Now I have my own children. Call them stair-stepped or whatever you'd like: it is what it is. Calvin is a few months out from being five, Hattie just turned three, Frank is 17 months, and a baby will bring up the rear come mid-December. It is important to me that we attend Mass together, and not just because it is my one guaranteed workout in the week. I know the 90-minute Masses are tough on the little ones, because they are tough on me. There is no good time for a toddler to sit still for 90 minutes and not make a sound. We opt for the time most likely to provoke a nap. Sometimes we win. Today we did not.
|Not even five minutes out of the parking lot.|
Today was a rough Mass for Frank. He wanted to make noise, and move. He wanted to switch back and forth between mom and dad. He wanted to crawl under the pew. He wanted to touch the man in front of him. He mostly wanted to fall asleep, but there was just too much happening. He was trying. During the homily, I had him to a point where he was giggling, not screaming. I was trying to get him to be a bit happier so that the peaceful silence of a nap just might happen. Then I am tapped on the shoulder by an usher and asked to take my child to the cry room so that others around me are comfortable.
Before I could say my piece, my husband let him know in no uncertain terms that we were there as a family and would be staying as a family. I continued to work with Frank while they talked, but I just felt like crap.
I know that there are a dozen blog posts about giving parents some space on this issue, and a dozen written defending the rights of those without children to sit peacefully and enjoy Mass. I'd just like to take a moment to explain why it is so defeating to be asked to remove your child.
I can take the disapproving head shakes and stares. I can take the audible sighs and eye rolls. I wish that parents did not have to take it, but I can ignore it. I really hardly notice it anymore. When a parent is obviously trying to diffuse the situation, there is no reason to assume that they do not have their thumb on exactly what their plan of action might be. There is no reason to assume that they do not know exactly when and if leaving the pew is appropriate. To assume that you are a better judge of what that child needs in that moment than their parent, is an incorrect assumption.
I am not under any sort of obligation to bring my pack o' kids that are under the age of five to Mass, so why do we do it? We bring them because we want them to know that is our routine. We go to Mass together as a family. I don't want them to be seven, preparing for their First Communion, and not have any idea what happens in Mass. My husband and I also decided that we didn't want to create the habit of removing a child every time they get loud, because then the goal would be to make noise to get to leave Mass. We found that if we can endure a bit of fuss, they calm down again. We can't expect them to be perfectly still and silent.
I would like to note that our experience today has been the exception at this parish: we belong to a bustling, thriving, filled with children parish, with many toddlers that take turns being the loudest in the pack. In fact, one of the regular ushers and his mother sit next to us most Sundays, and have told us on many occasions that they enjoy watching families like ours grow up at Mass. (He will even come up behind our pew and diffuse Frank's fussiness with a rousing game of peek-a-boo if needed!) It is rare that we leave Mass without someone coming up to us and expressing their admiration of our family. We are really grateful for this support.
To all fellow parents: I feel ya. Every parent has the right to decide how to handle Mass time, and I know that there are many different choices to be made. Keep up the good work parents: I respect what you are doing because it is hard.
To all fellow parishioners: Bear with us! It is challenging to raise our children in the faith. It is a beast to teach them Mass etiquette, and I assure you that our little ones are doing the best they can manage. The end goal is for Mass to be as natural as any other part of their life, but it takes some time. Please be patient, and please don't ask us to leave.