When I was a new parent, I had this natural hesitation to incorporate baby into my normal routine. You mean, I can go to the store with my baby? I can cook or clean with my baby? It took me a while, but slowly the list of things I would wait to do until my husband could watch the baby or until the baby was down for the night got smaller and smaller as my confidence and experience-driven knowledge took over. One of the things, however, that took a long time to make it off the "list" was the family rosary.
Once our baby was past the newborn, always-asleep phase, Pater and I just naturally resorted to praying our family rosary once she went down. It was kind of a no-brainer—no baby, no distractions! Besides, this is how we had always prayed our family rosary—just the two of us.
However, as things tend to go with tired, new parents, this got to be exhausting. After-the-baby-is-down turned into once-we-get-ready-for-bed, and pretty soon our family rosary was happening at 9 or 10 pm. As I'm sure you can imagine, there were many a night when this sleep-deprived momma could not keep her eyes open through all five decades! Something had to change, and this is when we decided to incorporate our family rosary into our baby girl's awake time—and much to our surprise, it was a total success!
Depending on what stage of mobility your baby has reached, you will have different challenges doing this (the golden days are definitely when you can just nurse through it!), but I just wanted to encourage young mothers out there that this can absolutely be done—and it makes a big difference, for your family and for your child. It certainly has for us. When we told family we were doing this (if they were there to join us), I think what most people wondered—including ourselves—was whether or not we could keep this up. And I'm proud to report that our little 13-month old can sit in the same spot next to her kneeling Pater (with the occasional reminder, of course) for an entire 5-decade rosary. Will we encounter new challenges as she gets older? Absolutely! Will you encounter the same challenges we have? Probably not. Children are different, so parent strategies will be different, but we wanted to share our experience to encourage parents that this is absolutely possible with a little work!
Why Does It Matter?
Before we tell you just how we do it, we want to share with you the benefits we have already experienced from adopting this practice:
We are modeling to our child prayer and the rosary, at a time when their developing brains are extremely impressionable. What a grace for one of their first memories to be the family rosary!
We are modeling a united family unit, one of the most essential things for a child to see for stable development.
Our child is learning that certain times are more important than others, and require different sets of behavior skills.
Our child is learning self-control, one of the most important things for babies and toddlers to learn before they can master most other skills.
Our child is practicing every day for fifteen minutes the kind of behavior we expect once a week at Mass—and practice makes perfect! (Can you imagine trying to teach a child to sit still for an hour at Mass without practicing this during the week at home??)
The rosary fits perfectly into a bedtime routine for our child—after dinner and bath but before bedtime story—providing a great signal to start winding down for the day.
It teaches a wordless lesson for the child to look outside of themselves. Precocious toddlers, especially the oldest ones that get to be the only child for a while, naturally gravitate toward the center of attention in the family dynamic. This is a few minutes out of the day when the family is together but not centered around her—centered around the family altar instead. And she gets to be a part of it!
How Do You Do It?
As I said before, all children are different, and you know your child. Here is our experience and what worked and didn't for us.
What Did Not Work
There were many things along the way!
Praying the rosary on the couch. We thought the easiest thing would be to sit her between us on our sectional couch, since the couch greatly limited mobility (i.e., she couldn't just crawl into another room). However, there is something about the couch and a mobile toddler that just made her very hyper—the comfy cushions were just invitations to throw her body back and forth against them. Letting her do this while praying the rosary was accomplishing nothing, to say the least.
Allowing her to quietly play with her toys. I suppose if she had continued to play quietly this could have been a good idea. But it quickly devolved into regular ol' play time—meaning loud. And, since it looked exactly the same as play time to her, she saw no reason why she couldn't crawl around and play, bring toys into the other room, etc. It became really hard for understand that this was a different sort of playtime, so it was easiest to nix the playtime aspect altogether.
Allowing her to play with our rosary stuff. We really like to use rosary books and of course, actual rosaries while we pray. She was very interested in these, so we thought they were the perfect "novelty" to keep her entertained. No. We had a lot of broken and torn items by the end.
What Works for Us
So here's what is working for us right now. The rosary happens after dinner and bath time, but before the bedtime routine. We found it is best to not do it immediately before the bedtime routine, because we don't want her so tired that good behavior is hard. We also don't want it so far away from bedtime routine that it's not a signal for calming down and bedtime, so a little bit of experimentation is involved to find the sweet spot.
We have a family altar that I talk about here—that is what our family is oriented to during the rosary. I think having a visual like that helps even a little one. Pater is on the ground kneeling, with baby girl sitting next to him. She has a pile of board books and maybe one small toy. They are piled up right there, as the "rosary rules" are that she is not allowed to crawl—just sit in one spot and play quietly. Of course, it takes reminders, but this really is doable, and easier the earlier you start.
So, where am I in all of this? I'm on the couch—pregnancy makes kneeling difficult for me. At first, I didn't like not being next to her to help encourage her during the rosary, but I have been surprised to see the many advantages of this being "Dad's thing." First, she listens to Dad better—that's just how it goes. She does not test him the way she tests me, so it's a lot more peaceful of a process when I take that step back. Second, this is great time with her and her dad. When your husband works all day, then comes home to farm chores, it naturally leaves mom as the main disciplinarian without a lot of reinforcement from dad during the week. This sweet little time in the evening allows Pater to reinforce what I'm teaching her during the day: obedience and self-control. Third, (and this obviously won't apply to everyone), it's a great preparation for when the new baby gets here, and I will not be able to help at all, as I'll likely be nursing a little one. If we continue this pattern, she won't notice a difference at all once baby comes!
Afterwards, she gets some calm, sweet playtime with Pater—the perfect reward!
A Few Tips
It is my opinion that you can expect great behavior from your young toddler during the rosary only if you are expecting it the rest of the day, too. That doesn't mean that they always have to be sitting still, but it does mean that if you are not teaching first-time obedience, boundaries, or self-control throughout the day, you likely won't get it for these fifteen minutes. And yes, teaching these things can absolutely start from an early age!
Another tip is to encourage independent play. If you child needs you or some other form of entertainment to be happy, this will likely be very difficult for him. We do independent play time in the morning (for about thirty minutes to an hour in a baby-proof, gated playroom) and "book time" in the afternoon (for about thirty minutes in the afternoon in her crib with lots of board books—she loves it!). If you've never done these before, start with just a few minutes at a time and build up. Learning to focus by themselves is an essential building block skill required for almost all types of learning, and you will be amazed watching your baby be totally content to get some alone time with his toys. It really helps them decompress, and my little one loves it!
Hopefully you have enough to incorporate your little one into your family rosary (with confidence!) as soon as possible. Let us know how it goes in the comments! If you already do, please share your tips with us below. For more on prayer and little ones, you might like this post on praying with your babies and toddlers.