I'm a little torn on how to handle church these days. Jacob is a handful most of the time, and church is no exception. Fortunately, our church has a room in the back that they affectionately refer to as the Worship Training Center. It's basically a room with windows into the church and a few rows of chairs. The theory is that you can have your kids in there with you, free to make noise, play and move around, but it's still more of a setting like church itself. During their less frisky moments, kids can sit in their chair and listen to the service, which helps prepare them for sitting in church once their screaming/figeting days are mostly over. Of course, if your kid makes noise they're bound to disturb other people in the room who are trying to listen to the service, but seeing as how they're (usually) parents themselves, it's understood. On the other hand, most crying rooms I've ever been in generally contain some cushy furniture and lots of toys. The focus in those crying rooms definitely seems to be on the toys, not what's going on on the other side of the windows. It seems to me like being in there would be more of a reward than anything.
At our church there is a nursery where we could send Jacob during the service. As far as I know it's a toy-filled room manned by responsible adults. They have a pager system in case of any problems. We've never taken advantage of it. Up until a couple months ago, we never really needed to. While churchgoing has never been particularly low-stress, Jacob was generally content enough that we could still listen to the service while we fed him Cheerios, rocked him to sleep, or passed him back and forth amidst his squirming. But these days it's almost impossible to pay attention to anything because we're constantly chasing him around the room or trying to keep him quietly occupied. Nothing holds his attention very long. And even if I'm not the chaser of the moment, it's hard to not be preoccupied what he's doing. It makes for a terribly distracted hour. Lately I've been walking out of church feeling like I didn't hear more than a sentence or two of anything that went on. So, if I can't pay attention enough to get anything out of church, it almost makes me wonder why I'm there. If I'm not getting anything out of it and it's adding to my weekly stress level, what's the point?
Of course, I do know why I'm there, or at least in theory why we should be there. It's a scary slippery slope and ultimately I know better than to let myself start down it. Here's how it goes...We're not getting anything out of it so we stop going, figuring we'll start up again once Jacob's old enough. Of course, by then we'll have another baby so it would start all over again. We'd wait longer and by the time we'd finally get to a good place to go back, we'd either be so out of the habit that we wouldn't want to get up on Sundays or the kids would be so unaccustomed to sitting still for an hour that they'd still be too much of a handful and we'd give up altogether. I can only imagine the ramifications of no weekly church exposure. God forbid that ever, ever happens. As a girl who went to church and Sunday School every single Sunday that I was physically able to do it, I know better. And as much as I may not have enjoyed it a lot of the time, now I can see that it was important in many ways, from the discipline to the teaching to the friendships. It built a decent foundation, even if some of the details didn't work out quite as planned. All those years of church and Sunday School, and yet I still credit college for introducing me to what a real relationship with God is all about, but that's another issue. But anyway, it was still an important part of my childhood. And now we go to a church that's got a great program full of eager youth, so I think whatever they've got will be great for Jacob down the road. But in the meantime...
I'm not sure what to do. Right now Jacob probably isn't capable of sitting quietly for any significant period of time, so it's unfair to try to hold him anywhere near that standard. Perhaps he should go to the nursery, for his sake and ours. However, I'm afraid that if we start sending him there, he'll get used to playing and running around (more than he already does), and may not be able to sit still and be quiet when we finally want him to sit in church with us. I'm also afraid of alternating, because I don't want him cranky on weeks when he can't go play. I simply don't want him associating going to church with playing, because it could be a tough battle when he can't do that anymore. I guess we could always go back to the worship training center at that point, just in case, and finally ease back into the main room once we know he's able to sit still for an hour--even if he needs to color or something to keep quiet. Still, it all scares me a little. But I'm equally scared by the concept of not being able to pay attention in church for years to come. It just serves to make church more and more irrelevant and even a bit of a nuisance--i.e., "Ugh, we have to go there and do battle with Jacob yet again...", all without the spiritual benefit because we can't even focus on what's being said. It's a tough call, though I suppose we may have to give it a try. Anyone out there have any advice?