From the Trenches: Mass Survival Strategies That Work for Us

by | Jan 29, 2013 | Babies, Parenting | 17 comments

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After nearly a month of blogging, I am FINALLY getting some recognition. :0)  I am excited to have been nominated in the category of “Best Lifestyle Blog” in the Sheenazing Blogger Awards at A Knotted Life.  

If you feel so inclined, please go vote and pass this along.  (You can also vote for Adam’s Mom from Equipping Catholic families, she’s nominated in Most Inspirational Blog!)  And check out some of the other great Catholic blogs that are also nominated.  Voting closes Thursday at 6pm central.  One vote per customer.  And a big thank you to whoever nominated me!

This post is part of a correspondence between Frankie and Adam, two toddlers from big Catholic families. For more explanation, go here.

To see Adam’s perspective over at Equipping Catholic Families, go here.

Dear Adam,

We’re both the youngest (so far) of big families.  I don’t know about you, but I love throwing my mom for a loop, just when she thinks she has all this kid stuff figured out.

My question for you is: What are your family’s Mass survival strategies?


My family always sits right up front.  In the very first pew if possible.  That way we can see what’s going on in the Mass, rather than just a sea of grown up backs in front of us.  It really helps us pay better attention.  I like to see my biggest brother serving the Mass.  But I do sometimes get so excited when I see him that I shout out his name.  I really need to work on that. 

We don’t usually have the problem of grownups asking us to skootch over to the middle, since we take up a whole pew.  But I can see how that would be frustrating.  Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle, not the old folks or the young folks.


If I start getting antsy my Dad will pick me up and, in a whisper, direct my attention to the priest, or the crucifix, or the windows.  He also very quietly explains what’s going on.  It quiets me down, and before I’m three I’ll have a pretty good handle on the order of the Mass.

Sometimes my mom or dad will have to take me out if I bonk my head or throw a fit.  But they don’t mind walking past all the pews.  Most people smile sympathetically.

But we always come right back into Mass as quickly as possible.  They don’t want me to think that it’s playtime for me in the back of the church.  It’s nice for me to see the good example of my brothers and sisters and the other parishioners sitting quietly and paying attention to the Mass.  That’s why our family would never, ever sit in a cry room.*  Our church doesn’t have one because it was built in 1797, so we don’t have to worry about it.

I am allowed to have snacks and toys (that aren’t messy or noisy) during Mass, but once I turn two I will have to give that up, like my brothers and sisters before me did.  My parents think that two years old is about when I’ll be ready to be held accountable for my behavior in Mass.  Then, if I get taken out of Mass for misbehaving I will have to sit quietly in a corner outside until we can go back in.  You’re two.  Did this ever happen to you?  How bad is it?

We think that practice makes perfect.  So, we try to go to Mass as often as possible.  Every Sunday, of course, but we also usually go to Mass as a family on Saturday.  And anyone who is up early enough can go to daily Mass with my parents.  I make it a point to be up early.

Another thing that helps my biggest brothers and sister to pay attention during Mass is having a MagnifiKid, (thanks Nana!) so they can follow along with all the readings and prayers.  It’s easier for them to keep track of where we are than with the regular missal, since they don’t have to flip around.  It also has cute games and comics that they are NOT supposed to look at during Mass.

If we attend a Mass where a children’s liturgy is offered, my siblings who have not yet received their First Communion may go, but the others stay, so that they may hear a real homily by a priest.  My parents think that’s important.

Our family wears church clothes to church.  My mom says, “If we can bother to put on a bathing suit to go to the beach, we can certainly bother to put on khakis and a collared shirt to go to Mass.”

We always stay in the pew until the recessional hymn is finished.  If we are at a church that has an Adoration Chapel we always stop in after Mass to say  good morning to Jesus.  I like to blow Him a kiss.  My mom figures that if all eight of us go in, we only have to stay seven and a half minutes to make an hour of Adoration!  But I have to admit, I rarely make it that long.  My mom or dad or one of my oldest siblings will take me out if I get too antsy.

Then we get to go out and see everyone.  People are so happy to see a big family at Mass.  We remind many people of their own families, now all grown up.  Sometimes ladies scoop me out of my mom’s arms and wander around with me.  But she doesn’t mind.

If there are donuts, and the WHOLE FAMILY was good, we usually get to go have some.  It’s a good motivation not to blow it for everyone.

I liked hearing about what your family does to survive Mass, and I can’t wait to talk next time.

Keep ’em on their toes!


*p.s. Frankie’s Mom here.  Reading this over, I realize that it sounds like we’ve really got the system down.  And I would say that for the most part, we do.  But in the interest of full disclosure, Frankie isn’t old enough to remember how things used to be.  As a mother of two, living in Chicago, I used to have the cry room all to myself for daily Mass and my two-year-old would run laps around the pews while I tried to pay attention to what was going on in the main church.  I do NOT recommend this method.  I just mention it in case you happen to be a young mother in the all-little-kids phase.  If you’re anything like I was, there’s nowhere to go but up.

