Every parish has a few families with young children. You may have seen the mom who is juggling a baby, the baby’s snacks, a restless preschooler, a diaper bag, and a few other things. Wherever the family goes, it looks like a mobile zoo (complete with noises.) She may have older children in religious education classes that she is in a rush to pick up.
When you come over before Mass to say hello she is busy and distracted, and if you try again to engage them after Mass is over, it might seem as if she is barely listening. Keeping up the enthusiasm to try conversing with that family every Sunday may start to seem like a hassle without reward.
As one of those moms with a young family, I just want to assure you, we are listening. Our eyes are watching the baby to make sure tiny things from the carpet aren’t making their way into a little mouth, but our ears hear your cheerful “good morning” and our hearts soak it in like thirsty ground. Being a part of your parish is a blessing, but sometimes it’s hard to stop and appreciate it in the midst of kid wrangling.
Although we enjoy Mass our hearts sink as we arrive because we’re worried about how much noise the baby will make and how many times we might have to take a restless child out so that others can worship uninterrupted. In our mind’s eye we see sideways looks and sighs directed at us and our noisy family. Our inner critic can be loud, and so convincing. Showing that young mom love, freely and fully, can silence that harsh inner judge and renew her spirit.
Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
You might not know it, especially if we don’t take the time to thank you for your greeting every Sunday, but you encourage us with your presence and your obvious delight in our children and we are grateful for you. One sincere hello can silence that inner critic. One example of someone glad to see us can make the chaotic morning spent getting everyone ready for Mass worth it.
Knowing how to approach this busy family might be challenging. I hope these words help you find ways to connect with a mom of young children. I hope they also remind that mom to voice her gratitude for you and to let you know the difference you have made in her life. Here are five simple ideas from a mother of young children to build her up as you extend Christ’s love to her family.
- Say good morning
It can honestly be a struggle to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door on Sundays. By the time all of the kids have been unpacked from the car and hustled inside, we are already tired and wondering if we should have just stayed home today. Even a simple greeting can make the struggle fade from our memory, because it makes us feel welcome as we arrive at church. When we feel welcome, we feel more like a part of the parish. Your enthusiasm for our presence makes us want to keep coming, and for that we thank you.
- Give her words of encouragement
Something as simple as “you’re doing a great job” or “we really enjoy seeing your little ones every Sunday” can seem like no big deal to you. To us, they are treasures to be stored up in the heart and remembered forever. Especially after a Mass when there’s been a lot of noise from our section and we’re positive everyone has been wondering why we had to bring the kids, your words can make our day. Giving your encouragement freely is an expression of love to that family.
- Love her children
There is no surer way to a mother’s heart than through her children. Your care for them will never be out of place. In some cases, you may have been attending with the family since the children were born. If you feel God leading you toward making a connection with that family, know that he is right and that family may need you. As they get to know you, the children will see examples of role models in the Church, besides their parents. The Church as a community is a beautiful example of God’s faithful love.
- Offer a hand
Once you have built something of a relationship with the family, it will feel easier to step in and help. Sometimes moms forget to ask, because they are so sure they have to do it all. You could distract the older children with an icon walk around the church, or hold the baby so mom can assist the siblings. Even taking charge of shepherding one of the children when it’s time to walk up for communion can be a huge help. It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child and you may be part of that child’s village. Your helping hand is a gift.
- Keep her in your prayers
A prayer for that mom’s wisdom, strength, and courage could be just what she needs. Pray that she finds grace throughout her day as she is pushed to the edge and loses her temper, endurance when she’s drained of energy. Send up the hope that she turns to God to find still waters when everything around her seems turbulent. And a little prayer asking the Lord that all of the smaller children might nap at the same time is never a bad idea.
Although these may seem like small actions, the echoes that carry from them can be enormous. Listen for God’s guidance. He may be leading you toward being the reason that family keeps attending Mass. As exhorted to in Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love, you can show the young family in your congregation what it looks like to love faithfully and freely. The fruit of your efforts could be a family that grows closer to him through your example. Know that the mothers with small children appreciate you and we truly look forward to seeing you, too.