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.…………..
On 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.