Sacrament Meeting with a Toddler

Jana Porter is still pinching herself over the fact that 3 1/2 years ago she married the best man in the whole world. She and her husband, James, have a very active and adorable 18-month-old son named Blake. She is just barely scratching the surface of this whole mom thing and finding out it is a lot deeper/harder/richer than she every imagined. Jana has a bachelors and masters degree in English from BYU and in her oh-so-precious spare time she loves family history, Zumba, and daydreaming.

A few Sundays ago I attended a class in my ward on the sacrament. The instructor began by asking what we thought of Brother Abo’s talk that day. Apparently, he had spoken on the Atonement and the Lord’s sacrifices for us.

There was a short silence as everyone tried to think back to the talk and formulate a response. Normally I would have joined them. But … I couldn’t.

You see, although I had been at church during Sacrament meeting, I hadn’t heard Brother Abo’s talk. I had been sitting in the foyer with my son, handing him cheerios and trying to keep him from stealing toys from the other kids who were also in the foyer being fed cheerios by their moms.

So instead of reflecting on what had apparently been a very moving talk, I sat there in silence, unable to participate. And cried.

I cried because I had not heard Brother Abo’s talk. I cried because I had not really heard more than a handful of talks, if that, in the past year since my son had been born. And I really like talks.

I know some people would rather be fishing/shopping/sleeping/doing anything else (as the bumper stickers say) during church, but I have never felt that way. Even as a teenager I did not have a problem sitting through all three hours of it. That’s because, for me, church has always been sort of like yoga for my soul: I slow down, I am quiet, I breathe deeply, I reflect. I stretch myself into new, challenging poses.

Or at least it used to be like that.

One of the hardest things for me to adjust to as a new mom has been not experiencing church in the same way I used to.

First there was the newborn stage where I wasn’t even supposed to go to church for at least two months. (No church for two months?! I felt like a leper as I sat in my home/prison and imagined all my friends and neighbors heading out the door.)

Then there was the stage where I had slept four hours the night before and my husband was in meetings and I had to try to shower and get dressed and blow dry my hair and put on makeup and brush my teeth while at the same time tending to a baby who screamed every time I set him down. And then, when I got to church, I had to go to the Mother’s Lounge one of the three hours to nurse him. During the other two hours I was rocking him in his car seat, trying to get him to fall asleep to keep him on his “schedule,” or timing how long he was sleeping, all in a desperate and, looking back, pretty wasted effort to somehow understand his “rhythms” and possibly maybe (please God) figure out how to get more than four hours of sleep at night.

That stage went on for a very. long. time.

Now I am at the stage where my son is crawling, almost walking, and very excitedly (and loudly) trying to find his voice. He crawls under pews, rips pages in the hymnal, shrieks for no reason, resists my attempts to entertain him with toys and books, makes smelly messes in his diaper while the Sacrament is being passed, and grabs the hair of the women sitting in front of us. We are lucky if we make it through the passing of the sacrament before I am in the foyer, watching him crawl around with the other kids his age, holding him up to the water fountain to grab at that exciting arc of sparkling water, or pulling him out of the bathroom again and again and again (he is obsessed with toilets lately).

All of these memories and pent-up frustrations came pouring back into me in that moment that our teacher asked us to reflect on Brother Abo’s talk. But that wasn’t the only reason the tears came. They also came because right on the heels of those feelings of loss, frustration, and, yes, even a little resentment, came another feeling, equally as strong and even more surprising. It was a feeling of love, and of peace that, to be honest, I hadn’t yet really felt towards motherhood or my son.

If I could articulate the feeling in words, it would have been like a soothing voice from the Savior, saying something like this: “I know you love talks, and I know you love reverent reflection, and I know you can no longer participate in the sacrament in the quiet, meditative way you used to. But now you get to participate in it in a new and different way. Now, instead of thinking about my sacrifice for you while you take the sacrament, you get to make your own small sacrifice, and in this way you honor mine even more.”

It was perhaps not a profound thought. In fact, I might have been able to articulate the same thing before that day, but this was the first time I felt it. In my heart. In my soul.

