still a toddler, but just wanted to sit on my lap and be cuddled; daughter aged out of the nursery). Our son is now grown and married, and our daughter (age 12) and I attend every week together.

    I have friends with large families who homeschool and have always brought everyone to Mass, some more successfully than others (there was always the one kid…). I’d see them and their husbands and sometimes the older children spend all their time holding down the fort in the pew. After Mass, they would be just as frenzied as they were any other day of the week. I didn’t see the peace in that, but it was their choice.

    Despite all the “good mother blogs,” there is no shame in using the nursery; it’s there for families like yours. And I do believe God’s grace extends from the church to the children in the nursery. To believe otherwise limits His might, don’t you think?


  4. I have 5 kids, a daughter age 10 and 4 boys (7, 6, 4 & 1). Thankfully my husband is with us in mass, but that hasn’t prevented a lot of frustration and near tears on my part because of the boys behavior. I do find the people in our parish to be pretty understanding and even helpful as they will smile to the kids and hold the baby, etc. Even so, if I were alone to take them to weekend mass we probably wouldn’t make it there very often. Anything that would cause me to lose my mind on them first thing in the morning is just not worth it in my opinion. So, what they said above, your reasons are your reasons, no one else truly knows what you are feeling except God and he forgives you.


  5. Good morning sweet Iowa Catholic Mom! I just read you blessed is she post today and clicked on over to your blog.
    I quickly skimmed this article and as a working mother I feel your pain.
    I think your best option to get a Sunday 7-730 pm mass option is through the Newman center. My daughter’s Newman center does 7 or 8 pm masses so that the kids traveling back to college have not excuse to get to mass . I would talk to the priest there so that he knows there is a need around the community.
    I will say that even though it is nearlyimpossible to take young ones to mass especially by yourself, keep doing it. They are young and being disciplined takes years to accomplish. A friend of mine who is an amazing Catholic didn’t take her first two to mass until they were older and she said to me that all she did is put off the problems. They too struggled with being good in mass but now it wasn’t ok. They weren’t babies or toddlers and there was no distracting them from doing something naughty or loud.
    One other thing is If you have Catholic friends that go to mass with their families, talk to them about sitting together and as a group keeping the kiddos in line.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful honesty in your writing and your love for our Lord.


    • I might try, but I don’t see the Newman Center changing their options any time soon. Our friends at church jump around between Masses like we do because of schedules and work so we might see the families we know well maybe once a month when it syncs together. Sadly too, they’re the ones who’s kids all act lovely for the most part no matter the age so it usually only makes me feel worse.


  6. First off: ugh and I’m so sorry this is what’s going on right now.

    Second: stop comparing someone else’s front page news to your behind the scenes. They had a good week for the 5 minutes you saw them. Congrats and move on!

    Third: This seems a bit off-the-wall, but is there another family in the church with middle or high school age kids that you can sit next to, willing & able to help? (I read about it in another blog somewhere…)
    A few thoughts on this: Most of the time kids behave better for anyone besides mom or dad. So let them. Sit the older child next to a “big” kid and let them imitate them. You’re still there to keep watch, but you can focus more on being a part of Mass. Next thought – being a single woman in the church with no children, I would love nothing more than to help out a frazzled Momma & cuddle some babes, but I don’t want to overstep, especially if a meltdown is happening in the middle of service (even though I’ve done what I can from a few rows back playing peek-a-boo)! Maybe be on the lookout for people that might be able to fulfill these roles. Even some empty-nester parents might love the opportunity to love on some little ones! (And I wish I lived closer because I would absolutely volunteer!!)

