Praying with Children

Praying with Children

While rummaging about in my archives I found this piece I wrote before Bella was born about praying the rosary with children. Interesting how my attitudes have not really shifted. I think I’d have written almost the same words today as I did then.

praying with kids

Ian at Musings from a Catholic Bookstore has a great post on praying the rosary with children. And asks a tough question: does this count as prayer?

I posted a response there, but wanted to re-post it here. I’ve been thinking about the topic of praying with children quite a bit recently. Danielle Bean also had a good post on managing small children at mass and, of course, about to embark on the great adventure that is parenting, Dom and I have talked more than once about the vocation of parenting and about how we want to raise our children in the faith.

We�re still waiting for kid #1 to be born� any day now! But we�ve prayed family rosaries with my husband�s brother�s family (six kids) and his sister�s family (three kids all under age six) and what you describe sounds pretty familiar. While I have a hard time concentrating and don�t find those prayer times particularly helpful for meditation, I think they are in other ways even more valuable than the time I spend praying the rosary by myself or the time spent praying the liturgy of the hours. Praying with children helps me to remember that we are all called to become like children. I remember first that prayer is not primarily about me and how I feel and my state of mind� after all St Therese had years of dry prayer when she was in a dark night of the soul. It seems to me part of a parent�s vocation is to sacrifice some of that feeling of closeness to God in meditative prayer as we live out our vocation to lead our children to Christ. So we don�t get to meditate on the rosary the way we used to, we don�t get to hear the whole homily, we have to leave mass to change a diaper or take a child to the bathroom, or calm a screaming baby� but the thing is in doing all those things we are following God�s call for us to let our children come to him.

And how many times in the gospel does Jesus seek out solitude to pray only to be beseiged by his followers? They always seemed to be able to find him just when he most wanted to have a little peace. But he was always patient with them when they interrupted his personal time with the Father. He never turned them away.

So yeah, I think having the amazing saintly patience to pray with our children, especially when they seem uncontrollable, to take them to mass every week and to teach them about God� That�s what God calls us to do as parents. And that�s what I�m counting on to get me to heaven.

Indeed what I could not foresee then is the amazing fruits which praying with my children has born in my spiritual life. So often now they lead me to prayer instead of vice-versa. They show me how to become like a little child so that I may enter the Kingdom.

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  • One thing: does Bella still really need a full blown nap (she’s 4?)?  Can she manage her own quiet time in the afternoon while you deal with the other 2?

  • Katherine, I sort of oversimplified the narrative, really only focusing on my part. Dom does help. We both tend to do a little bit of everything and we do shuffle around responsibilities, playing it by ear most nights. He usually helps the girls put on pjs and brush their teeth. We all say prayers together and then either he or I will read bedtime stories.

    We have tried having him be the primary person to put them to bed too. But Sophie really, really wants me to be there when it comes time to turn out the lights. She wants me to stay and sing until she falls asleep just like I do at nap time. I’m trying to wean her off of that; but so far it’s easier to give in than to have her blow up in full-on temper tantrum and then end up with me back in their room calming her anyway.

    We keep trying to have me put Ben to bed while Dom gets the girls ready. the problem is he just pops up again 10 minutes or fifteen minutes or thirty minutes after I put him down. It is so frustrating because nothing we can do will convince him to just go to sleep. He was screaming and screaming all last night from the first time I tried to put him down at about 7:30 until 1 am when he finally gave in. There is no easy solution.


    Bella does skip her nap some days—usually at least once or twice a week—and I’m not too militant about making her take one if she says she’s not tired. I do try to at least get her to have quiet time and sit and read and she will do this but it often takes much more intervention on my part to keep her quiet so it ends up much less restful for me. And often she falls asleep at the end of her quiet time and then is much harder to wake up and is cranky all evening.

    But many days when we let her skip the nap she’s cranky too. I think she does need a short nap. The best days are when she falls asleep with Sophie at about 1 and then wakes up an hour to two hours later.

  • The only other thing I could say is that we have had the problem of a little one waking up 30 minutes into sleep usually because they are overtired. They are so overtired that they will crash so hard that when that first sleep cycle ends, they bounce back up again. I don’t know if that is the case with Ben and even if it is, the only remedy is more sleep which, from your post, is the problem to begin with.

    I’m sorry I don’t have any great advice. We are having our own sleep problems here so it would be the blind leading the blind anyway. Elizabeth has figured out that she can get up after I lay her down and I have not been able to convince her that if she just stayed laying down, she could get to sleep and not feel tired. How do you convince a 7 month old to voluntarily lay down? It is the equivalent of trying to convince Obama that if he just let people keep their own money and cut back government, the economy would fix itself. Argh, Kids! smile

  • Yeah, I think you’re right it is that he’s overtired.

