Try out some other shoes

A quick caveat before I start here; this is still pretty soon after an unpleasant experience. I’m hoping I’ve reflected on it enough to take the sting out, and try and generate some constructive outcome.

Last night I had the chance to try out a bit of a different experience at church – instead of running the show, I was (after a stint on piano) the parent in charge of a noisy child.

Normally, the child in question isn’t noisy, or I delegate (as dads often do) to someone else to look after the noisy issues. But this time it was my turn.

As I’ve seen before, if you’re in charge of a noisy child, a church can be a hostile place. This, though, was a service where we’d already made a number of changes to make it easier for parents of noisy children.

Worse yet was the “split into small groups” time. Here the adults not in charge of children were allowed to stay in the main area of the building, while the parents and small children were ushered off to sit elsewhere. Ushered was a bit strong – really, the location was only mentioned as an afterthought.

With the group time over, no-one thought to tell the small children group that everyone was getting back together: perhaps a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”. As someone who is generally involved in some kind of up-front role in a service, it’s quite unusual that I would see what it’s like to be left out.

Asking about this afterwards, I found that this sense of alienation from the rest of the group is common for mothers: being a full part of a church group is one of many things that mums give up, generally without complaint.

This might strike you as obvious, but I’d never thought about it, or even heard it was an issue. Perhaps this is because mums (usually the dominant carer in a service) are not given much of a voice in planning meetings?

So what can we learn from this experience? It’s worth putting yourself in the shoes of a range of different people in your church. There’s always room for improving the way that things are done.

For the church-going mums reading this, is there something that could be done to make your church-going experience better? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

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  1. From my conversations with other mums, the general thought is that the season of being a mother to young children is potentially the most spiritually hungry/deprived time in our lives. Conversations are always cut short, sermons heard over/under chatter/noise/crying/screaming and a general lack of compassion from others, or interest in supporting a decision to keep young children as part of the “family” worship service for its duration.
    I can’t say I’ve ever felt excluded, more hungry, and disappointed by others reactions or requests to remove one generation away from the other less tolerant ones.
    For me, the solution to stunted growth has been to become part of a prayer triplet at my house, whilst the girls sleep, in combination with a larger womens bible study (on different days). Oh, and also accept that this is a season, that will pass!

  2. As the single mother of an active two-year old girl, I regularly experience a sense of alienation from the church group.
    Two churches in which we have been regular attendees have similar responses to the presence of children: ‘we like families to attend and are happy for children to move around, make noise and play in the midst of the service, though the content is only directed towards adults’. I don’t find this to be a satisfactory experience of church for either of us as I’m unable to adequately participate and I don’t want my daughter to grow up with the view that church and God are only for adults.
    I’ve spent a lot of time removed from the main gathering, trying to prevent my daughter from annoying other adults, while attempting to participate in some of the worship. With differing levels of tolerance from other adults, it can be difficult to know what toddler behaviours are acceptable. This often brings frustration and can make the church experience seem too difficult to be worth the effort.
    It would be easy to assume that the leaders of the churches we have attended have ignored the needs of families with young children, however, this is not the case. I recognise that it is extremely difficult to include all members of a gathering (eg elderly and hard of hearing, intolerant childless and those who are easily distracted) and finding the balance can be unsatisfactory for one or more groups. I really appreciate the efforts that have been made to include us in the gatherings and recognise that some of the difficulties are my sensitivity to feelings of alienation. Sadly, the stress of parenting can make it more difficult for me to put in the work required to produce more positive church experiences.
    What could make my church-going experience better? I would like a service that I am able to hear and participate in, one that recognises children as members of the church with ways for them to actively engage in worship, where I’m not relegated to a back corner of the room and feel welcomed as an equal member of the church community. I hope this is possible and that we won’t need to wait until my daughter is at primary (or secondary) school to fully participate in church gatherings.

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