Raising our kids in the church will always be a priority, and modeling a good Catholic lifestyle is very important to us as parents. Kids aren't going to respect what you say, unless you back it up in practice. This is hard for humans, because we are sinful...but the goal is to keep trying, admit mistakes, and have open dialogue with your kids on your own journey of faith so that they can have a good role model at home for which to develop their faithful lives.
We had a brief period in G's life where attending mass just didn't seem worth it. Every mass was a battle, and no one won. Maybe if I would have broken down and brought snacks, we could have mustered through, but it was a crutch I never wanted to use (so that we never had to break the habit). We slacked off because her behavior meant we just didn't get anything out of going, except receiving Eucharist (which is clearly the most important thing anyways), and no excuses; it wasn't the right thing to do. I don't think our faith suffered, but it definitely wasn't a good example. Plus we felt guilty!
(aside, the cry room was even attempted and it is just simply miserable. We pretty much refuse to ever go in there...it's a place where kids run amuck, parents surf on their phone, and snacks abound--talk about an even worse example to G)
We clearly knew better, and got back into the habit a short time later. It was still a struggle, but I kept reminding my husband that we had to do our best to get something out of it, to model proper behavior to G. I knew that she would eventually pick up on how to act in church, and we'd move forward.
We brought small, quiet toys; like Pooh, her bracelet, and a few books. Recently I've incorporated paper and pen--which has only caused one meltdown when she tried to write on a non-mom-provided paper (re: church leaflet). I also decided to begin bringing a straw-cup of water, because she is young, and a drink of water (especially after Communion) is something I don't think God would frown on too much. Timing mass attendance with her happiest times helps too, and trying to make sure she is well rested from the night before is obviously ideal. Sitting near well-behaved big kids, or teeny-tiny babies is also helpful because she can observe them and we can whisper to her, "look how good the baby/big girl is being," etc...
Her behavior the last few weeks in California was acceptable, often only needing taken out after Communion, when she was antsy to leave since we had already "left" the pew for Communion. Sometimes we could limp through the whole mass with no leaving necessary.
Within the past two months she has started folding her hands at meal and bed time prayers, so that has carried over to church, where we model folding our hands during prayers there too. We've also discussed "Peace" at home and she likes saying "peace-peace" to people at church...even shaking hands sometimes. She's kind of started attempting the sign of the cross too--usually only after the prayer, not the beginning.
The lighting of our new church is nice and bright, the pews are spacious, and the mass time coordinates perfectly with her Sunday happy times. We've been feeding her a snack when she wakes up and then a bigger breakfast about 45 minutes before we leave. She's then got a full belly, fresh diaper, pretty dress on, and has come to know the routine better than ever. Her maturity is very impressive, over all, let alone with church.
The first week we went, after settling in here (Kansas), she did better than we could have imagined (due to it being a new place)...so she got a donut afterwards and was in kid-heaven. We praised her behavior and made sure she understood that only good girls get a donut after church. The next week she didn't even get into her toy bag until Liturgy of the Eucharist--as she was paying attention as best she could, sitting peacefully with my husband or me, and watching the people around us. Oh, and she loves the music and claps after a song she likes. Too cute.
I thought that surely this past week would be a meltdown, because three weeks in a row of great behavior seemed too good to be true...but it wasn't! She did really good again :-)
By really good I mean that she didn't whine or cry, she did as good a job as a 21 month old can do with praying and being respectful and singing, and she wasn't too distracting for others.
I really hope it keeps up when the new baby is here.
Toddler AdorationI recently took G to our new church's "toddler/pre-K" adoration. It's a short 15-20 minute program briefly outside and then inside the Adoration Chapel. I wasn't really even nervous about taking her, since she's been so good at church lately, and seems to understand what "being good to see Jesus" means. (side note, when she asks where Jesus is, I typically tell her that He is everywhere, and in her heart, but especially at the front of church.... feel free to steal that if you don't have a great answer for your kids :-) )
I wish that all churches were lucky enough to have something like this because it's wonderful! I say you've got to start the Catholic kiddos young--there's so much more to being Catholic than just attending mass, and you don't want to throw it all on them in second grade and expect them to be accepting of new things. If they grow up used to seeing you do things, hearing about them, or doing as much of it as they can (even if it's modified for their age), they are much more likely to be active in the church as teens and adults. I'm not saying force things on them, because that can result in super-rebellion, but gentle encouragement coupled with positive modeling from you....goes a long way. So please don't be that mom on her cell phone at adoration while expecting your kid to behave. Seriously.
On to the program--
A mom sat the kids down outside the chapel and told them how special it was inside, and how quiet and good they needed to be for Jesus. She explained how much Jesus loves them, and how much Jesus' mom Mary loves them. She said that their mommies love them sooooo much, and Jesus' mommy loves them just like that! She said that they are lucky because they get to go see Jesus and pray to Him and His mommy for help and also to thank Them. She explained things like Monstrance and did so on their level...saying, "isn't that a fun word to say! Can you say it with me? Mon-st-rance!" She made things seem SUPER cool and EXCITING by getting on the floor with them, using exaggerated faces and tones...you know, all the Sesame Street tricks ;-)
Then she told them the 'rules' for going into the Chapel, including how to double-knee genuflect. She also talked about "getting small" for Jesus (aka bowing). Basically G toppled into a heap on the floor, but it was a sweet effort and I had to refrain from laughing at how adorable it was.
Once the kids were inside, they said Hi to Jesus, quietly, and the mom-presenter sat them up front so they could see well, and used hushed tones to lead them in "the Rosary" (using " " because it was just 1 Our Father and 3 Hail Marys)--she tried to get the older ones (5 yo) to help lead the Hail Marys, but most were too shy or weren't sure. She also modeled a spontaneous prayer and had them repeat after her...it included asking Jesus to help them be good and listen to their parents/etc... Then they sang Jesus Loves Me, because she explained that singing is like praying twice. She also passed out a color page of a Monstrance as "home work." They prayed again, said good-bye to Jesus, genuflected, and left.
Now, G was definitely the youngest by about 4 months, but was super well behaved, and I credit me being on the floor, modeling what to do, for some of that. :-) But I must also say that she is a really good girl. She folded her hands and held onto her Rosary appropriately, not even trying to wear it. She looked at Jesus and listened to the mom-presenter. G barely talks, so it's silly to expect her to say the prayers, but as I said, you've got to start the kids young, and I couldn't be more proud of her for trying.
****Edit 3/6/13; the mom who did the adoration has set up a website, busycatholicmoms.com, and the direct link to her preschool adoration page is here.