    But how to fix that?

    I’ve been reading The No Cry Sleep Solution and her brilliant advice is that babies his age need to go to bed around 6:30 or 7. And indeed I think he wants to go to bed about then. But what Pantley doesn’t address is how to fit all these precise demands into a real life family situation with needy toddlers and almost four year-olds. That’s right at dinner time and there just isn’t any way I can go take an hour to sit in the dark and soothe him to sleep. Everyone else needs to be fed and even if Dom were willing to take upon himself all the cooking and dinner serving, still Sophie wouldn’t be willing to be isolated from mama for that long.

    The problem with sleep gurus is that they read as if sleep happens in some sort of vacuum instead of a family where everything can’t really revolve around the baby’ sleep needs. How to balance real life and the real need for sleep with a difficult baby? I’m stumped.

  • Of course, every family is different, but I thought I’d let you know our sleep schedules.  It’s the ONE thing I’m pretty adamant about around here.

    Wake up 6 – 6:30
    Nap (after lunch) 11:30
    Bedtime 6:30 -7

    I’ve had 4 kids on this schedule around 9 months until they give up their daily nap.  Then I make them have quiet time during naptime, so they read or rest.  It works like a charm for us, but you’ll get into your own groove soon!

  • Well, I’m just brainstorming so I don’t know if any of this would help but I didn’t think it could hurt….

    1. Is it possible to begin dinner earlier? Even just 15 minutes earlier?

    2. Could you wear Ben once he begins getting sleepy? Would he go to sleep that way?

    3. Is it possible to shift his schedule so he is sleeping later in the morning and going to be later in the evening? Even just 30 minutes later?

    I did want to mention one thing that might at least offer a little hope. I know from about 18 months until about 25 months, Felicity was as shy as could be and clung to me like aliens might abduct me any minute. Since around Christmas or so, she has really begun to get more comfortable around other people. She began saying hello to random strangers. Sophie’s birthday is coming up soon I believe. Our pediatrician told me that that 18-24 month range is when separation anxiety is very natural, common and strong. I realize even after 24/25 months, you are still mommy and she will still want mommy, but it might become easier for Dom to step in when you need to step away. Felicity will still sometimes be very insistent that she wants mommy but if we make it clear that only mommy can help Elizabeth and she will have to be content with daddy, it does usually work.

    Sorry I can’t be more help. Elizabeth wouldn’t lay down today so I got her asleep in a car ride. Can’t do that everyday though … especially with the snowstorm hitting tomorrow.

  • I’ve joked that I should have “baby/child sleep” mastered by my 12th child. Sleep has been one of those things that I just have not been able to master. I’m better now than I was 4 years ago, but feel I still have a long way to go. So I am emphatically sympathetic with your difficulties. (I also joke I’m going to invent the first over-the-counter baby/toddler-approved sedative.)

    Only in the last week have I been able to improve Elizabeth’s sleep. In her case, the kicker was getting her used to falling asleep without sucking, which worked well until yesterday evening when she figured out that she could roll over, get up and play in her crib. We’ll see how today goes.

    I think reading to them in their room is a great idea. I think having them already in their beds, comfortable and getting ready to sleep should help and it sounds like it is making things easier for you. Do you always put everyone to sleep? Can Dom help? Generally I put Elizabeth to bed and I bathe Cecilia and Felicity but James reads bedtime books to Cecilia and Felicity and gets them to sleep. Would something like that help?

    I know, for us, if I tried to give the girls lunch too early, they wouldn’t eat much and then would claim to be hungry 1 or 2 hours later. Of course, with my girls often getting up at 6am, an 11am lunch ends up working well, but I don’t know what time your girls get up or if that might make a difference.

    Sleep is one of those issues that can be so difficult to tackle. I’m always afraid if I change something it could make it worse and it always takes a while to know if things are getting better. I hope things get easier for you. God Bless +

  • Definitely getting dinner earlier would be huge. That’s one of my biggest struggles.

    Wearing Ben is tough for me. My back is not so good. He’s getting big for the sling too. (He’s already bigger than your Elizabeth.) But that’s thought.

    He’s not so much on a schedule that I can really shift it. I try to get him to sleep later in the mornings but the girls usually wake him much earlier than he’s ready. I don’t know how to change that dynamic.

