A Case for the Church Nursery
"Bye Mommy! I love you!" he shouts as he runs into the room filled with toddlers and toys. This is our new Sunday morning "normal." Lately, when I tell him it's time to start getting ready for church, our newly two-year-old son, Will, enthusiastically chimes in, "I see Mr. Rick and Ms. Lisa! I play friends! I sing "God, our Father!" I eat Goldfish!" I can't help but praise the Lord as I see him running into that room with eager confidence when I remember what our nursery drop-offs used to look like.
I had a pretty tough case of post partum anxiety when Will was born. His cries caused my muscles to tense, my jaw to tighten, and my heart rate to quicken. Placing my screaming baby in the arms of a stranger to be carried into an over crowded room was literally painful for me. I wore him in a wrap at church as long as he would sleep through the service. Our church gladly welcomes children in the sanctuary, but eventually he got a little too noisy for even us to focus. When his outbursts started happening during the silent confession of sin and the sermon, we determined he was too much of a distraction to stay for more than the singing portion of the service.
This left us with a few different choices, which I imagine may also be confronting you right now if you're reading this article. We could stop going to church all together during the season he was too young to understand or teething or nursing, we could have one spouse spend the service in the lobby while the other sat in the sanctuary alone, or we could persevere with the nursery until it became familiar and safe to him (as most things do in time).
For some moms, choosing the last option is easy. Perhaps they are working moms who are used to leaving their kids in the care of others (although I've heard that for some reason this scenario feels very different). Perhaps they simply have less anxiety or more contented babies. But for some of us, it's anything but easy. I wrestled greatly with this decision myself, but ultimately came to see this provided childcare service as one of the greatest blessings in my life. If you are struggling the way that I did, I'd like to gently make a case for continuing to leave your child in the care of others so that you can attend corporate worship by asking you to consider five beautiful results of your decision to utilize the nursery.
1. the experience of corporate worship
The life of a stay-at-home mom can be extremely isolating and often feels lonely. So can the Christian life, for that matter. The Bible urges us not to give up the practice of meeting together with one another for precisely this reason (Hebrews 10:25). Corporate worship reminds us of the community we live within and allows us to be seen by people (as haggard as we may appear) who can come alongside us, encouraging us and serving us.
The elements of the service are also designed to nourish our weary souls. As we sing the songs of adoration and praise, confessing with our mouths who God is and rehearsing the redemption story through song, our hearts are stirred and we remember the beautiful truth of the gospel and are reminded of the Father's great love for us in Christ. As we hear the voices of the people around us singing in the context of corporate worship, not only are we reminded that we are not alone, but our world rapidly expands beyond the walls of our homes and duties, placing us within a larger family and spiritual reality. For moms with young children, finding the mental energy or time to study God's word can also be a challenge. As we listen to it preached, we are spoon fed the truth our tired minds desperately need to hear and helped to practically apply it to our lives. As we are invited to silently confess our sins and receive an assurance of pardon, we ward off mommy guilt and cultivate a spiritual discipline that we may neglect in the week. As we witness baptisms and taste communion, we are encouraged at how God is at work around us and in us. Church nursery affords us the great blessing of participation in worship with the family God has provided, to sit undistracted and be nourished so that our lives of service and love are lived within the proper biblical framework.
2. the gift of worshiping with your spouse
One of the most important people for you to be worshiping with in that service is your spouse. What a gift to your marriage to sit or stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, experiencing the same service and engaging in the same content together. Participation in a worship service together can help to provide a renewed sense of mission. It also reminds you both that you are each married to a sinful person in need of grace and that you, yourselves, have a deceitful heart in need of cleansing. Without the distraction of your children or devices, you can remember the purpose for your union as well as the power that sustains it. Many a Sunday I have entered the sanctuary with a hard heart and bitter thoughts toward my husband and left with a sense of empowerment to love and serve him and a feeling a gratitude for his love for me. While leaving our son in nursery is painful, fostering this bond with each other is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to him.
3. the opportunity for your child to know the service and love of God's people
The week our son was baptized, tears streamed down my face as we stood before our church family and listened to them make a covenant promise to our child that they would assist us in loving and nurturing him, in teaching him the gospel, in growing him in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of shepherding his soul, and the words they read corporately were a ministry to my heart and filled me with hope in God's provision for him. Even if your church performs dedications instead of baptisms, they likely have a similar charge for your church family.
But how can our brothers and sisters assist us in rearing our children if we do not grant them access? By literally handing our children over to church members for that hour-and-15-minutes-or-so to care for them as we experience the means of grace offered in corporate worship, we allow our little ones to experience first hand what it is like to be loved and cared for by the body of Christ. They learn that they have a place within the church and know the gift of having a designated place in this family. Over time, these people have become like family for us. Will celebrates them and prays for them as he does his grandparents and cousins. Placing him in their care also offers them the opportunity to use their gifts in service to the church.
4. the reminder that God is the ultimate care giver
For the mother who struggles with control (raising hand emoji), placing their child in the care of nursery workers can be an act of acknowledgement and repentance. When we hand our child over to the care of another, we are reminded that we cannot be present everywhere. We cannot control every aspect of their lives. Placing our child in the care of another, a mother is reminded that her ultimate caregiver is her Heavenly Father. Handing your child to a member of your church family and walking away reinforces the fact that you are not fully sovereign, all knowing, or fully able to protect your baby. We deceive ourselves if we believe otherwise. But our hearts are moved to praise and dependence as we pray for their protection and care from an all powerful, all knowing, and truly good God. Although a mother's intuition is powerful and her power to soothe is amazing, there are times when even we don't know what to do. We can entrust our children to their maker. Church nursery has helped me to grow in that humility and particular aspect of worship.
