I wondered if you had any advice on how you handle church and manage your bench with several little ones. I don't know if you've had the experience of doing it alone because of a husband's calling, but I'm in that boat. I'd love any advice or suggestions you have to offer.While my kids are fairly good at Church right now (hoping that continues), it helps a lot that my older ones set a good example for the younger ones and can help entertain the younger ones. I also am blessed to have my husband there to help me, where other moms' husbands are needed elsewhere.
I put the question to some other LDS moms of many and I got plenty of wonderful suggestions:
Christina (me): I've found over the years that I prefer simplicity. I'll bring Cheerios only for if the baby gets restless. I bring notebooks and colored pencils (long ago learned that my kids have a compulsion to peel the wrappers off crayons if I bring them) and Friend magazines, but that's all. We don't get out anything until after the sacrament. We have an older couple in our neighborhood that are wonderful to welcome my younger girls to sit with them, but we don't let them go sit there until after the sacrament. Kids over 8 are expected to listen the entire meeting and not color (though I have an 11yo son who has an origami compulsion). When necessary, I take the younger restless ones out in the hall where I let them get some energy out. Unless they've been outrageous, I don't really put them in time-out or make the hall a punishment. So far, most of my kids learn how to behave pretty well over time.
all dressed and ready for Church
Marybeth: I'm pretty similar, except when I take my kids out in the hall. I don't want the hall to be a fun place, so they do not get to run out in the hall. I hold them or make them sit and do nothing on the couch out in the hall. I want them to want to go back in to sacrament meeting, even if it is only to color. (I figure they will hear something!) The only other activity I bring is Tangrams (those geometric shapes with green triangles, blue diamonds, red, and yellow hexagons) that they can make their own designs on the bench or match up with the books that I have.
Diane: I'm on the don't take entertainment boat. I bring pens and paper and that is all. I actually think it goes even better when I bring nothing and all they have to do is listen, read their scriptures or look at the hymnal. I only bring food if we don't have time for breakfast. I feel like food in church is too messy and too noisy.
Katrina: When our oldest was still around 1, our RS president gave a homemaking meeting about reverence with children. She basically said that our children will rise to the level of our expectation. If we allow them to run around in the halls when they misbehave, they will use that as an escape (because what 2 year old really wants to sit still when they could be running around). So we will bring something small to eat for anyone younger than nursery age, but no one else gets a snack. We have some picture books that I made (I got the template from a blog somewhere) with scripture stories and facts about the prophets and apostles. We bring those and the LDS scripture readers, and that is it. If we have to take our youngest out (he is almost 2), we hold him the entire time and have/help him fold his arms. It is NOT something fun for him because we want him to prefer to be in sacrament meeting. Sometimes if I know he is tired and needs to sleep, I will try the mother's room to rock him and help him sleep, but usually there are too many mothers/children (as in 7, 5, and 3 years old whose mothers use the mothers room as a room to let their children play/talk), and I can't hear anything that is going on in the meeting. It is so refreshing to be in there with someone else who actually wants to hear the talks and will let me listen - but that is a rant for another day!
Siobhan: yep, all of the above. sit in the front, too. we sit third row back on whichever side the bishopric is on. no toys at all, church books for after the sacrament is passed. our 8yo and 9yo are expected to listen, but can write in journals or read their scriptures. no food once you're old enough for nursery because you'll get snacks in there. if you have to be taken out, you can stand with your nose on the wall till you're ready to go back in. no bathroom or drink breaks.
we watched a large family follow these rules before we had kids and we adopted them immediately for our now six kids. it's worked pretty well and i have to say we have the best behaved kids in our ward. they're certainly not perfect, but i think minimizing distractions and sitting close makes a world of difference.
Andrya: I prefer not to bring anything. Sometimes they bring pencils, pen in the scriptures and then they may write or draw on the program. I only brought snacks for toddlers or younger.My husband had a calling in the high council and I was on my for getting everyone ready and doing the whole church thing. My oldest was 11 at the time. We got down such a system that when my husband was actually around it threw us all off and I found I was irritated because he didn't know our system. lol. kind of.
Montserrat: We do the same! I don't bring anything extra except for scripture stories or Friend magazines so the nursery aged kids have something to look at. When I have to take a child out (usually it is just a nursery aged child) I hold them on my lap or take them to look at the pictures hanging in the hallway. The other kids know to behave when I am out (my husband is the Bishop). If they don't there are consequences! All of my kids are required to get a drink and use the bathroom before the meeting starts. I do not allow them to leave for those during sacrament meeting. Everyone can hold it for an hour. No one will die of thirst. Kids will rise to your expectations, especially when you discuss with them what you expect and why. Usually when a child is having a hard time it is either because they are hungry or tired. Try to take care of those needs before by planning ahead and it will so much easier.
Raelyn: I am also for less is more. I no longer bring snacks to church- but have a sippy cup of milk for my nursery kid. We have friend magazines that kids can look through. I do have an ipad and iphone with some LDS games on it for the toddlers-but that sometimes backfires on me if I am not diligent on who has it.
