“Noooooooo!” The small child wailed and flailed frantically in his mother’s arms. Nervous, distracted, and sometimes glaring glances were thrown towards her. The toddler’s voice rises again above the prayerful silence of Mass. More looks. More shuffling in the pews from those around the two struggling for control. Both become increasingly frustrated as mom feels more eyes on her. She throws in the towel and in a frustrated huff, heads for the exit.
More likely than not, anyone who has been to Mass in the past decade or two has either been the mother or the onlooker of this familiar scene. Which one have you been? The mother trying her best? The distracted member of the congregation? The frustrated parishioner? The priest attempting to maintain the focus? In recent years, many churches are moving away from “cry” rooms and attempting to adopt a more open and accepting environment. Part of the results of this is seen with the scenario above. At one time or another, I have been most of the players in this scene, and as always there are two sides to every story.
“Babies cry, make noise, go here and there. But it annoys me when a baby cries in church and there are those who say he needs to go out. The cry of a baby is God’s voice: never drive them away from the church!” -Pope Francis
Parents who choose to take their small child/children to church with them should be applauded, not shunned. I vividly remember many instances of being mortified by my children’s behavior at mass, not the least of which includes my oldest announcing repeatedly to the entire congregation that he had “poops coming!” These things drove my husband and I away from mass-due as much from pressures we placed on ourselves as those “glances” I wished to avoid. Those who choose to judge please hear this, parents judge themselves more harshly than you ever could. We do not need your disapproving glances or eye rolls to know our children are misbehaving. If you must look, I beg you, look with the eyes of Jesus. He had eyes full of support, understanding, and love. “Let the children come.”
That being said, I also know that there is a certain reality to the situation that cannot be ignored. Crying babies and loud children are distracting even if you take them out of an otherwise quiet environment. They will draw your attention. It is easy for me to say, just ignore it or remember when you had little ones. Both of those are wonderful options but in practice can be difficult. However, I need to also point out that as parents there are certain things that can be done to help and not hurt the situation. Through trial and error, we have discovered the following:
- Stick very firmly to quiet activities only in church-crayons,small puzzles, a few books. Every time we have ok’d hot wheels, ponies, or any other toy type item it has caused much more chaos. Snacks have also proven to be okay as long as you only have 1 maybe 2 to entertain. Any more than that and it’ll be a train wreck of insanity.
- Try to establish a routine– same mass time, same seats, every week. If we skip weeks, go at different times, or heaven forbid a different church,it has always lead to disaster.
- Don’t underestimate a simple trip to the potty. Now, you don’t need to make it a habit to make multiple trips every week but if things are getting bad fast, a short trip will do wonders for both your little one and you.
- Keep your child tuned in with what is going on. Whispering simple explanations keeps them focused and makes them feel like they are included.
- Be sure to make prayer part of your weekly routine as well. Simple prayers before eating and bed suffice. Doing this will ensure that it isn’t an isolated weekly activity and will add to their routine.
To be very clear, you very well could follow all these tips, prepare in every way possible, and it still could all totally blow up in your face. Been there,done that. My children are just like all the other tiny people in the world. Sometime they feel sick, hungry, sleepy, cranky-usually unpredictably so. In that case good luck,every man for himself. But if you are on the receiving end of the distractions and you simple can’t ignore it; an encouraging nod or sympathetic smile can work wonders. Church is as much about the little children as it is about you. They have just as much right to be there and learn about the love of God. Perhaps you could be an example of His love.
In this recent Huffington Post article, it is noted that Pope Francis openly welcomes mothers to breastfeed their babies in the Sistine Chapel. He states that being able to feed and care for our children is a gift from God. Such wonderful support from the leader of our Church is all the encouragement we need to be sure that children are exactly where they need to be.