Pre-baby, I pictured myself dropping off my little one in the nursery - waving good-bye, blowing a kiss, and then wondering back to the adult service to buy a coffee and hear the message. Not a care in the world.
Post-baby, that scenario disappeared. The thought of leaving her in a nursery with strangers and germs and...without her mama...it made my heart ache. The nursery workers were kind strangers and probably competent strangers, but they didn't know her cues, her personality, her unique nuances, her way. The ratio was often too high and I couldn't imagine even two babies to one adult since she required our one-on-one attention at home. Plus, it was a nursery, which meant babies drooling, burping, peeing, and tumbling all over one another. On top of all that was the fact that I couldn't enjoy myself, knowing she was with a stranger. I couldn't meander over to the other side of the campus to sip coffee or laugh with a friend or listen to the message without my thoughts wondering back to that precious little beauty that I so desperately wanted to protect.
Thus, I kept her with me - until she started to take steps. Then, her restless energy was too much to contain in the quiet of the service. She was too spirited and vivacious to be fettered in.
So I go to church semi-reluctantly now. My daughter is 13 months old and I've only left her in the kids area twice. Usually, I walk around with her in the courtyard or attend the toddler "class" with her. I feel unspoken pressure from the "other" mothers - who drop off their little ones without worry and sip their coffee so serenely. But I can't bear to part with her.
Interjection - I leave my daughter three times a week for 6 hours a day with her grandma, occasionally with her aunt, and fairly regularly with her dad. So it's not only the leaving. It's the "daycare" setting - the unfamiliar faces, the messy-faced children. In any other situation, I wouldn't leave my little one in that setting (no matter how pleasant and professional). But somehow it seems expected at church.
Maybe I'm pressuring myself. Maybe the other mothers aren't questioning my choice. And, even if they are, I have to follow my heart and my head.
I've tried to think up creative solutions.
Here are two suggestions for youth workers and nursery directors everywhere. Please help embrace new mamas who like to keep their babies close (tell me I'm not the only one):
1) Start a Mom & Baby Stroll and Study group during the service. Moms bring their strollers and their iPods - and listen to the sermon while they walk (perhaps the sermon from the week before). OR, do without the iPods, and just have moms converse about the sermon topic (perhaps read the passage ahead of time).
2) Build a "new parents room." If you're planning to build a new church (or if you can make room at your existing location), please don't build one without a comfortable, roomy "new parents room" with changing tables, rocking chairs, toys, a sink, and...audio reception. So that parents can listen to the service without fear of interrupting other listeners.
That's a starting place. Whatever churches do, I hope they consider new parents in the whole scheme of things. New parents have different needs...and new parents like me need an alternative to the traditional nursery setting.
(Photo by: Essjay NZ)