I would also add that sitting in the front pew is good for kids, but it’s even better for me.  It is certainly our responsibility as parents to train our children to be well-behaved in Mass, and of course, we need to go out of Mass with babies and toddlers who are being disruptive.  

But it can be VERY FRUSTRATING when I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job and my baby is just making baby noises here and there and people in front of us turn around to look and see what’s making that noise.  It makes me want to hoist my baby in the air and say “IT’S A BABY!  That’s what’s making those baby noises you hear.  A baby.”  But, of course, that wouldn’t be charitable.  

And for all I know, the people don’t mean anything unpleasant by doing it.  It just makes me feel defensive.  Sitting in the front pew solves all of that.  I’ll still try my best not to be disruptive, but if people take curious glances at us, I won’t see it.

P.S.  If you happen to be a person who is very troubled by the presence of noisy babies in Mass, I would recommend the perspective of Father Ryan Erlenbush in a post entitled Crying Children Call to Mind the Mystery of the Mass and the resulting comment-tastrophy.


  1. Anonymous

    I love how strong you are. When ever Lanie starts screaming in mass I think What Would Kendra do? I can Handle it as long as N8 is there but not alone. God Bless you, and Thank you.

  2. Kris

    This is a great post. I agree with everything you said! We are out of the toddler phase, but still working on Mass behavior with our younger ones. I find it's a work in progress for awhile! I did want to add something about feeling like people are staring, if they look at you when the baby makes noise. I think when it's OUR child making noise, as parents, we feel like everyone is staring in condemnation. And while people may be staring, I would say that 99% of the time, they are just seeing what the noise was (curiosity) or looking and remembering their own days of wrangling a baby or a toddler at Mass (sympathy). I know I fall into one or both of those categories. Any time I see someone at our own church who is struggling with a little one, I try and go up after Mass and reassure them they they are not being a bother or a distraction. After all, we're Catholic – we encourage families! People need to know that babies are welcome and to persevere and not give up on bringing their kids to church.

  3. My Little Clan

    We officially need to be friends. We've sat front row since the family grew from 2 to 3. I swear that crying room that we refer to as the torture room, makes my kids worse. By like 1,000%.
    Front row has worked for us for 8 years with the five babes. Hilarious because I too feel super insecure when they yell, "mama", and little elders turn back with a scowl. lol

    • Kendra Tierney

      Well . . . if you ever venture to the valley let me know, we'll get our clans together!

  4. Holly

    Thanks for sharing! I found you from Jenny's blog and am now following. I love Frankie's tips and will share them with my rambunctious 2.5-year-old who announced "I have boogers stuck to my hands" at Mass this morning.

  5. Jennifer

    I absolutely love this post. I am a complete nut when it comes to taking my 3 to Mass. In the process of "keeping them in line," I become more like a drill sergeant than a mother who is trying to instill my love of the faith in them – not pleasant for anyone involved. My husband, thankfully, is MUCH more grounded in his approach. I never considered sitting up front, but I can see how that approach would be really great for both the parents and the kids – we may need to try sitting closer this week. And I will definitely need to check out the _Magnifikid_, as my 2 oldest love to "follow" along in the Miselette. MANY thanks for these tips.

  6. Cory John

    I find your logic typical of young families whom no longer understand decorum and/or manners. No, it's not polite to sit in the from pews with young children. I find it absolutely illogical that you think everyone behind you wants to watch you try to keep your kids in check like a goalie at a hockey game and when your child does finally have a tantrum, and they do, they're children and it's an hour long Mass, you want to pretend it's not as distracting to the entire Congregation behind you. I dont' believe that children under the age of 5, let alone under the age of 2 are going to simply be told to stop or be "distracted" and everything is peachy. Thi might be what you see through your rose colored glasses but that's not what the rest of us see. If I sat in front of you, and they turned around the entire mass, waving at you, smiling, matching your movements when you tried to see the dias better or started talking to myself during the Mass, you'd ask me to stop or leave. Why is it magically different when it's a child? Because it's not the child. It's the parents of the child, which are adults, whom want to pretend that it's better for the children when there's NO eveidence to support this and the parents no longer caring or concerning themselves with the entire Congregation but with only themselves and their own family. Here's a thought that was done for years and years, have your husband go to early Mass, you stay home with children under the age of 5, he comes home and you go to Mass with any 5 or older. Is it inconvenient, no, but it's the right thing to do if you will take one once of consideration of the others at Mass. Children under the age of 5 do not have the mental and/or emotinal maturity to get anything out of Mass, let alone remember any of it and to presume they need to be there that young to instill Catholic values is absurd! Quit thinking about yourself and your family only and start thinking about how your effecting the Congregation as a whole. We don't think it's smart, we don't think it's cute, we don't appreciate and we think your self absorbed and rude, could care less about our feelings and/or enjoyment of the Mass and I am the father of 2 young girls and would never dream to have done what you're doing. I call it like I see it and you, need a good dose of common sense and respect for the Mass and the Congregation also at the Mass! It's not just about you and your kids.

