Today, C mentioned that he looks around for the kids he met at Vacation Bible School every week, but he's never sees any of them. I explained that there are 4 different weekend masses right now (we'll jump to 7 or 8 next month when the snowbirds start coming back to town), so they may attend different times. DH then said that not all parents take their kids to mass - and as an aside to me "they're not willing to stick it out for years until they are better behaved!"
It's so true! There were Sundays when I left the church, or DH left the church with one or both boys. There were many Sundays when I was red with embarrassment over their behavior. There were Sundays when I left church wanting to crawl under a rock because the boys were noisy, fidgety, annoying or just down-right awful.
But, we stuck with it!
One thing we did was change parishes to one that had a family/cry room. The parish we joined when we first moved to this area did not have a family/cry room because the pastor said he felt that everyone belonged at the mass, and he did not want anyone segregated. Unfortunately, he never took the time to remind the congregation, and we were often bombarded with dirty looks and nasty comments about our 2 young boys' antics. I admit that our attendance fell, and I felt horrible about it.
When N was 2 and C was 3, we changed parishes. There were a few reasons, but a big reason was the fact that they had a family/cry room available! We used it for the first year or so we attended - but not all the time. We tried some masses outside the room, and others inside the room. The room worked best for us when it was mostly empty. At crowded masses, it didn't work as well, because many parents felt their kids could run wild and didn't have to behave.
(Which is a big pet peeve of mine! Even though we were in this separate space, I saw it as a place to help kids learn HOW to behave -- which meant that there might be quiet talking to correct behavior, or infants crying, or young toddlers wandering a little bit. I NEVER thought of it as a place to let preschoolers / young grade school children run around and chatter non-stop. It made teaching appropriate church behavior much more difficult! But, it was the perfect place to go when behavior in the pews would be horrid, and I'm grateful that the option was there for us.)
We tried different times to see which worked best for our family. When it was important that we use the cry room, the best mass times were the masses that not many children attended. In our parish, that means early morning (8AM) or Sunday evening (6PM). If we shared the cry room at that time, it was usually with one other family only - which allowed more teaching moments to occur.
As they got older, we tried the family mass. At this mass, the kids are able to leave before the readings and return after the homily. They go together for a "children's liturgy" during this time.
Currently, the 6PM mass on Sunday works best for us. It's not very crowded, and since it's the teen mass, the music includes drums, chimes and guitar. N loves the added music.
Regardless of which mass we attend, it helps immensely if we get there early! Trying to get situated when mass has already started is very frustrating and embarrassing for me. This is something that DH and I have worked hard to come to terms with - since he tends to be "on-time" for things (in other words - late!) Arriving 5-10 minutes prior to mass makes a huge difference for my comfort level.
We've worked out the best places to sit during mass. This depends on which mass we attend - if we attend 10AM mass, we tend to sit in one area where many families we know tend to congregate (and their older kids are great examples!). During 6PM mass, we tend to sit in one of the first few rows so the boys can see as much as possible.
In the past, I tried bringing packs of holy cards, prayer books, lacing cards . . . and for my kids, it never really worked. They usually wanted me to play "with" them, or discuss with them vs. sitting quietly. The best thing we ever brought were travel-sized magnadoodles. In fact, my 5.5 year old brought his magnadoodle yesterday and spent a good portion of mass drawing the crucifix. I NEVER brought snacks, but I did bring sippy cups of water when they were much younger (2 and 3 years old.)
Something else that has worked for us is spending time outside of mass explaining the different parts of mass. We visit the church during the week so we can walk around and look at the different parts of the church. We light a candle and say a prayer for whatever intentions we have. We talk about liturgical colors. I review the readings before mass and talk about things to listen for. For C right now, his interest is peaked by readings from Jeremiah (his middle name), Matthew (his uncle's name) and Peter (his grandfather's name). Both boys are more interested when it's a story they're familiar with (like the recent readings about the loaves and fishes).
I think the most important thing is consistency. Going every week and talking about the expectations of behavior, and explaining why we attend makes more difference than anything. N has a very hard time sitting still, and I've become much more tolerant of it. It's important for us to BE there, and BE there as a family. We are all trying our best and that's all I can ask.
If we didn't attend regularly, they would never learn proper behavior. We'd have to start over each and every week we actually DID attend.
It has helped with this new parish. I started a mom's group, and have met some wonderful families that attend regularly with all their children. This parish is much more family-friendly than our previous parish, and parishioners are much more tolerant - which has made it easier for us.
I think that if you ask most parents who attend regularly what the key is to good behavior - they would agree that it is consistency and education. Just keep going. Just keep talking. Just keep praying.