Monday, June 10, 2013

More children in church

Children in church!  Hot topic.  Your comments here and on Facebook have gotten me thinking more on the issue...  And I want to hear more perspectives, so I'm asking you to join the conversation, whether you have kids and gobs of experience keeping them quiet and have endured the silent wrath of your fellow parishioners, or you have been a fellow parishioner and watched kids pirouetting in the aisles while their parents text on I-Phones.  I want to hear what y'all think.

My worst experience (what's yours?) was when my baby was just making baby noises (i.e. not crying, screaming, pulling hair, slamming kneelers, or any of the things they are very capable of doing, I won't lie.)  So just like "Gah!  Goo."  The pastor stopped his sermon, and looked pointedly at me, all the way in the back, staring.  I realized in a few reddening moments of panic that he was waiting for me to leave.  I scrambled to shoulder the baby, blushing and fumbling with diaper bag, nursing blankets, and struggling over people in the pew to leave in disgrace, the eyes of the entire congregation on me as I walked to the back of the church (which fortunately wasn't far; I was already safely near the back.)  I held in the tears till I got to the foyer, where my blissfully unaware baby started cooing again, out of earshot of the homilist.  "NOW I can continue."

I was mortified.  And sad.  This was a man I had really respected, whose sermons I appreciated.  I later found out the elderly gentlemen was fighting cancer, which gave me more compassion but... that was hard.

Christmas Eve, a few years back, I witnessed the worst exodus of fussing child from church when, in the middle of the Christmas homily on baby Jesus, a baby started crying.  Bouncing and shushing began from the mom, and she was almost successful at quieting him completely (you can tell) when the sermon stopped abruptly with, "Hey, is he okay?  Cuz I'm not."

The poor, poor mom.  I wonder if she ever came to church again.  She struggled to get out to the main aisle, the only one available to her, while the pastor said, "Oh thank you," and continued.  On Christmas Eve.

Fortunately, I've seen the opposite.  A priest weaving a screaming kid into the homily, "Yeah, I don't like my sermons either."  Or, my favorite:  "You stay right there!  It's okay that they make noise sometimes. Thanks for having the courage to bring your kids to church."

Given the variety of reactions from pastors and parishioners alike, and the latter are much more unpredictable, because thankfully (in my experience) over-sensitive homilists are somewhat in the minority, it's hard to know what to do, isn't it?  Back row to have a better escape if the above worst case scenarios happen?  Or front row so that the children are aware of the action and thus more distracted?  

I've had discussions with friends who ranged from not bringing children to church till they were seven, all the while stressing it as a great privilege while they grew up, so that they were honored to go when the time came and they were also happily past the pew chewing stage.  (I can still remember what those taste like, myself.:)  Or, on the opposite end, to bring children to church directly after conception so they are accustomed to church services from infancy. And every method in between.  The extremely strict parents whose kids would rather die than cry in church, and the attachment parenting ones who want to know how their child feels during prayer-time.  Then there's the pacifier, no pacifier, nursing, no nursing, snack no snack discussion, or only snacks that are cross-shaped... okay I made that one up but the rest are true. :)  

My personal recipe definitely favors my own prayer life. For me, if a church offers child care for preschoolers during services, I am soooo there, because then I can actually listen to the Scripture readings and know what's going on.  And I'd love it if the child care involves crafts of cotton ball sheep and talks about the Good Shepherd, but honestly if it's Veggie Tales playing with baby dolls available to practice showing love to.... I'm good with that.  If not, I'm in the "cry room."  As long as it's not being used as a "contagion room."  I can't tell you how many times I've met people in there who said, "Oh, I came here so I wouldn't give everyone the flu."  !!!!  Ahhhh!!!

My favorite magnet. :)  Again. 

The beautiful older churches I sometimes go to have no "cry rooms."  They never did, nor child care.  Generations of families came and, somehow, they all survived kid noises in church, as I hope all pastors and all moms somehow will too.  I wonder sometimes how they did it... Maybe people were more used to the noises of life back then. Maybe children were actually taught from birth not to make any noise. Or maybe people went to church as families and passed fussy babies from grandma to auntie to big brother and back again. I mean, when I can coordinate schedules to attend church with my family, it's magic.  They behave.  Not a Cheerio required.

Whatever your system is, fellow moms, may it bring you peace! :)  It matters that we are there, even if we can't think a rational thought while doing so.   Took me awhile to learn that, but I believe it now.  The Good Shepherd loves His lambs too.  