    It’s going to take intentionality, but it might be a blessing to build that community and push through the awkward. Again, this is a totally outside perspective looking in, so please take it with lots of salt! 😉


    • We don’t know any families well enough. We’ve only been at this parish for two years and don’t have those kinds of relationships and most of the families we do know need to hope from Mass to Mass because of their own schedules so we don’t even consistently see the same people every week. We don’t live in the community where the church we attend is either so it makes it that much harder…


  7. Oh I know how you feel. My daughter was a little heathen in church and going with her made us very upset parents. So we didnt. From ages 1-3 she stayed home with a sitter while the rest of us went as a family. And you know what, when we started taking her at 4 she behaved. And now at 5 I sometimes joke she behaves better then the bigger boy’s 😉 I fully believe in church teaching and guidelines but I also believe that every family is different. You have to find what works for you. Trust me, taking an insane toddler to church with our family was not the best thing at all for ours.
    Also, I’m new to your blog…just came over from your Blessed is She devotional 🙂


  8. You are doing the best you can! God will understand. His mercy is great.
    During the school year, does Mt. Mercy have a Sunday evening Mass? St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (right off 380 in Hiawatha) used to have a nursery during the Sunday morning Mass. I moved about four years ago so I don’t know if they still do or what the schedule is. If you go the St EAS route, Oscar’s is a small “home-town” diner across 380 in a little strip mall next to Caseys on Center Point Road. I miss going to St E’s and then going for breakfast afterward at Oscar’s. (of course, my kids were older and we used the time to go over schedules for the coming week). Mercy Medical Center probably has Mass at the same time as all the others, but it’s fast, maybe 25 minutes. Good luck and take it easy on yourself, you are trying.


    • Yep, I was just told about this a few weeks ago by another reader. Made special arrangements that weekend, sent my son and husband to Mass on their own on Saturday while I stayed home with a sleeping toddler, stayed home Sunday morning, drove up on my own that evening…. closed for the summer (they don’t specify school year only on the website). Mercy Iowa City only has Mass at 11:30 Mercy Cedar Rapids only does Mass Mon-Thursday???


  9. Hi Molly, I enjoyed your BIS devotional today and just happened to visit your blog. This has to be incredibly frustrating. I thought this might be helpful. Canon 11 says kids aren’t required to attend mass until age 7. (See So there is no reason to feel guilty about not taking younger-than-7 kids to mass if it’s just not working. Period.
    Maybe you could find someone to babysit once a week so you can get to mass? I know it’s easy for me to say that, and not always easy to find someone. Prayers and love to you!


  10. Late to this conversation, but I wanted to add my encouragement: I think all moms (perhaps especially us convert moms?) feel like our children are THEE. WORST. BEHAVED. CHILDREN AT MASS. Ever. And that all other moms have perfect children. I certainly went through a similar phase when I didn’t want to go to Mass with my young son, and we tried leaving him at home with my parents on alternate Sundays. I didn’t get anything out of the Mass when he came with us. I hated going up for Communion, seething with annoyance at his behavior. But other moms, those with far more kids than I (seven, eight, nine kids!) encouraged me to stick it out, and everyone said that no one was judging me (well, except for one horrible, childless lady who told me to take my restless son out of church…I never saw her again at that Mass after I cried in the pews after her remark). My son is six now, and still awful. GRRRR. I still get mad. I offer it up. Mortification is good. . . right? My point being…even if it doesn’t go smoothly and I don’t “get much” out of Mass, I am still trying to fight the good fight. And that is what we are called to do. On the other hand, I also wanted to say that you alone are the judge of when you need to stay home from Mass, given your individual circumstances. When this has happened to us, we try to read the Mass readings and stream Mass online, and make a spiritual communion. If you confess that you had to miss your Sunday Obligation, you can at least mitigate the consequences by explaining how you tried to keep the Sabbath holy. Lastly, I don’t know where you are in Iowa, but for finding a Mass time that works, you could also include other Rites that are in communion with Rome, like the Melkites or Maronites. For us, when we lived in rural Maine, where Catholic churches were few and far between, we knew we could attend a local Maronite Rite church in a pinch. Or, you could consider attending a church that offers the traditional Latin Mass (aka Tridentine Mass aka TLM). I think the FSSP has a church in Cedar Rapids. (Maybe the SSPX has Masses in Iowa, too, but their status in Rome is sketchy, while the FSSP is in full communion). The struggle to find a Mass you like, to have the energy to wrangle your kids, and to make the timing work out right is a real struggle. I am praying for you!


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