The other day, I was asked to babysit for a parishioner who had to go to a doctor's appointment that would a few hours. We arrived at their home at 8:30 in the morning and ended up getting back to our house at about 3:30. Though our daughter handled the day pretty well, it was clear that the boys needed some time to decompress and get to bed early. Father John took Sugar Plum to church and the boys took a bath, ate popcorn, and went to sleep. Obviously, we could have all gone to church. However, I am pretty positive that it would have ended badly and a church service that was supposed to be prayerful wouldn't have been.
It is a long journey to Pascha (Easter) and I hope that I can remember to pray with my feet, knowing that this is a fleeting time with my little ones!
1. Feed your little ones well and with good, healthy food before church. If a child's tummy is full and they aren't thirsty, their behavior will be a lot better.
2. Limit (or eliminate) television and sweets for several hours before church. I have found that my children tend to act much more calmly if they aren't hopped up on sugar and have been playing rather than vegging out before church.
3. Be positive about going to church. It is hard to go to church at night with little ones after a long day, but children pick up on their parent's attitude. If you are feeling resentful about going to church, then everyone in your family will too!
4. Keep your children close to you. Our church has 23 children and 35 adults. The parents in our church have found that if we insist that our children stay with us and don't play or talk with their friends during services, their behavior is a lot better. We also try to allow them to play together a bit after church so that they do have some time to cultivate friendships.
5. Bring your children to church in their pajamas or bring a bag of pajamas and toothbrushes with you to change them in the bathroom or car. Having them all ready for bed once they get home makes things a lot simpler.
6. If you have a bedtime routine that is important to you and your little ones, try to still do it. When we have church at night, we have bathtime before dinner and stories after we eat... then we head out to church.
7. Don't be afraid to leave church for a little while for a break (though you should check with your priest about the best times to do so). Sometimes a little walk around the building helps to relax children... try to remain in a prayerful mindset though (i.e. no running, screaming, jumping, etc.). It will distract the people praying in the church and it will make it difficult to calm your child down when it is time to return to the sanctuary.
8. Point things out to a wiggly child. There are often many things happening in church that will capture a child's attention: the priest censing, icons on the wall, singing Lord Have Mercy, lighting a candle, etc.
What are your tips for surviving evening services with little ones in tow?