Motherhood is a sacrifice. And in some ways, I’ve decided, it’s a lot like like laying your own life down for another’s; according to scripture, that is the greatest act of love (John 15:13). So while I can’t profess to now blissfully follow my toddler through the halls while the talks and hymns and sacrament I love so much happen in a room three feet away from me, I can say it has helped me to cope better, to be a little more patient with my son as he explores his exciting new world, and it gives me hope that I am on the path to becoming the mother I want to be: one who finds balance between meeting her own needs and those of her children, but who finds joy in attending to theirs when that is what the hour calls for.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Sacrament Meeting with a Toddler

  1. I always tell people that the first is the hardest, and for this reason. The amount of sacrifice required where you previously had only yourself to care for comes as quite the shock. I do fervently believe that it’s worth it, though. Both in my progression, and the child’s, of course.

  2. I am exactly where you are except baby boy will usually concent to be on the edge of the chapel, quietly attempting to climb the walls during the youth speaker. Then it’s out to the halls to empty the garbage cans, play with the lampshades, and lick the glass doors.

  3. I have a toddler right now, too. It’s not my favorite thing about parenting, missing out on church, but the interesting thing to me is that when I am occasionally able to tune in to something from Sacrament Meeting, I appreciate it much more than I used to. I don’t take any nugget of wisdom for granted.

  4. I know this is not the point of your post, but I have never heard of nor observed this “no church for two months after child-birth” thing. I think (it’s almost three years ago now) I stayed home the first Sunday after my daughter was born just because she and I were so new at this but after that I put her in our wrap and wore her all over the place. Please don’t do that to yourself again; there’s absolutely no reason you had to stay home.

  5. Proud Daughter, that is what my own pediatrician recommended when I had a baby during RSV season, and again when I had a premie with a fragile immune system. I think it’s not uncommon; church has all manner of germs newborns don’t need, and everyone insist on holding the baby and touching the baby’s hands with theirs.

  6. You are such a sweet Mommy! You are in a challenging stage at church that is for sure! I am the proud Mommy to 5 children from ages 3-14. I have had my share of time in the hall and shrieking children for sure! My motherhood motto is “This too shall pass.” I promise you will be able to sit and listen someday. Honestly it has FLOWN by for me and I tear up that in 4 years my oldest will be flying our nest for a mission! Hang in there Mama, you are doing great!

  7. Jana–

    You express so beautifully the real truth of my life in the past 18 months. Thank you for this. I have also had to readjust my expectations of church. I listened to a talk about making the most of the actual sacrament portion of the meeting and had a similar reaction. I decided that I probably need to make time for that kind of reflection at some other point in my week. Because I’m not getting it right in that moment. But, this is the real work of losing your life to find it. It’s humbling and frustrating and magnificent.

  8. Thadda girl, Jana! Way to look for the silver lining to a tough, sometimes stinky situation. I can remember the years, (yes, YEARS) where we were chasing, rocking, begging our toddlers to get more “sacrament-y” and all of a sudden, one Sunday, there we were…all six of us, sitting still and listening. Like a miracle. So I can listen to and enjoy talks now. And discuss them with my babies over lunch. And I find myself profoundly missing those hours in the nursing lounge. Kinda stinks in a different way.

  9. I genuinely didn’t realize just how much I’d appreciated the quiet meditation and listening aspect of church attendance until it was replaced by mama duties. The hardest part during that first year was not feeling anger and resentment at the people who voluntarily wandered the halls and chatted instead of going to Sunday School or Relief Society. Didn’t they realize what they were missing???

    Like Sally, I’m trying to make time during the week to get the peace my Sundays lack these days. Meanwhile, I’ll be pondering your insight into motherhood and sacrifice and the Atonement. Thanks for shifting my perspective a bit.

  10. Not an auditory learner, myself, and never having understood the Sacrament, I didn’t miss going to Sacrament Meeting when I had my baby. What I missed was RS, where I truly felt spiritually fed, and occasionally socially fulfilled. But after more than a year of the baby thing, I find it exceedingly hard to pay attention–more than it ever was before. I’m afraid church wasn’t made for moms. I would love to have one of those glass crying rooms in the back/side of the chapel like some churches have… Some visual stimulation helps a lot, and it would save so many mothers from having to make that sacrifice.

  11. Emily (and everyone else): Doctor recommended abstention is one thing. But Jana didn’t mention any health issues. She just referred to it as one of the many stages of having a child at church. I’m appalled at the thought of anyone thinking they “weren’t supposed” to go to church because they had a newborn and I just want to be sure people know that’s not the case! (As for the germ thing, specific health issues aside, it’s not like Paleolithic life was germ-free. A healthy, breast-feeding infant doesn’t need to be sequestered.)

    Also, I wonder if Jana’s ward isn’t pumping the talks out into the foyer. Maybe they are and she can’t hear (or concentrate) over the kids. But if they’re not, I think it’s definitely worth bringing up with the bishopric.

