If I had a million dollars, I’d set up a great climbing playspace specifically for toddlers and young preschoolers. It would have a baby play area for climbing crawlers, too. The snack area would have tables and chairs designed for these little ones to get in and out of by themselves, and a waterplay room. Dude. It would be so awesome, big brothers and sisters would be SO jealous, but they have their own places they can climb and splash!
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic for most of Pud’s life, and I am struggling with finding a satisfactory answer or solution.
I want to raise my children in the Christian church, preferably the sisterhood of nondenominational restoration-movement Christian churches. I also want to attend a church and understand what’s going on (e.g., via qualified interpreters).
My third desire is that the children’s ministry, down to the littlest ones, actually be a ministry to children and their families, rather than a gab session for adults who are surrounded by children playing in rooms away from adult worshippers.
I can find two out of three, but sadly, then, my child is not welcomed to stay with me during service. Well-meaning, “helpful” older ladies suggest as soon as we sit down that there’s a cry room. He’s not crying. He’s nestled in my arms, looking around and enjoying the music. I had been in there, and I couldn’t see the interpreters. And I’m deaf- no hearing aids, because I shouldn’t need them, right?
A few minutes later, we are sitting crammed like sardines, and he reaches for the pens and envelopes and drops a couple on the floor, but he’s not doing anything loud or obnoxious. He’s still quietly chewing on the pens. Again, Ms. Well-Meaning leans over to tell me, “you know, they have a nursery.” It wasn’t said hatefully, but I felt humiliated and singled out for trying to take a nine month old into the service instead of leaving him in the nursery. I knew at the beginning of the service that I’d be in the cry room for sure during the sermon, but I could barely participate in the worship with my child without feeling that he was unwanted, though the excuse was “just trying to help you so you can focus.”
I left. I went home and cried.
Let’s talk for a moment about my desirable number three. I am willing to negotiate on the importance of a strong children’s ministry if I feel that my child is accepted in the worship services with me and the church family. I don’t have as many choices when it comes to being a deaf woman who wants to attend a church and understand what is going on, so you know… compromise.
We believe it is our responsibility to raise Pud in the faith, not a church’s, so that is okay.
But what do I do now? If my Pud isn’t welcomed, even though his behavior was perfectly acceptable for a small child and minimally distracting, what can I do? I simply cannot lower my expectations for church nursery programs because I have seen and done better. I taught little ones about Jesus and God from the time they were 6 weeks old, and I did it with songs, a Bible story, prayers, and through interactive playtime. I may have chatted with my co-teachers a little bit, but that was kept to a minimum, as my job in the nursery was to be sure these babies had a good strong foundation in the basics of the faith, as well as how to be kind to each other, take turns, share, and use polite words instead of physical force to get what they need/want. Many nursery programs do have the story and song time but here’s where I expect more: babies should be interacting with each other and caregivers, not put in chairs, walkers, swings, exersaucers, Bumbo seats, bouncers, and jumperoos for the entire time. If there are too many to comfortably manage with little ones crawling around and others being in adult arms, there needs to be more volunteer recruitment. Infants and toddlers, developmentally, NEED to be able to move freely. If I wanted Pud to be confined to a chair for two hours, I could take him for a car trip to visit my folks every week. I understand that many people are quite comfortable with this and would prefer to know that their children are spending very little time in close enough proximity to others that they aren’t catching each others’ germs, or whatever. I disagree, and I feel that Pud gets more religious education and a worship experience being with me- he is learning more about prayer, Scripture, baptism, communion, and praise- than playing in a walker in the nursery- so I quit even trying to take him in there. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting.
BUT, I’m too stubborn to back down on my expectations for my child(ren)’s church experience. I don’t believe that being raised in the church does any good when the attitude that permeates worship services is that all children should be seen and not heard; that they should automatically be shuffled off to the nursery/children’s worship. No wonder these kids grow up and don’t feel like they belong in the churches they were raised in (and boy do I remember this disconnect!).
Folks, I know it isn’t always fabulous to listen to a little one’s out-of-tune vocalizations during your favorite hymn (though I take great joy in knowing he is singing his heart out in joy the only way he knows how), or to hear the rustle of offering envelopes during prayer or communion. But I ask you: if the child is not crying or raising a ruckus, why is the mother essentially told he isn’t welcomed? If he isn’t welcomed, how will he ever learn how to behave acceptably and to participate appropriately as he gets bigger?
I am so discouraged. Remember, I don’t have the hundreds of choices in churches that hearing people have. In all of this metropolitan city, I know of maybe 3-4 deaf ministries/interpreted services. It doesn’t work for our family for B to have to interpret everything for me- he really isn’t qualified.
I thought Jesus said, “Let the children come to me…” Why doesn’t the Church** welcome little ones with the same open arm and understanding of their youth?
**I know I shared an example from one church earlier in this blog, but I have encountered similar attitudes at several other churches, hence the question of the Church collectively.
Pud loves water. Loves it so much he has made it his mission to discover everything there is to know. As a result, he knows how the hose sprayer works. Where to turn on the faucets on the tub and the sink. How to make the water go down the drain in the tub- and the old sink drain, before his daddy swapped it out for a new one that has the built-in stopper no bathroom sink should be without. How to crawl from the pool to the hose and back again. That he can splash by hitting the water, pour by scooping in a cup or spoon and tilting, and that he can make the hose sprayer spray when it’s not turned on if he holds it in the pool for a minute. He knows that soap tastes bad, makes the water change colors, and is fantastically fun because it can slip right out of his hands. At the same time, he knows how to hold it so it won’t slip. He knows that when he pees in the toilet, it makes a fantastic sound as the urine splashes into the water and he knows what it looks like when the toilet us flushed. Little Pud also knows water with soapy bubbles In it cleans the dishes and his clothes, and water rinses those bubbles away.
Aren’t little humans amazing?