Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
One wonders if it occurred to any of the Apostles to add on “but only if they can sit still and behave while you are talking” to the end of that sentence.
Your Survival Guide
Keeping the wiggle contained in the marathon that is Holy Week presents a big hurdle for moms and dads. Even though we are at a point where our youngest is able to sit still and listen for the entirety of the Mass, which I’m pretty sure has more to do with “getting his chocolate donut after” than any natural piety, even the well behaved young one can experience some challenges during this rich yet arduous season.
During this week, you no sooner get home from one Mass or service than it is time to find clothes and shoes again for the next one. In between, you are trying to prepare for the coming celebration, clean the house and carefully draw your children into both the solemnity and the beauty of what is happening. Oh, and eggs. You have to dye eggs. It’s a lot.
It can be overwhelming and can really rob Mom and Dad of the peace and joy that should accompany the celebration of the Resurrection, so I’ve developed a few strategies that may help avoid some meltdowns (I’m talking about Mom’s meltdowns) and make for a more serene week.
On Monday I check all the schedules. We have two cantors, a flutist, an altar boy, and a couple of choir members. All of these ministries participate fully in Holy Week and often there are rehearsals ahead of time. I chart out who has to be where when and I plan the driving and the dinners.
On Monday I also take everything that’s needed to dress each child for Masses in the coming week, and I arrange them by outfit on a hanger. This includes socks, tights, shoes, slips, etc. For the young ones, I keep the outfits in my room, while the older ones keep the arranged outfits in their rooms. This may seem a bit extreme, but when you are frantically looking for a collared shirt for your altar boy or that one patent leather Mary Jane shoe on Easter morning, you are going to wish you had listened to me.
Stay Fed – Simply
Keep dinners very simple in Holy Week. I tend to stick with the three S’s: soup, salad and sandwiches. The big meals will wait until it’s time to celebrate, which frees up some time each evening for the preparation of the coming day.
Feed small children before Mass, especially evening Masses. There is no obligation for small children to fast, and a hungry three-year-old is a recipe for disaster. Every. Time.
Speaking of food, go easy on the candy on Easter morning.
A little protein and some good carbs are likely to result in a well behaved child; seventeen Cadbury eggs are likely to result in a demon. Limit each child to one piece and then let them dive into it all after Mass.
Four Tips to Encourage Focus
1. Do not give into the temptation to bring toys or devices to church because the Mass is longer. This will only serve to make more noise, create squabbles, and distract others, thereby making you more conspicuous and also teaching the children that Mass is something they need to “entertain themselves” through. Make the commitment to train them to be still and quiet; it’s worth the effort.
2. Take some time to read through the Gospel before leaving for church. I have found that children are much more likely to tune in when they are hearing the readings for the second time. Discuss what’s going to happen and what it all means.
3. Encourage the little ones to listen for the bells, wonder at the incense and sing with abandon. This might be a nice activity for Holy Monday, which is generally the least occupied day of that week.
4, Try to avoid any non-church-related activities that week. It might be better to skip soccer practice this once or cancel the piano teacher, thereby lessening the stress on everyone and creating some needed space in the days to focus on the solemnity of the week.
The most important thing you can teach your children this week is the great joy that occurs when Christ defeats death and sin and rises from the dead purely for love of them.
Make every effort to make the Masses this week personal to them because it is an unfolding love story that stars your child and his heavenly Father.
Who doesn’t love to sit still for a love story?