Saturday, September 27, 2014

Toddler church terror

(In case you also read BCC, I appear to be on a similar wavelength as Scott B. I wrote this yesterday after church, and then saw his post in the wee hours of this morning.)

Not church - the Mall of the Emirates. But the idea is the same.
We're entering the stage of babydom where I find myself really not looking forward to going to church each week. It is seriously THE WORST. It was so bad yesterday that I found Jeremy and barked at him that we needed to leave (30 minutes early) NOW.

Church starts at Sterling's naptime. STARTS. We arrive at church and he is fussy, clingy, and unhappy. All he wants to do is go to sleep. And there are still three hours to go, plus the drive home.

Sterling cannot resist the podium stairs. He makes a beeline for them approximately 47 times during sacrament meeting. I'm just glad we have a 9-year-old daughter who is the designated baby-retriever.

So Jeremy takes him out to the foyer, but guess what? There is a grand, curving, marble staircase there, which in Sterling's book, is even BETTER than the podium stairs.

Church is during lunchtime, too, and it is an exercise in getting him, me, and couches/carpets/floors covered in food (don't worry, I clean it up). And he ends up only getting a few bites in him because there are all those staircases to escape to.

Since we have church in a villa, there are all kinds of nooks and crannies and bits and pieces for him to get into - outlets, fancy bead-trimmed window treatments, doors that open into the exact area where Sterling always wants to hang out for some reason, and the aforementioned fancy staircase. I'm not saying a purpose-built church building would be perfect, but they do tend to be more stripped down, with fewer trouble areas for little kids to get into (plus those repellent burlap walls).

Then we get home and Sterling takes a makeshift nap and is grouchy for the rest of the day. Happy Sabbath Day to us!

I just feel like yesterday was a total church FAIL, and it's not sustainable. I can't go to church every week like that - spending three hours in a place that has suddenly become completely hostile to me and my toddler. I see two solutions:

1. Leave early every week (say, after sacrament meeting), or stay home altogether. I don't see this as sustainable, either, for a few reasons. Jeremy and I both have callings throughout the three hours. Plus, church is church and I'm not going to just NOT go.

2. Hang out in the nursery room with him for the next six months, until he's old enough to go himself (at age 18 months). When I was Primary President, we sometimes had to put a stop to this because we ended up with all these adults just sitting around chatting while their too-young toddlers disrupted the lesson for the older children. But I think there's a right way to do it, and maybe I can pull it off. Maybe.

If it seems like I'm complaining, it's because I am. But I'm complaining because I care, and I want to find a workable solution. It makes me sad that church right now is not a happy place.

What are your best tips for weathering the 12- to 18-month stage? I know I've done this twice before, but due to a few factors (more sterile church buildings, better schedules, more flexible callings - sometimes in Primary where babies could just roam, etc.), I've never been in quite this deep of a pit of despair before.

17 comments:

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I'm going to be really helpful (you're welcome) here by pasting this link to my blog about how church used to be.

http://topomountain.blogspot.com/2014/08/church-way-it-used-to-be-pre-1980.html

Seriously, I don't know an answer except to gird up your loins, fresh courage take, (and grit your teeth) for the next 6 months.

Susanne said...

Every church I've been part of has a nursery for babies. The volunteers rotate so you have nursery duty maybe one service per month (and we had Sunday morning, night and Wed night services.) I guess that's not how Mormons do things if you have to wait until 18 months for nursery though. Isn't that distracting for people who come to church and hope to get something out of the messages? Maybe I'm just too easily distracted by kids. I find myself watching and smiling at them rather than paying attention to the speaker (sorry, preacher!).

Too bad Sterling won't fall asleep on the ride to church, but I'm sure he eagerly anticipates all the fun places to explore when he gets there! Sounds cool!

Sorry for your church misery!

Liz Johnson said...

Any chance there are other parents in the same boat? Because I think starting up a makeshift Sunday School class (with snacks/toys in a closed-off room) where you take turns presenting/discussing the lesson as the children crawl all over each other and/or nap and/or break things is the way to go. If you can get 1-3 more parents, I think it's probably worth just finding a space and doing it, since you're all probably roaming the halls anyways (assuming there's an empty extra room).

We have church at 11:30, and I totally feel you. I just barely passed that stage with Claire (although she still naps at that exact time, so she's still extra grumpy and/or falling asleep in nursery). It's horrible.

Aimee said...

I've been in churches where they have nurseries for the babies and where the pastor wants the young children in the service instead. It is definitely more peaceful for the parents to have the baby in nursery, but I understand why they want little ones in service too. I have to admit 9-18 months is probably my least favorite age due to crazy activity levels but inability to follow basic directions developmentally, even as much as I love the burgeoning personality. I don't have much of an answer for you other than to grin and bear it. Do books keep him occupied? There is a very small Eric Carle board book set and something about it has kept my two older boys busy on long plane rides. The books are basics: numbers, colors, words and sounds but use his pictures. It was worth it's high euro price tag when I bought it six years ago, and I may need to buy another since we are missing two of four books. Good luck, I'm not too far behind you in that crazy age range and my newest guy is super eager to join the big brother fracas! 😝

Bridget said...