    If you feel stuck permanently out in the foyer, maybe it’s because the kids love to play out there. Cut out the play! Let them play quietly in the chapel and if (when) they act up, take them out to the foyer, find a quiet corner and hold them. If they’re old enough, let them know that they can go back to playing when they’re ready to be quiet. Otherwise, just make sure that going to the foyer is as boring as possible. They’ll work things out. But as long as going to the foyer is rewarded with toys and friends, the kids are going to seek it.

  12. Where are the husbands? Don’t they take a turn taking the children out?

    100% agree with the comment about children not being taken out of Sacrament meeting to play and run the halls. Why would anyone want to sit quietly in Sacrament mtg. if that fun option is waiting for you? Yes, its hard work, but who would expect anything else if you’re nurturing and teaching human beings, especially considering the fact that each family should consider that the religious foundation for our children is teaching them that “we are a family who is committed to church attendance because its the Savior’s church.”
    If motherhood parallels the work of Father in Heaven more than any other calling, sacrifice isn’t optional. Remember Brigham Young not even allowing the Saints of his time (most of whom had crossed the plains) to use the word sacrifice because of their being blessed with the gospel in their lives.
    I’m not saying I’m not empathetic -been there, done that for many years and now I’m helping a daughter-in-law in this situation (reason? new baby; 4 others 9 and under. Husband? A young bishop). So perhaps a shift in paradigm from ourselves.

  13. Since I had my first child, I’ve had to learn to get my inspiration in bits and pieces over the years. It does work but probably the thing I miss most about having children is the long, meditative periods to think (both at church and at home.)

    Our oldest was a pistol and we didn’t make it through sacrament meeting for over a year.

    I agree with the comments about the foyer–make it boring for them–no snacks, no toys, no field trips. Just a boring stint on a parent’s lap–even if they have a fit. If you can find an unused classroom (that pipes the meeting in) all the better!

    For what it’s worth, I think the age just before nursery age and up to about age three is the most difficult at church. They aren’t old enough to reason with–they’re just pure kinetic energy.

  14. Take turns with your husband, even if he’s in the bishopric and on the stand. In our ward the husbands all take the kids to Elders Quorum, not exactly sure why. Make friends with the young men and women, one of them would love to take your baby out in the hall for you.

    You won’t get the same experience you used to, but you will get a little bit more than you currently are. And if its RSV season, keep your baby home. You’ll miss a lot more than just sacrament meeting when you end up staying in the NICU.

    And go ahead and nurse your baby during RS in the room.

  15. Thanks everyone for your comments! It’s hard to put your feelings out there sometimes.

    For what it’s worth, I wrote this about six months ago and I feel like I am progressing a lot in finding a new type of joy in church: attending to help my son feel the spirit and establish good patterns, and not worrying so much about myself (as other readers have mentioned, I find my spiritual nourishment during other times now). I must admit though that I have been pretty happy to have my son recently go to nursery and at least reclaim some personal spiritual time during the second and third block.

    We are almost never in the foyer anymore, but for a while I felt my son was so distracting it was rude for me to stay in the chapel and affect everyone else’s worship. Now he’s a handful, but it only affects me, so we stay. And it’s a pleasure to see his face light up when we start singing a hymn.

    @Proud Daughter of Eve: Thanks for your perspective. Admittedly, I was VERY OCD as a new mom and tried to do everything by the book and looking back I can see that I made an already difficult situation much harder than it needed to be. I will be much easier on myself (and my baby) the next time around and no, I probably won’t stay away from church for so long, as long as it is not full-swing RSV season or doctor-mandated.

    @Bethany: I LOVE your idea of having a glass room for the moms! I think there may be some things the church could do to help us young moms out a little more–like making sure the speaker works in the nursing lounge, maybe having a separate broadcasting room where young babies can roam freely that isn’t the foyer, letting kids go to nursery at 1 instead of 18 months (although this wasn’t the case for my son, I’ve had a LOT of moms tell me that their child was ready for nursery at 1 but had major separation anxiety by 18 months, making it a lot harder–plus what the heck are you supposed to do for six months before you can go in and baby is mobile?!), not calling young mothers to work in nursery, and just more awareness from everyone and willingness to help each other out (It takes a village, right?!)