Wendy: My husband is the bishop in our ward. Before that he has had callings (bishopric and high council) that kept him from being in our bench with us. Even before he had callings that kept him from sitting with us and before we had a lot of kids, I was strict. People are always asking me how I keep my kids do reverent during church. They often do not like hearing what I have to say as it means they will have to actually parent their kids. OK, that is harsh, I know. But I get annoyed when people think it is a magical pill or something that will make their kids behave, instead of working hard at being a parent. Our kids are not allowed to use the bathroom or get a drink during sacrament. They know the rules and I do not feel sorry for them if they don't prepare beforehand. We sit in the 3rd or 4th bench from the stand. The less distractions in front of us, the better the kids can pay attention. They are not allowed to turn around. We have a seating arrangement with older siblings and me between younger kids. I don't let kids sit by siblings that they cannot be reverent near (for example, my 9 yo boy and my 11 yo boy do not ever sit together). No one is allowed to have treats past the age of 3 at church. And there are never toys, books, crayons, papers, etc. They have to sit quietly. It is their choice if they listen to the speaker. I try and be a good example by looking at the speaker attentively (even if it is a struggle for me), acting as if I am enthralled and could not imagine doing anything else more fun. They seem to do better when they see their parents doing what they are asked to do.
Aislinn: Yes, we do like the rest of you. Snack only for the baby, church books/magazines/pictures for kids under 8, and expect over 8 to listen...and if they want to write, they can take notes. I hate when people comment on my reverent children and follow it up with, "My kids are just too spirited and active to get them to sit still!" or some such. Ha! I know all about "spirited" and "active"...they've just been taught that sacrament meeting is not the place!
Tana: This was a lifesaver for me. When my hubby was in the bishopric, I'd sit in the smaller side pews (near the front) with half the kids in the same row and half in front of me. Having us in a "clump" like that rather than spread out linearly on a long pew made it so much easier to manage. I also had a couple of ladies and a man that I pre-arranged help with. They sat near me and also knew that if I gave them The Look, I needed them to help. As for activities, we're minimalists. I let them look at copies of the Friend or the GAK, and they can have a pencil and notebook. We don't take snacks and we don't let kids leave during the meeting unless it's a true emergency.
Lorraine: Great comments here. It sounds like Generals making strategies for war! Here is something that helped me: I made a page of little drawings depicting all the things that were BAD on the top half and all the things that were GOOD on the bottom half. The pictures were things like kicking the bench in front, touching other people, getting out of your seat, etc. There are just so many millions of ways to get in trouble, that my kids needed specifics! The good pictures were also helpful. We had a FHE and taught them our expectations. Then I took the sheet to church every week and when someone did something wrong, I quietly pointed to the picture of what they were doing wrong, and to the picture of what they should be doing. They got the message!
Gerilyn: We all seem to have figured out what works. I just want to add that I have always had "reverence practice" at home. Esp. with the little kids, to have to do pretend sacrament meeting and sit on the couch quietly for 20 min. is super helpful and effective. By the time mine are 3 they are expected to sit quietly through the whole meeting. When I do this consistently I hardly even have to try at church. My husband is also the bishop and he is also very reverence-conscious. So he has asked and expected us to be a good example to others (and boy, do some need it!) I agree with Montserrat, kids rise to the level of expectation.
Cheryl: Okay, so what do you do when you have a Special Needs child who can't sit still? Or a child with an auditory sensory disorder who needs attention and can't process what's going on?
I have a son with an auditory sensory disorder, and so we make allowances that people would find annoying or interpret as being bad parents.
I get that it's important to teach our kids to be reverent. I do a lot of the things you guys have mentioned, but I also feel like I need to speak for the women who --for whatever reason --can't and don't. Who have kids who eat treats when they are 4 and those who have kids writing and drawing pictures at 13 and for those who are just grateful they got to church on time (or at all).
I know this thread was an answer to questions about how to improve behavior, but the original OP seemed to want to know how to survive without spousal support. And I think she needs to know that if her kids are irreverent or if it's not perfect --it's okay. She brought her kids to church. That's a beautiful thing.
I mean, because we understand what it's like to have a lot of little kids. And we work extra hard to teach our kids to behave. But that means we should also understand and be more empathetic and sympathetic to women who might not have the talent nor the inclination to make this a hill for them to die on. Their kids aren't going to go inactive because they don't sit still in church, their kids aren't going to refuse to go on a mission if they eat cheerios in Sacrament Meeting. This is in no-wise a judgement against the things people teach their kids or their expectations of behavior. This is more a plea to be a little less assumptive in how children/families should behave in church.
Cheryl's cute kids
Gerilyn: When my husband was called in to the bishopric years ago we were in a military ward. During the height of the war. Almost every single bench had a family with no dad on it! I learned then and there never to judge. I simply joined their ranks, and counted myself lucky that my husband was at least in the building, not on a ship in the Persian Gulf! Cheryl is right, it can be difficult even to get to church for some,and we should welcome all who can make it! For some of those moms church was the only break they got all week. But we all should do the best we can and help the Spirit to be with us. Often that comes through reverence, but many times it is kindness that brings it!