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The Legacy of Church Shoes

Yesterday we attended the 9:00 am Mass. As per usual, the church was full. This Mass attracts quite a few families with small children. One family in particular caught my eye. They had seven children dressed in their “Sunday best” who looked like they ranged in age from seven years old to a few weeks old. What attracted my attention was not the size of the family. Rather it was the behavior of the children. They were not perfect, but they were definitely under control. Mom and Dad were certainly busy and I doubt that Mass offers them much time for deep meditation, but it was clear that each child knew a certain level of decorum was expected. How do parents do that?

It’s the shoes. Okay, maybe it takes more than church shoes, but special clothes and shoes for church send a clear signal that the outing to church is not the same as an outing to the playground. As soon as my babies were out of the onesies they were into church clothes for Mass. By the time they were toddlers the boys had collared shirts and usually a clip-on tie. They always wore dress shoes—never sneakers. My daughter was always in a dress. She had black patent leather shoes for after Labor Day and white patent leather shoes for after Easter. (Some Southern habits never die!) If they needed to take a picture book it was a “church book”. I had a good supply of children’s books on the saints to accompany us on Sunday.

I’ve heard the argument that God just wants us at Mass. He doesn’t care how we are dressed. It is true that the state of our heart is far more important than the state of our attire. But what does it say about the state of our heart when we cannot be bothered with presenting ourselves in a special way to receive Our Lord? Children pick up on this very quickly. When they see a little extra effort going into the attendance at Mass week after week they absorb this is an important event. If they see no special attention given to Mass attendance they will think of it as no more than an afterthought.

In addition to “dressing up” a bit for Mass, we tried to arrive early so we would be settled by the time the entrance hymn began. As much as possible, I expected the kids to follow along with the gestures: genuflect upon entering the pew, Sign of the Cross when appropriate, sit-stand-kneel as directed. Walk to communion with hands folded. In spite of these efforts we still had our share of Mass meltdowns. But these were the exceptions rather than the rule. A warning “Mommy look” usually nipped any shenanigans in the bud. None of my children ever wanted to be taken to the restroom during Mass for a nose-to-nose “Mommy talk”.

Good behavior at Mass was also coupled with happy family times. Sometimes this meant enjoying donuts at the social hour after Mass. Sometimes it meant going out for brunch. Sometimes it meant a special family meal at home. I never expected my three-year-olds to be contemplating Transubstantiation. I did expect them to be respectful of God’s house. Now my brood ranges in ages from twelve to twenty. I have had no rebellion against Mass attendance or any move to attend in shorts and T-shirts. Those in college attend Mass every week.

The bottom line is low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
It is important to give children the opportunity to meet high expectations. Church shoes are a good start.


This is a great point. I will be buying church shoes for my son as soon as the roads around here thaw out. :)
We don't have church shoes, but I do have a few rules too -
Books about God only. They even make board books about Guardian Angels, Bible stories, etc.
No toys in Mass. If I see a plastic spider - it's gone for the week.
No food in Mass ever. Babies nurse, of course, but I just hate it when a family sits down and breaks out the juice boxes, cheerios, and cheese fishes.
If a child is misbehaving, we go out of the church to the vestibule or hall. Once children are about 2-3 years old, this is NEVER a reward. They don't play with toys or get a snack. Older children (3 and up) stand in the corner or sit on a chair until they are ready to go back to Mass.
This helps them to not develop bad habits and expectations that being noisy in Mass = party time in the lobby.
My girls seem really into using their "princess manners" when we visit the King. The boys... could care less LOL!
We do dress up too - I have a head covering actually, and my 5 yo has one too (but it doesn't always stay on her head...)
Rosemary said…
Nice post. These are really good points.
Michelle said…
"nose-to-nose mommy talks"...I call them wall-to-wall counseling sessions.

And on occasion, one or all will not get the after Mass donuts if behavior is sub-par.

It's tough, physically exhausting and mentally draining...but you are correct about low expectations yielding poor behavior.
Unknown said…
I had a wonderful aunt, growing up in the 1970's, with whom I would often attned Mass with ahen staying over her home.
On mornings before going to Mass, I would always find a clean and pressed dress shirt and slacks waiting on the guest bed for me, along with a belt, necktie and those leather 'church' shoes. I was rewarded with a big bakery cookie if I didn't fiddle with my tie during church. It made a great example and impression on me, one I still adhere to these many years later!
cehwiedel said…
Spot on, from the first paragraph through the comments. My own kids now range from fourteen through twenty-four. Exhausting and exasperating it was, but exhilarating and inspiring it now is. (Okay, "exhilarating" in a quiet, Momish sort of way.)
Party of Eleven said…
Thanks for the post! I think this is important, too. You wrote your point wonderfully!
Mrs. Conway said…
We should honor God's house with our best attire and best behavior. Children learn to mimic this behavior quite rapidly. I agree with the "church shoes" thought process. Expectations yield results.

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