    @Lynn: I do have a very helpful husband, but he was on the stand a lot of this time and unable to help me as he would have liked. He has been very good about taking turns with me during the second and third block though, hence why I was able to attend the Sunday School class that spurred on this whole essay in the first place. And once I stopped holding in my feelings of “Oh my gosh, can’t he see I need help” and just asked for it, he jumped all over it and has been extra extra helpful. He’s great. But I agree whole-heartedly: husbands totally need to be there to help!

    @Everyone else: Thanks again for your support. You make me feel like I can do it and remind me it is all worth it. The world needs more mothers like you!

  16. Jana – it is absolutely worth it. I now go to church with my four children and while my 4 year old distracts me sometimes, I get to listen a lot. And I get to see my children listening. Having a 15 year old be truly interested in the gospel and enjoy church and feel blessed by the gospel is worth all the effort along the way. Having a 13 year old willingly show up to meetings and try to live the gospel is worth all the effort along the way.
    Motherhood is amazing. I feel blessed that the Lord helps me figure out what it is I am trying to accomplish and what I should do now to get there.

  17. This sweet, tender insight from the Spirit really moved me. Thank you.

    P.s. the year my youngest was born, we kept her in for six months. It was a really bad RSV season and she was born right as it all started. I just kept feeling like I needed to keep her home, so I did. My hubby and I switched off every week… I’d go to Sacrament meeting and then he’d do the other two, and then vice-versa the next week. It made that time a lot more doable. fWIW.

  18. Oh, church with littles can be hard. I was called to serve in the nursery the very same week my oldest daughter was finally old enough to enter nursery. I think the bishopric thought it would be really convenient for me, and while that’s a very nice thought, it really it just ensured I STILL wouldn’t be going to Relief Society.

    When I was younger, my mom wielded the threat of Classroom #1 like a sword in church. Classroom #1 was horribly boring. There was nothing but a few folding chairs in there, and the meeting could be piped in through the overhead speaker. We had to sit in there with no toys or snacks, which wasn’t nearly as fun as just staying in the chapel. I think it was useful in encouraging good behavior vs. the option of running around in the gym like some of the other kids in the ward. For heaven’s sake, I’m 29, and if running around in the gym were a viable choice, I’d still be acting up in Sacrament meeting.

  19. You captured well the challenging transition from seeing church attendance primarily as a fount of inspiration and enlightenment to primarily a place of serious and challenging and tiring(though ultimately rewarding) service.

    It’s one most adults, with children or without, go through and the transition begins with a really steep and challenging learning curve when it begins with a newborn.

    It sounds like you are finding new sources of renewing spiritual reservoirs while you are in this stage of life that prevents sacrament meeting from filling that role. Good. That is essential and will be all your life.

  20. I agree with whoever said that the ages 1-3 are the hardest for church attendance. My youngest just turned three and I love the fact that I can just go to church with a couple of extra diapers and a coloring book thrown in my bag and that I often get to hear the talks now. I’ve also realized as my kids have gotten older and as I’ve had more than one that each kid is different. Some kids act up enough that they need to leave; some don’t. Generally I tried to make the foyer a boring place and I generally tried not to take them out, especially since I’m at church by myself and don’t want to leave the other two (thankfully one of the young women in my ward has been sitting with me for almost 2 years and she is fabulous). The building I attended for a while when my son was 2 had windows along one side of the chapel with long curtains on them. If we got there late enough to have to sit on that side it was a nightmare–I spent the entire meeting trying to block the curtains and/or disentangling him when I was unsuccessful.

  21. Raising 4 sons back in the day I had my share of foyer sitting. I remember the yearning of wanting to stay inside the chapel. Yet all these years later (I’m a grandma of many) I remember being spiritually fed and uplifted by talking to other parents out there with me, and by just watching and listening to what was going on around me. Being surrounded each Sunday by good people just trying to be better is a precious gift, whether I was inside the chapel, the foyer, or walking the halls.

  22. It’s really over in the blink of an eye, and I am still technically in the trenches with my youngest – she’s 2 years, 9 months.

    What’s been interesting to me, with this fourth child of mine, is that her attention span is far greater than I ever attributed to my older children. I don’t know if she’s aping the older kids or I’m subconsciously expecting more of her than the other at the same age, but she does seem easier.

    Or maybe I’m just more laid back, because now I remember that I had to do the fierce-face-and-pointed-finger trick a couple of times just today in Sacrament meeting! Heh. (sitting too close to the front of the chapel is a temptation to prance around in front of the entire congregation!)

  23. Interesting. I have felt the similarly as my wife and I have had our three month at church. Thankfully, he is still pretty young, so it hasn’t been too hard yet. However, that shift to fatherhood, to caring incessantly for someone other than oneself that needs so much. It has been a fascinating process.