    • Kendra Tierney

      I'm happy to have a discussion with you about our different philosophies on how to make Mass work for our families.

      Since the Catholic Church doesn't have a specific teaching on the appropriateness of bringing young children to Mass, this is a matter on which good Catholics may disagree.

      We have raised a lot of really well-behaved kids over the years, have received more compliments about their behavior in Mass than we can count, and also have consulted with many holy priests about this issue. Time and again, we have been advised that children deserve the grace of the Mass (If we didn't believe infants were capable of receiving graces without being aware of them we couldn't practice infant baptism.) and that Christ's own instruction to "suffer the children to come to me" is not, in fact, limited with caveats such as "provided they have reached the age of reason" or "as long as they remain quiet" or "as long as they understand what it means to be in my presence" or "as long as the community of believers agrees that they should be there."

      I feel certain that the majority of people attending Mass would prefer to have young children there, but you must assume otherwise. It seems that you, personally, would prefer that there be no young children in Mass. And so that preference is what you base your own practices upon. My personal preference is different than yours; I absolutely would prefer to see families (including yours) attend Mass together.

    • Rosie

      So when my 3-year-old plays Mass at home, imitating the motions of the priest, saying the words of consecration perfectly, and pretending to consecrate his cup of water and plastic coin, is that demonstrating his emotional immaturity and unreadiness to "get" anything out of the Mass? And when he intones an entire psalm and response that he heard at Mass, is he showing that he's too mentally immature to have been at that Mass?

      I think Kendra answered this comment perfectly (a comment that I'm sure was intended to draw heated responses), but let's give children a little more credit. You may not see what they're getting out of Mass, but their parents do.

    • Melissa Milhon

      Just found your blog..LOVE IT!! Our priests encourage families to bring toddlers and babies to mass and SUGGEST they sit in the front row so they can see what is going on.

    • Adelaide Murphy

      Cory, I recommend you read about a wonderful mystic of the Church: Little Nellie of Holy God. She was only 4 1/2 when she died, and she was the force behind Pope St. Pius X dramatically lowering the age for receiving Holy Communion. She is a witness of the importance of children for the Mass, and of the Mass for children. God speed!!!

  7. Christy

    I read this post when you originally posted it, and I had already been doing just about everything you suggested except sitting right up front with them. I decided to take your advice. I have 4 kids, at that time they were ages 8, 6, 3, and 1. My husband is a classical musician and full time teacher, and during his busy season I often have to take the kids to church by myself, which can be disheartening, exhausting, and very difficult. I have always been terrified that my kids would disturb the people around us. I read your post and decided to try sitting up front– on Easter Sunday. It was wonderful. I have done it ever since. We do occasionally annoy the people around us, but that's the way it goes with children. Denying them the grace of Mass and the presence of God because somebody doesn't want to hear them is not an option for me, especially since so often I am the only one who can take care of them or bring them to Mass. My kids do behave very well at Mass, but they breathe and move around and rustle papers, and I know that can be distracting, but they aren't throwing tantrums or being noisy (I am so lucky!!). I want my kids to feel loved and accepted at church, and the only way for that to happen is to bring them often, even if it is occasionally inconvenient to me or the people around me. I love your blog. You have some great advice and the way you describe your experiences is often helpful to me. By the way, we visited a new church for Mass yesterday, and the baby was REALLY acting up, so my husband took him to the cry room. He was thrilled to see a big sign posted in the room saying that crying children did not have to be in that room, that they were welcome in the church with the rest of the congregation. It was a lovely pro-life message.

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks Christy, for your kind words and a different perspective on all of this. It's good to remember that for some, it's little kids in Mass or no Mass at all.

      If you're ever back at that parish, I'd love a photo of the cry room sign, to go along with my favorite pew insert ever.

  8. Melissa

    I am new to your blog and wanted to thank you for this post. I am the mother to one very wonderful, very active 18 month old little boy. He is very well behaved for his age but he is still a baby and mass can sometimes be difficult. We sit up front always because I have problems focusing especially having to look after the baby during mass. But I also notice he does better when he can see what is going on and we've started to point on what is happening when he gets really upset. I always feel bad when he makes a fuss because there aren't many young families in our parish. Your post reminds me I am doing all I can and that he belongs there! Thank you again!

  9. Anonymous

    A sterile church is not good. Families must be seen. I'm too scared to sit up front. But I just might…What if it's a huge disaster? We sit in the cry room that we have alone but it's awful. The whole experience. There is a family of 5 that sits in the front pew. I want to be that way…..I'm just not sure I have the courage to sit up front! LOL

  10. Melissa

    As a mom of a 2 year old and 7 month old, I appreciated your note at the end about NOT recommending going to Mass and sitting alone in the cry room trying to pay attention to Mass while your toddler run laps around you. I appreciate it because I too have tried that, and it is not working for me. Any advice on what would work? Right now, I am just not going to daily Mass in fear of ruining our toddler's very good Sunday Mass behavior (where he is held through the entire Mass and will continue to be until he is 3). But I miss daily Mass! And I need it. Thoughts?

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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