The floor is open!  Adding to yesterday's input, I'm transferring Facebook comments (anonymously) here to get the conversation going.  :)  Thanks for your thoughts!

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms 
and carries them close to his heart;
 He gently leads those that have young." Isaiah 40:11


  1. oh, yeah. I was composing something like this the other day when people were looking daggers at me (or so I imagined) and truly the best place for Philip WAS the pew. I wanted to give a speech that our country actually lacks children and therefore nobody is used to them. When I attend Spanish Masses around here, nobody cares that the kids are making noise. The microphones are loud enough to hear the priest and the music and when the kids are actually screeching, they are taken out. Otherwise, everyone stays put. Children are a blessing.

  2. AMEN! That happened to us so often. It saddens me that such a "prolife" Church has parishioners who glare at children and parents for little things like when my boys are (really trying to sing) singing/worshiping God. Hey, the bible says make a "joyful noise unto the Lord...the verse doesn't say that it had to sound good. I remember one time at St Catherine's the priest approached us before Mass and said that our family could sit in the Sacristy. Our boys weren't acting up they were talkative about the stations of the cross and curious asking questions. That was it for me we never went back.

  3. Love it! This week we were the greeters and gift-bearers. During the homily (read 5 mins before having to bring up the gifts), Claire falls backwards off of the kneeler (yes, the one we let her precariously balance on) in between it and the pew in front of us, nearly whacking her head on the hymnal rack affixed to the back of said pew. Thanks to my "phenomenal" reflexes, I caught her just in time, but moved so quickly I broke the strap on my dress, pulling a hardcore Tarzan look! Horrified, I looked to Michael...what now? By some grace of God two of the amazing ushers who saw the whole fiasco scoured the church for a safety pin. All they found was a paperclip, but because Michael has Jury-rigged a lot of things in his day, he made something work just in time! I figure, better to have them in church than not! Never a dull moment! (FYI, the church we started going to first in SC wouldn't even let us sit in the nave if we had the kids. We were automatically relegated to the annex. Didn't last long there!)

  4. Maybe I'm just oblivious to the disapproving stares of strangers...but we've taken all our kids to church regularly, from birth on and never had anyone give us a disapproving stare and certainly never had a priest stop the homily or anything.

    My strategy is generally to sit in the back (for an easy exit) and then just take them out if their bad. The worst age is between 1-3..usually by 3 my kids are decent enough..but during that age, we do use the cry room at times. I've never come across a church with childcare, but if we did, I doubt I would use it, since my children of that age would likely not be comfortable in a situation like that and by the time they were old enough to be comfortable being left with people they don't know well, they would be past the age of needing it. Make sense? The worst age is about 18 months...I tend to make use of a sling and just walk/bounce them in the back during the entire Mass.

    We've never really done the sitting up front thing..mostly because we are usually coming in late and don't want to walk up to the front.

    1. I need to cultivate obliviousness! Totally agreed about those tough ages. And yes, we tend to be a bit late too (gulp)... :)

  5. OK, you asked for it:

    RAH RAH RAH for whoever said what they said about the Spanish Mass. How soon until the WASPY Catholics die out so can they take over? I'm good with Tuesday. But that's another issue. My husband and I have taken our boys to Mass with us every Sunday from the time our first was three days old, and we ALWAYS sit in the very front row so they can see, and we always tell them about what's going on, and we always take them to the altar to "go say hi to Jesus" and have a special prayer after Mass, and if it disturbs someone's prayer they need to get some expletive deleted religion. Cry rooms may serve a purpose, but we've never used them. Not once.

    1. Never used a cry room! You are so brave! Wow. I'm impressed. Your boys are fine gentlemen though... Keep 'em in the front! :)

  6. I am not good a quoting verses but I know there is a passage where the apostles try to get the children to leave Jesus alone and he stops them and says let the children come to me. When our daughter was small and we went to church with my parents the pastor would say there was not a child that he could not speak over.
    If the children are not welcome at the mass you ate looking at the end of the religion as we know it.

  7. You asked for personal anecdotes, so one of my faves:

    Ugly Lady(on Christmas Eve, hissing furiously from two pews behind us): Tell your children to WHISPER!!

    My husband and me: (laugh)

  8. Ok, I'm going to be the unpopular one. First my bonafides. Catholic mom of 6 including twin boys. Yes, bring your small kids to Mass, if you wish. Very importantly, YES, teach them to behave. BUT, realize there are times and seasons. Don't condemn those who leave them at home. When I was a younger mom, I thought the old lady mentioning that she and her husband never brought their young ones to Mass, just went to different Masses was part quaint, part horrifying. Then I had twins. You can nurse ONE discretely during Mass. Try TWO. That was when my husband and I started splitting up. Actually before that. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I could only manage to get through a very short (15 min or so) private Mass offered by the chaplain whose turn it was not to offer the College Mass. But once the twins came, it was impossible for me to go to daily Mass for quite some time, and we split up for Sunday. HORRORS!