    I do think that as they get older things will smooth out. Eventually. I just want to help them get there sooner.

    Anyway, tonight I ate one taco and took Ben to the bedroom to try to get him down earlier. He wouldn’t settle; but Dom and I switched off and Dom kept him calm while I ate the rest of my dinner and then got the girls to bed. We got them all three down by 8:30 and so far Ben is still asleep. So perhaps we’re making some progress.

    Katherine, it is helpful to at least talk over things with someone who has a different perspective. Keep bouncing the ideas at me. You never know what will work. Thanks.

  • Glad to hear this evening went better. For me, even when only one thing goes right, it gives me such hope and boosts my confidence.

    I had one other thought though I don’t know if it will help.

    Our routine goes as follows: I bathe girls, I get girls in pajamas, I help girls brush teeth, I say goodnight and leave, Felicity turns on the white noise machine and turns off the light, James reads bedtime stories, James says prayers, James gets them to sleep. Tonight Felicity even got upset insisting I lay down with her. Tonight I could have. Elizabeth was asleep in the swing. But James, understandably, wanted this time with the girls. So I said my goodnights and left. She cried a little while. James ended up needing to hold her to calm her down while he read to her. She calmed and then he laid down with her and she went to sleep. I could have gotten them asleep tonight but it is important for James to be able to do it because there are nights when Elizabeth needs me and I can’t do it.

    I realize you said you all say prayers together. I think that is great and wouldn’t suggest changing it. But you said sometimes you read to them and sometimes Dom does but you always have to put Sophia to sleep. I’m wondering if it might help to have Dom read every night, in the darkened or dim room (we use a book light in a dark room) with the girls in their beds and then have Dom help them get to sleep. Maybe having you already out of the picture before the lights go off and the bedtime books are read would make it easier for Sophia to go to sleep without you? Maybe that dark, calm, quiet, consistent routine and atmosphere before she goes to sleep would help her be calm enough and ready for bed enough to not insist you be there? Or maybe at least not every night? I’m not trying to suggest that you copy our routine but I’m only thinking maybe if that reading time before bed was consistently Dom in that sleep-encouraging environment, maybe she would be calm enough to not insist you be there? Just a thought.

    Hope they all sleep well for you tonight! Tomorrow I have to figure out how to get Elizabeth to voluntarily lay down for a nap….should be interesting. smile God Bless+

  • Oh, Melanie, I have nothing to offer other than sympathy and some empathy, too, because I’ve never been able to manage my kids’ sleep schedules well. It’s a full-time job just getting everyone tucked in and sleepy. During the day I usually put the baby asleep for a morning nap around 9ish and then again around 1. At 1 pm my oldest has quiet time (she gave naps up before 2) and I rest with my toddler. I usually sneak away after she’s asleep.

    I understand your dinner predicament. Dave often works late, and I don’t always want to forgo dinner together even though the girls are getting fussy. This is one reason the flexibility of homeschooling is appealing to us. We won’t have to face the mad and early morning rush, so it’s not as big of an issue if they stay up later.

    I’ve read every sleep book on the market, but I’ve just come to accept I’ll never be one of those moms who has a seamless sleep schedule.
    Yet, I do have to make sure we’re all getting the sleep we need – even if it’s at different times each day. This may not be the ideal, but I realized I was driving myself mad trying to reulate all the girls’ sleep.

    Praying for you guys! Sweet dreams. 

    p.s. I love all the sleeping kid photos. I never fail to see the baby in my kids when they’re peacefully slumbering.

  • Melanie, it must be so tough! Moving the chair was brilliant.
    I really do not have any specific advice, but one thing I have noticed (though it might be obvious to everyone else!) is that the kind of activity the kids keep themsleves busy with has a lot of influence on their sleepiness/readiness to fall asleep. In summer my kids have a much easier time with their afternoon naps and bedtime: they’re so tired from playing outside, you know, what they call “a good kind of tired”. Winter is tough – we’re inside a lot, and it’s difficult to do things that will burn a lot of energy: they often skip the afternoon nap, and beditme is later than I’d like or than they would need. Anyway, I’m just saying: keep an eye on how your kids play, and see if you can use play to help “organize” their sleep.

  • I used to pray for the time when my days were not controlled by my kids taking naps…I should have prayed for the time when my kids didn’t NEED naps, as many of them either stopped napping before they should have given it up, and others needed naps longer than I would have expected it!  Either way, I’ll soon be through that stage with all of mine, and no doubt I’ll be wishing they were all little again (napping or no napping)!