One of the challenges for me has been trying to balance a respect for a culture where the children go wherever the moms go, and trying to encourage the women to grow in their faith. A few years ago we had fewer women and more children. In fact the children out-numbered the adults 7 to 6. Every mother brought ALL of her children. Hmmmm. The number of distractions that 7 children can create in an hour trumped the tiny tidbits of learning we were acquiring. It made cohesive discussion impossible.
I talked to some hearing women and asked them if that was a normal part of Belize culture that the mothers would bring all of their children to the Bible study. They said yes.
So, trying to adapt to this "norm" and also hoping that we could learn something about God's Word while we were together, I hired a babysitter to watch all of the children in a room adjacent to the room we were in. It didn't work. If the mom was only 10 feet away, the children wanted to ask the mother for water, to go to the bathroom, to solve a fight, instead of asking the "stranger"/babysitter. I thought I would give it time and the children would fall in love with the babysitter. The babysitter was great but the children continued to interrupt and distract us. Some days I felt like we really learned nothing at all.
So last August I talked with the Deaf mothers individually and then proposed that only the children who were nursing or under the age of 2 could come to the study. The older children would have to stay home with their fathers or grandmother. Most of the women all agreed. (I think they actually enjoy the break.) Yet there was still one woman who wanted her 8 year-old to come. It's hard for me to say no. It sounds so cold to say "Your child can't come" but I also know the domino effect is real and if I let the 8 year old come, soon all of the other mothers would bring their children too and we would be back to "zooey night".
For the most part we have kept it to babies. But...the children are growing so fast! The babies are starting to walk and wander. For the last few weeks we have corralled the chairs into a circle and put some toys on the floor in the middle. The walker and crawler played for a long time. When they got bored, they wandered around the circle of women looking for someone to pick them up or give them attention. They would get picked up for about 30 seconds and then wiggle and want to get down again. It was ok. Sometimes the discussion completely stops because all eyes are on the child. Other times it seems we can still carry on the study. With the children growing all the time and growing so fast, it is a changing dynamic. Will next week be the same or will the children become bored more quickly?
It makes me think the Bible study has to be so lively or amusing or entertaining or heart-grabbing that the adults in the room are only momentarily distracted by the wandering 1 year olds. That sounds like fun but exhausting. I'm praying God will give us wisdom and show us how to balance the adorable blessings that the children are, their needs, and a chance for the mom's to learn God's Word.