    Then number 6 came along less than two years after the twins. They were not Church trained yet, and so the splitting up continued. It is OK to show your kids different sides of things--Mass is important, not just to go but to pray. My kids have learned that sometimes adults must spend half of Sunday tag teaming it so that the Adults and those children with obligation can go. And "when you are bigger and better behaved, you can go."

    That said, when we do bring our children, they must behave. NO TALKING or other noises in the pew. If they get taken out, they are held on our laps in the back, no matter how many other kids are dancing and screaming and drinking sippies and throwing food around. If other people's children come up to play, I say, "It is not time to play, honey, go pray with your parents."

    I have never thought that Jesus saying "let the children come unto me" was an invitation to indulge your child, and not teach them to behave. Yes, everyone has bad days, and I've walked the walk of shame down the aisle with a screaming kid, but I walked it. I acknowledged there was something lacking in my child's behavior and I took steps to address it. I did not defiantly sit there demanding no one be able to hear or concentrate because my little kid wants to act like they are at a playground. We do our children no favors is we allow them to treat what is sacred as profane. However, I DO NOT say anything to other parents. I will occasionally scowl at a misbehaving child. They are often frightened, and thus quiet down. If the parent looks back, I smile sympathetically.

    And sorry, I do not take the Spanish Mass as an example. They don't correct their children because they are too busy talking to each other and adjusting their sequined bustiers to worry about the kids. And no, this isn't based on going to Spanish Mass once, but two years working among them with the MC's and occasional attendance here and in a near by city. At least they have retained the sense to know when they shouldn't go to Communion, THAT we should learn from them.

    Well, you asked for opinions, Katie-Scarlett!

    1. This is exactly the kind of feedback I wanted, Miss Anita. Thank you for this lovely long comment! Woot woot! Way to stir the pot! I appreciate you taking the time.

      I think the scowl/smile trick is genius! I will use it... I was in church last night with a girl who kept spinning on the pew. The parents said nothing. That's just ridiculous.

      It's absolutely true that children need to learn how to approach that which is sacred. While the methods to accomplish this may vary, you raise an excellent point. Thank you.

  9. Your "Miss Anita" gave me flashbacks to teaching CCD with you. You were always good cop and I was always bad cop. You made if fun, I kept the lid on.

    My biggest pet peeve is the parents, not the kids. The parents who can't correct their children without making more noise than the child. The using the full voice during Mass, wtf(udge)? The long discussions about our standards during Mass are for the car before or after. During that time you can set up rewards and consequences. My twins really turned a corner when we went back to daily mass at HLI where father gave candy to the children after Mass EVERY DAY! If they got taken out, they didn't get candy, and had to watch their siblings eating happily in the car on the way home.

    During Mass it is the scariest scowl you've got, the snap and point for the kid out of reach, the hand to turn the head around or push the bum up off the pew when it is time to kneel, the occasional flick or pinch in desperate times with recalcitrant older kids, the whispered "If I have to take you to the back you are getting spanked" for the younger.

    Ha ha, if that don't stir the pot for all your crunchy attachment-parenting friends, then nothing will! :-) I personally practice "Attachment Parenting Plus." The "Plus" is for boundaries and common sense. Oh and spanking. So maybe "Attachment Parenting 3xPlus" Then it matches my dress size, too. Oh, but plus sugar, which so many of the crunchy types don't like. So, "Attachment Parenting Plus 4" I'll write a book, go on the lecture circuit. I'll be rich.

    1. My best friends have always been the ones who aren't afraid to say *exactly* what they thing. Anita, you rock. And crack me up. And make me think. And then make me crack up again. :D You could totally run a training course for church discipline I'm sure. Love to you and your wonderful, church-smart kiddos. :)

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  11. Removed because I messed up the HTML... oh computer stuff, grr.

    Ran into a discussion that's been going on since last month (I'm ever behind the 8 ball): The post and comments are very thought-provoking. It's written by a pastor's wife. :)

  12. I think the conversation becomes really intense when you consider children with, say, autism in church. My own parish actually has a special outreach, first communion program etc, for children with autism. Something to think about regarding the noisiest kids in church...