Mom, you're right.

Susanne, I actually like that we have the babies with us for one hour of the three. I think it's valuable to be all together as a family, and to teach little ones that sometimes in life, you need to sit quietly in a chair for a while without major distractions in front of you. But it would be nice to have a pre-nursery for the other two hours, for those miserable months before he turns 18 months.

Liz - there is one baby 18 months older than Sterling, and two babies born last month. So he is a lone toddler terror. And no empty rooms, as far as I know - even the kitchen is booked!

I have taken advantage of the help of some other sisters in the ward who say they will go play with him. But I do feel it's taking advantage - it's not fun to just hover around him, batting hazardous materials out of his hands/reach. He's not at the "sit in your arms and be cute" stage anymore. :(

Bridget said...

On second thought, Mom, "gird up your loins" is horrible advice and just makes me feel worse! I do know that I will be wearing pants to church for the next six months. I wore a dress yesterday and it made everything ten times worse.

Bridget said...

Aimee, he's not quite into solo books - he does like them, but only if he's in your lap and you're reading to him out loud, with lots of expression. Not exactly a church activity, at least not during the sacrament! I'll have to find these Eric Carle books you mentioned. My neighbor gave us a collection of Richard Scarry books and they are adorable.

Glenda The Good said...

Next six months...I wish my children grew out of it by then. Cheetah is almost three and it is still a misery with her even if it is just an hour and if I'm truly honest with myself Captain E is almost ten and makes church a nightmare as well. I'm seriously considering just quitting but that is a story for another day.

Liz Johnson said...

Also, to be honest, I'm not necessarily opposed to the "let him take a nap and then show up" option. I've done this a few times, and it has a double bonus - alone time for quiet meditation, listening to a conference talk or whatever, and generally replenishing myself and feeling the spirit without children tugging on me constantly and making church horrible. I sometimes just gave myself a free Sunday every month. So that's an option, too!

Ariana said...

I think by staying home, you inadvertently send a message to other parents that disruptive noisy kids aren't welcome. Or something. Even if all you catch during church is one inspiring phrase, in my opinion it's worth it to be there despite the WWF-style shenanigans of having a pre-nursery age baby. Pray for a solution. A very good friend of mine, whose husband is in the military and was deployed shortly after her 4th child was born, was struggling through church alone with her kids. She was desperate for a solution, and prayed for help. The next week, she felt prompted to sit next to an older single lady. This lady asked to hold her (wiggly!) baby, and ended up holding him all through church. The next week, same thing. This went on for months and it became their deal -- they always sat together, and the lady always helped with the kids. At some point, the lady told my friend that she had been struggling to find 'her place' at church as an older single lady, and had prayed for the Lord to help her feel needed and welcomed. Then the next sunday was the first time she sat with my friend and helped with her kids. She made it her personal mission to make it to church each week so she could be sure to help with my friend's kids. They were the answers to each other's prayers. I guess that's the long way of saying my short answer -- just go, with a prayer in your heart. The time will pass whether you go or not.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

When our kids were toddlers I just accepted that for a certain number of months, church was gonna be tough. That's what I was trying to say. It just is. Ariana gave a sweet suggestion I never considered.

Sarah Rose Evans said...

Could you have a grad student or other babysitter chill at home while he naps, and then bring him to you at church when he wakes up?

Jen said...

So, Joe's church assignments for the last four years have rendered me alone to deal with this *particular* phase for two children now (the youngest is FINALLY in nursery...though I say that loosely, because he hates it so much that he nearly throws up from all of the crying...but whatever).

My solution is to take the 2nd hour *off*. I have a 3rd-hour calling, so taking the 2nd hour off allows my older kids to go to Primary, and me to follow around the toddler while he does what he wants. Gives him some freedom and control, gives me something to look forward to, and gives us BOTH some reserves for the 3rd hour of church.

During this toddler phase when I'm so frazzled at church that I wonder why I'm even there, I remind myself that sometimes simply getting us all into the building is sufficient evidence of my faith. (And when well-meaning bishopric members try to shoo me to a 2nd hour class, I confidently explain JUST THAT.)

Nancy said...

Too bad there aren't any other babies. We had a "bad baby" Sunday School for a while (that wasn't its technical name but that's what we called it). I was called into primary when Benjamin was just six months old, though, and so I don't know if we have it anymore.

Maybe you could ask to be called into nursery? :)

Jennifer said...

Because our three kids are close together there was a 5 year span where I had only 9 months without a baby/pre nursery toddler with me during the last two hours of church. Jeff's responsibilities made him unable to help much. Those were tough years and this past year or so of having all kids in a class has been magical. I have a strong testimony of the fact that there are blessings obtained by simply getting ready and walking through the door into church when you have small children, regardless of how things go after you get there. I rarely attended any classes once the kids started walking. So good luck during the next few months, they are tough!!

Bridget said...

Jenn, I've started looking at it that way - I am doing it, and that counts for something.

Nemesis said...

Ugh, this is the same boat I'm in with Loki and it's AWFUL! He is like a Tasmanian Devil. I'm so sorry and have no advice but will be reading everyone else's.

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