I think the title says it all. I'm going to talk about surviving church with three small children, preferably without heading to an institution afterwards. Church should be "where we go to learn about and worship God" (this is what I tell my children). But for my family, it's basically "where we go to lose our minds while we try to keep our children under control."
So I end up doing everything I can to keep my children from crying and disrupting the whole service. I am a complete push over, and they get whatever they want as long as they just. stay. quiet. I'm sure the people sitting behind me think I am that over indulgent parent that never says no. I'm really not - just at church. Finally we make it through the first hour, and I can breathe a small sigh of relief. We made it, and few people, if any, came out of thinking I'm a horrible parent (except for the people sitting behind me of course). The entire time I am likely wanting to strangle either them or myself - whichever will get me out of the pew faster.
Hours two and three are easier, because #s 1 and 2 go their separate ways. This is where I feel terrible for #1's teachers, because I know that he is horrible for them, too. I know he doesn't sit still, I know he doesn't be quiet, and I know he causes a raucous. Basically, I'm well aware that he's a pain in the butt. This is probably where people start putting together what the see in the first hour (permissive push-over parent) and how he behaves in the second (expectant, impatient toddler). Really though, he's just always like that!
Why did I go again? Not only did I learn nothing, but now I'm completely exhausted, and I'm pretty sure that everyone at church thinks I am totally overwhelmed at home by my children, and they totally see through my fake "LIFE IS GREAT!!!!!" smile. But really, I'm not overwhelmed (most days). I am overwhelmed by them in situations where I need to have control but actually have none - like church! So while my "life is great!" smile is fake as I am dragging my children through the building, prepared to knock them over the head and (gently and lovingly) set them into their age-appropriate child restraints, life really IS great 5-6 days of the week.
So, here's what I do to keep church a little LESS awful than it otherwise could be, because a little less is better than no less?
1. Pack snacks. Pack a variety of snacks. Make sure they are not messy snacks. Pack the variety of snacks in a variety of containers so that you can constantly switch them out. I have Take n Toss bowls, plastic baggies, little animal bowl things I got at the dollar store.
2. Pack toys. Pack so many toys that you're sure your children would be occupied for days. These will probably last you about 35 minutes. At least they do for me, since my kids have some form of ADD or something. In the following picture we have: finger puppets, two balls, a shaker, two matchbox cars, a set of dice, a camera, a teething ring, flash cards, crayons and paper, several different books, a random Perry the Platypus toy, and a fancy ball. Three kids ages 3, 2, and 1? Yeah, even this kind of selection doesn't last long.
3. Alternate your toys and snacks, and reserve the choices as only for church. My kids get Whales at church. Healthy? Not at all. That's why they like them so much, and why they only get them at church. I swap out the books and flash cards every week, and some of the toys as well, just to keep things fresh and fun.
4. If you have a SmartPhone, install Toddler Lock. It's amazing.
5. Take a deep breath, and realize that if your children make a tiny bit of noise, it's still okay. The pulpit has a microphone, and many other people have children who are not sitting silently and holding their breath. You're not alone. Others understand.
And there you have it. That's how I survive church. Sort of.