  24. I know I’m a little late to the party, but the chapel sound pipes into our nursery. Does it in your building? All the toys were locked away in there when our family was in that stage, so it was a nice quite boring room where I could listen still. Also, a quick search through the church Handbook 2 that came out in 2010 doesn’t seem to have firm age ranges for the nursery. Maybe I’m missing it, but I know the language in the last manual suggested that there may be some leighway on when children enter the nursery depending on how leaders feel. In our last ward and our current one, the nursery leaders often take children in before they are 18 months if they are ready. I think more moms should look into that! lol!

  25. @ Sara: I haven’t seen anywhere besides the foyer and the nursing lounge where they broadcast sacrament, but it doesn’t seem to work that well in either place. I will have to look into it more though. Also, that is interesting about the nursery age as well. I’d like to follow up on that …

  26. I am very late to this post but I had to say thank you, Jana, so much for sharing your words. My first baby is five months old and I am still struggling quite a bit with the sacrifices of new motherhood, much more than I expected. I desperately needed some perspective and you’ve given me so much to think about. Thank you for articulating what I’ve been trying to put together!

  27. Do check around in your ward, Jana. The whole theme of the new handbook revision was local adaptation by local leaders to meet local needs. There very well might be an option for you (& others) to send your little one into nursery early. I hated that stage when they couldn’t stay still and there was no solution! lol! Good luck!

  28. I’ve lived in a branch practically forever now and all of my kids went to nursery as soon as possible–mostly around 12 months I think. When one spouse is RS president and the other teaches both youth Sunday school and Priesthood Meeting, there isn’t much other choice. Of course, there have been times when I would have rather done without the callings and been able to spends some time in the hall with my babies…..

  29. Mine are a little bit older now, but I can SO remember the feelings associated with the stage you’re describing. I think part of the reason I taught my children to read so early is so that they could look at books in church and I could listen. I had a similar experience once (and I wrote about this in my book) where I was practically in tears by the end of sacrament meeting. The closing song spoke straight to my soul:

    2. Shrink not from your duty, however unpleasant,
    But follow the Savior, your pattern and friend.
    Our little afflictions, tho painful at present,
    Ere long, with the righteous, in glory will end,
    Ere long, with the righteous, in glory will end.

    4. Be fixed in your purpose, for Satan will try you;
    The weight of your calling he perfectly knows.
    Your path may be thorny, but Jesus is nigh you;
    His arm is sufficient, tho demons oppose.
    His arm is sufficient, tho demons oppose.

    I still love that hymn because of the way it made me feel like I was not failing.

  30. @Kate H: Thanks for you post. I must admit too I was a bit shocked by how difficult a time I had transitioning to motherhood. I still am, actually, although it is getting better. I just felt like all my life I had been told this was the best and holiest thing I could ever do (which I interpreted to mean blissful I guess) only to find out that there was a lot that was not only not blissful but downright painful. Anyway, I am still struggling to come to terms with it, but it helps to feel validated that it is hard, but also worth it, and that others have the same struggles I do. (BTW, I thought the first six months were by far the HARDEST! Hang in there — it gets way better–they sleep more and take naps, etc. and you do get some of your life back.)

    @Sara/Amos: Thanks for the perspective. I really like this idea of local adaptation. Maybe the 18 month thing is just a tradition that needs to be questioned and shaken up a bit.

    @Stephanie: What a beautiful hymn. Thank you so much for sharing that! It boosted my spirits!

  31. Jana, not to be too overly self-promotional, but the book Segullah staffers contributed to a few years ago, _The Mother in Me_, has several essays on that difficult/joyful transition to motherhood. I have heard it’s available dirt cheap at Seagull right now, and I think it speaks to a lot of those feelings.

  32. I hope that this won’t be taken the wrong way, but serving as a nursery leader is a hard, usually thankless, and very isolating calling. I have done it four times, usually when I had a nursery-aged child myself, but not always. It is asking a lot of nursery leaders to include babies younger than 18 months. Such little ones are less mobile, coordinated, and socially ready for nursery. They need much closer supervision. They are often too little to sit at a table at snack time or do a craft, and they are never ready to participate in a lesson. Nursery is a class, despite the toys. Although I clearly remember the pain of watching babies 12-18 months old at church for three hours during naptime, I think that the solution is rarely to expect the nursery leaders to manage even more children (way younger ones)…even if you are willing to attend nursery with your child.

Comments are closed.