Taking Little Children to Church and Living to Tell About It

Over at Patheos, Deacon Greg Kandra opened up a can of worms when he posted the following: Why don’t parents take screaming babies out of church?

Have you been following the debate?  I couldn’t keep up since there’s so many people weighing in.  Having had some experience with this topic, I decided to re-edit and re-post a little something I wrote many months ago.  I’m also posting it over at The New Evangelist/Companions of the Cross.…………..

children at churchOn those very rare occasions when all ten of us attend the same Mass – Christmas, Easter – we have been told that we look like the perfect family:  well-behaved, clean, kneeling and standing at the right times……perfect big Catholic family. We’re not perfect of course, but it’s kind of nice of them to say.  What people seem to have thankfully forgotten is that it wasn’t always that way.

It wasn’t so long ago when I was that mom making a beeline for the vestibule with a screaming newborn whose demands for food were louder than communion bells, booming priests and ambitious church choirs.  Or spending the entire Mass in the vestibule with an over-active two-year-old.  Or grabbing the toddler by the scruff of the neck before he disappeared under the pew.  Or snatching the gum out of the curious hands that found it under the seat.  Yes. THAT mom….eight times over.

We still laugh about our fourth child’s obsession with all things firefighter and how, as a two-year-old he had a fireman hat permanently perched on his head.  The only time he would agree to take it off was for baths and bed.  With our pastor’s blessing, he wore it to church along with his matching bright red Superman cape.  He was a sight to behold.  One Sunday, while walking up to receive Communion with my husband, the little fellow, with superhero strength to match his superhero outfit, managed to break away from hubby’s grip, dash faster than a speeding bullet past me and head straight for the communion bells placed at the base of the altar.   Before we could stop him, he was ringing those bells like the church was on fire.  How fitting for a firefighter; how embarrassing for his mom and dad; how hilarious for everyone else.

Then there was the time at weekday morning Mass when our sixth child got away from extremely pregnant me and made it as far as the organ at the front of the church before I caught up to him.  I don’t know what was worse, waddling after my son or carrying his screaming, kicking body out of the church hoping he wouldn’t put me into labour.

We used to resort to desperate measures to try to keep the kids quiet during Mass.  Feeding them junk food seemed to do the trick.  One of our parish priests had a practice of giving the little ones lollipops in the vestibule after Mass.  I would take extras every week and save them for the next Sunday and use them as pacifiers.  Usually this trick worked, but the kids got so used to them that we had to keep shoving more and more of the suckers into their mouths as they became super efficient at eating them.  It got to the point that the ushers would hand me lollipops as we entered the church – one bundle for each young child.

At the time, coping with young children seemed so daunting and frustrating.  The few times that parishioners were openly critical was discouraging and hurtful. We thought it would never end.  But it did.  All too quickly.  Looking back, it wasn’t so tough and we now have some wonderful laughs over their antics.

When my husband and I, and our kids for that matter, see young families struggling with little children on Sunday, we make a point of encouraging them and helping out when we can.  It’s not easy.  The last thing parents need to deal with is criticism from people who are unsympathetic to young families at Mass.

Dear parents of young children, I know it’s tough but it doesn’t last.  The important thing is that you are taking your family to church and your little ones are learning that Mass is important to family life, important to their life. One day you’ll remember the way it was and have a good laugh.  You’ll look down the pew at your impeccably dressed, beautifully behaved family and thank God you persevered; and you and your family will encourage and help that mom and dad with the fidgety toddler and the hungry newborn.

Mass is beautiful.  Little children are beautiful.  They belong together.

Deo Gratias

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17 Responses to Taking Little Children to Church and Living to Tell About It

  1. irishsignora says:

    I loved this :) We only have four, but they’re very close in age (the oldest was born in May 2007, the youngest in June 2011, and there are no twins), so Mass has been a REAL challenge for the last five years or so. Like you, we’re really only all together for Mass at Christmas and Easter, and every time we are, it seems like the one parishioner who REALLY CANNOT STAND LOUD CHILDREN seeks us out, sits by us, and gives us the stink-eye the entire time. But they love the Mass, and we love that they love it.

    And yeah, we tried the lollipop trick, too ;)

    Peace be with you!– Kelly

  2. Me says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! At military chapels we never met criticism for our kids being loud or trying to race down the rows of pews. In fact, one priest told me to not walk my child to the back of the church when he misbehaved. The same priest tried to get us to stay when the same child had gotten a stomach bug and showed obvious signs of it all over the pew in front of us. I badly wanted to disinfect that poor pew. Yet another priest, since retired, at that same chapel allowed the children to gather around the alter as he prepared the Eucharist. It was beautiful!

    I grew up not Catholic and often there was a period of the service dedicated to the kids. It was different trying to get my kiddos to just sit still at Mass. Some parishes offer children’s church during the readings and homily and our oldest loved that. Now that we have moved, that isn’t an option.

    My hubby and I are in the choir (my poor, ever-shrinking lung capacity) and the boys are in watch care. However, I have vowed that when this little girl is born, we will step down from the choir and get all of our kids acclimated to Mass again. They come to the services that do not have watch care and I have religious busy bags and a children’s plush Mass kit for them (my goodness, it is adorable watching them pretend to be priests!). Those only work for so long before whoever is sitting behind us scoops one of the kids up and helps out without a word spoken. That sort of thing brings this mama to tears, happy and greatful tears. I worry about the embarrassment. Stupid, I know, but I do. Instead, I keep getting greeted with warm smiles and loving arms. When our kiddos are grown, I plan on being that parishioner who helps young parents without being asked to…because I have been there…still am there and I know I will be there for quite some time.

