Stuck in Suburbia
You’re right toddlers need their calories, and are way too restless for long penitential services, but they can still take part in the journey to Easter in an age appropriate way. Keep it simple and include your kids in the the three pillars of the season: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. And don’t be too hard on yourself along the way, you have toddlers, you’re doing well just to keep them alive and stay sane.
Being a parent of toddlers means you get to do (most of) the Works of Mercy everyday.
Fast from meat on Fridays. Catholics are encouraged to do this year round but required on Fridays in Lent, and on Ash Wednesday. Tell your children that you’ll be doing this, as a way of honoring the sacrifice of Jesus and atoning for your sins. (What is a sin? I tell my toddlers that when we do things like share our toys and give to the poor, it makes our hearts, and God’s heart, happy. Likewise, when we do unkind things, it makes us feel sad, and it makes God feel sad too. But when we ask for and receive forgiveness we set things right. We wipe away our tears and God’s tears as well.)
Go to Mass today, on Ash Wednesday. Kids like receiving ashes on their foreheads. Young children learn with their senses, and this is a powerful way of marking them indelibly with the sign of their baptism, the Sign of the Cross. Try to go to Mass every Sunday as a family. And take them to kiss the cross on Good Friday.
Get a rosary for each child and pray as a family every night before bed (or as many nights as you can). They’re not old enough for an entire rosary, but they can hold the beads in their hands and learn the basic prayers: The Sign of the Cross, The Our Father, The Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. If you want you can turn off the lights and light a candle before evening prayers, and then let them blow it out. This is sure to be their favorite part, and it’s a nice way of transitioning everyone to sleep. You might add intentions or a Sign of Peace (also know as hugs and kisses).
Keep a rice bowl or an alms box on the table and let them put money in it everyday and then bring the money to Mass. Explain to them that the money goes to Catholic Relief Services to help feed the hungry. Let them pick out something they own to donate or give away to someone in need.
To learn more read our book The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life. It’s available wherever books are sold February 23rd.
And hang in there. I’m sure you’re doing a great job. Think about it in terms of your Lent, being a parent of toddlers means you get to do (most of) the Works of Mercy everyday.