5. the value of affirming your primary identity
Because it is a job without hours that truly never ends, motherhood can be all consuming. We lay down our lives in the service of our children, but we must be on guard that they don't take the place of God in the throne of our hearts. Leaving them in the care of others to participate in worship is a physical reminder of what the orientation of our heart should be: God first, family second. The opportunity to sit in worship without our children reaffirms that first and foremost, before we are wives, before we are mothers, we are Christ followers, children of the one true king. Out of that reality, the reality that we are fully loved and fully accepted by the God of the universe because of the work of his son, we move into our work and relationships. It is a gift to our children that we protect them from becoming idols by remembering that our greatest devotion is to the Lord. Then we are free to enjoy them and discipline them with love instead of manipulation, and they are free from a burden they were never made to bear.
If we want our children to make God the object of their worship, and for corporate worship to be important for them, we must give them the opportunity to see us prioritizing him and a relationship with his church ourselves. Discipleship begins with our own obedience. When we drop our children off in nursery, they see us make a decision based on what we value most. They hear us saying "I love you, but you are not my God." They see us making a value assessment, as we would when we would leave them for a doctors appointment or a "needed" night out. They see that nothing is more important than our obedience to God.
on meeting the needs of our children
Although it may feel like leaving your child in the nursery is neglecting their needs, I would argue that one of the greatest things your child needs from you is to experience the spiritual renewal, refreshment, and reorientation that corporate worship offers. They need their mother to be sitting under the authority of God's word, experiencing the invitation to repent and believe the gospel. They need to know the love and care of their church family. They need to know that they are not their mother's God, and that she is first and foremost a follower of Jesus. You can look your child lovingly in their eyes before dropping them off and say "Mommy is doing the very best thing for you by leaving you in nursery so that she can learn about Jesus and God can change her heart. She would never leave you somewhere where you were not safe, or where she didn't believe you were able to have a good time. She loves you very much and will be back to get you soon." You can then pass them off, whatever their response, knowing full well that you are doing what is best for them.
Practical Tips for Navigating Nursery Drop Off:
Being truly convinced of the importance of your participation in corporate worship may make the utilizing the nursery more desirable, but it doesn't necessarily make it easier. The following list in generated from our own experience, as well as the experiences of friends, considering what has worked well for us and our children. There will always of course be extenuating circumstances, and you can trust the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and discernment in those situations, but on the average Sunday, these practical tips may help your transition into a normal Sunday routine go a little more smoothly.
- Pray- Ask God for wisdom and help if this is an area of difficulty for you and for your child. He is after all the ultimate caretaker of you both. Pray boldly and specifically that he will help your child to learn that they are safe and loved. Ask God to help you relinquish your expectations and grow your gratitude for the service.
- Name Your Shame- One of the main reasons I wanted to avoid nursery drop off during the season in which Will cried was because I felt like something was wrong with me that I wasn't just able to hand him over... or that something was wrong with him because he wasn't more "well adjusted." Talking about this struggle with older moms in the church and with the nursery workers helped them to meet me where I was and gently minister to our needs. They affirmed that his cries were a healthy sign of attachment, but also helped me to understand that a healthy bond is built by the continual reinforcement that the parent will return.
- Meet With Your Childcare Coordinator About Your Concerns- If your reservations concerning leaving your child arise from problems with or questions about the way your church nursery is being run, you should schedule a meeting with your children's minister or pastor to talk through them. Chances are that other families could also benefit from your observations. If your child has special needs, talk to your church about how they can help to accommodate your child and make nursery a positive experience for you both. My sister's bible study provided a one on one care worker for her child following open heart surgery so that she could still participate. They may be more accommodating than you expect!
- Avoid the Drop off Bustle- Getting there early or waiting to take your child in after a song or two may make a big difference in the whole experience. Children are often very perceptive and can absorb your stress or the stress of other kids being dropped off. Walking into a calm or already settled room may help you both be calm and make the transition easier.
- Develop A Speech- This was something we started at the suggestion of a veteran mom in our church when I shared my struggle with whether to walk out or slowly leave. She encouraged me not to sneak out... but to develop a short speech that helped both of us. Before handing him over, or before he started to cry, I started saying "Will, you know that mommy loves you very much. She would never leave you in a place where you weren't safe or where she didn't think you would have a good time. She's going to go to the big service now while you stay here to play with friends and toys. You can choose to have a good time. I will be back to get you so so soon. I love you!" And then I would walk out. His crying started lasting for shorter and shorter periods. And now nursery is arguably his favorite place in the world and there is no need for the speech because he's running in too quickly for us to say anything at all.
- Prepare Your Child- Even if you aren't sure if your child can understand you, talk on Saturday night and in route Sunday morning about who they are going to see in nursery. If the staff isn't consistent, use the names of their little friends. Once you arrive, point out who you see in the room excitedly and enthusiastically, making nursery seem fun. We also talked about toys that he loved in there and activities he would do. This helped us tremendously.
- Leave Clear "Call If" Instructions- It may help you to relax to know that if your child doesn't stop crying (which they often do after 10-15 minutes) they will call you. If you leave clear instructions concerning when you want to be called, you can rest and focus during the service knowing that unless you are paged or pulled, your child is fine.
- Send Them With A Security Item- Leaving mom and dad can be difficult, but sometimes keeping a special item like a Paci, a lovey, or a favorite toy can help the child feel secure in a new or unfamiliar environment.
Originally written by Abbey Wedgeworth of Gentle Leading.