    Again, thank you for this post!

  3. Love this!! Thank you, Terri, for encouraging parents to take their children to Mass. Our ‘little one’ is a grown woman now — and I’m certain that the reason she’s continued to receive the sacraments now that she’s “on her own” is the fact that she was unconditionally welcomed by our fellow parishioners when she was a restless tyke. Now that we’re older we love seeing young families and seek out the fathers and mothers of kids — we want them to feel welcome, and they are!

    This gets me thinking about the wonderful man who became our pastor right after Vatican II (when I was a teenager) — Fr. Ultan McCabe, of happy memory. He was such an inclusive ambassador of the Lord’s compassion!

    He often spoke from the ambo about the need for parents to start training their children in the faith. One Sunday morning, when a particularly fussy infant was screaming so loudly we couldn’t even hear the homily, the mother, baby in arms , headed toward the exit.

    “Don’t worry, dear,” our pastor said, in his most consoling voice, “he’s not bothering me.”

    “Yes Father,” the mother replied, ” but you’re bothering him!”

    Keep smiling,

    Paul

  4. abcinsc says:

    Reblogged this on The Peanut Gallery and commented:
    Thank you.

  5. SaintlySages says:

    Whenever I feel distracted by such things, I remind myself of Christ’s admonition: “Let the children come to me; to such belong the Kingdom of God” (Mt 19:14). Life is what it is. God bless us all, especially the little ones among us!

  6. Great post! Our Catholic homeschooling group has been following this debate online this week. Personally my opinion is if you don’t make every effort to keep them in mass how will they get used to mass. When the baby or toddler are overly loud, one of us will take them out but they don’t get to run around and play, we are holding them or they are standing right next to us. I don’t have the courage yet to sit in the front row, which is supposed to help because the kids can see everything.

    I also make sure to smile at other families who have young ones and try to encourage them at mass. I remember others doing that for us when our now 8.5 year old was a baby.

    Thanks

  7. Reblogged this on homesteaddad and commented:
    A great opinion on taking/keeping your kids in mass.

  8. I agree, Terry. In the beginning, we were very permissive with what kids could do in Mass but we have gotten better at disciplining as each child arrived and the others grew up. There’s a learning curve for parents and there are things beyond our control sometimes. But leaving them home isn’t an option for us (no matter what the grumpies say and do). A family that prays together stays together. P.S. I’m just speaking for myself in case a debate sparks here ;) Other families can feel free to make their own decisions.

  9. Teresa Rice says:

    Well said @8kids. I also think the original emailer’s comments under update II on Deacon Greg’s post are well said. I think there are good reasons for each, deciding to bring young kids to Mass or keeping them at home during the young years. But I think a happy medium may be bringing the kids to Mass and if they become to loud for other people to concentrate then one parent should take them to the vestibule until the kid(s) calm down. My parents used to alternate watching my siblings when they were young and went to Mass separately. I came as a surprise 6 1/2 years later (between the next youngest and myself) so I believe my parents always took me to Mass with them. Great post. God Bless.

  10. SR says:

    Loved it!! I always say, “Screaming babies in Church are music to my ears, because that means they were not aborted!” I love the large families and as I remind others who complain, “We are a Church who supports life!” Also, for those who it “ruffles their feathers” get up and see if “YOU” can help. Now that is a “twist” is it not??? Loved it and thanks for reblog! God Bless, SR

    • @SR…

      Believe me, I’m as earnest in my prayers to eradicate abortion as anyone; but sometimes I think folks go TOO far in their efforts to promote respect for unborn life. God bless you for caring — you and I and the Blessed Mother are of one accord on this matter; but if the sound of a screaming baby causes you to think about abortion you may be overly focused. I hope you will take my comment in the manner in which it is given, but the screams of Pro-Choice advocates who hound Rallies For Life in order to heckle the folks who are standing up for human dignity mean that THEY haven’t been aborted either.

      As Ronald Reagan said, “I notice that everyone who favors abortion has already been born.”

      Life is under assault in a thousand ways, including abortion. I think we all need to be careful not to give people the impression that Pro-Lifers are only concerned about one issue.

      Peace,

      Paul

  11. I think back when Jesus was preaching. I am sure there were babies crying and young children runnung then. What is worse, just as it is today, is indifferent adults!

  12. reinkat says:

    I got such a chuckle out of this post. It brought back a lot of memories. Love the little firefighter story. We had a sanitation engineer, ourselves, who liked to monitor the pews and floor and pick things up into his bucket with a great clash and clanging, just like the garbagemen did with their trucks. He, too, wore a superhero cape.
    We go to a Newman Center parish now, and there are lots of young singles but not so many families. I miss the noise and bustle of the little ones, they add so much to the love and joy of the Mass.

  13. so many similarities and memories. I always carries a survival bag with children’s bibles or Catholic story books for the preschoolers and of course people always raved about our kids but large families know how to take care of one another

  14. You can’t know how much I needed this. Even at only 3.5 months I feel like I will never enjoy a mass again since my wiggly and talkative baby usually has so much to day during mass. I’ll try to enjoy it more, rather than just be embarrassed…

  15. Pingback: Taking Little Children to Church and Living to Tell About It | 8 Kids … | Church Ministry

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