Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hang in There!

Mass with children is hard. When I taught Totus Tuus, my first day on the job made me want to send thank you notes to every last one of my K-8 teachers that had to deal with around twenty of us squirmy kids in Mass. I have a heck of a time paying attention and focusing in Mass when I am alone, but when I am charged with helping children to gain something in Mass, I at least feel like I serve a purpose.

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.


  1. I am sorry you were asked to leave. That is really a bummer! I can relate to everything you expressed and we too want Mass to be a natural part of family rhythm and life forever and always. We go to a "homeschooling" parish in our town and it is bustling with children as well and in the bulletin recently there was a note reminding all parents to take their noisy children to cryroom. We were really disappointed when we read it. Felt like a tap on the shoulder :)

  2. I am so conflicted on this whole issue. We have 3 kids age 6 and under and hope to have more. Mass is hard and kids aren't adults.

    I wish we could just reserve certain sections for families, like the back areas and one side of the front areas for the people who think that works better. Then, not only do parents have an easier escape route if need be, but they shouldn't have crabs behind them staring at their squirmy kids. This would bring it down to just dealing with noise that is drowning out the Mass for other people. If someone finds looking at your toddler crawling around to be too distracting, you can ask, "Then why did you sit in the family area?" (Toddler Training Area?) This would put some of the onus on other people to sit where they are least distracted. If people knew where there would be the least amount of child-based distraction, they could plan accordingly. It has to suck to have hearing loss/aids that make a child's screaming the only thing audible or a zap in the brain.

    But there have been a few times where I have wished an usher would send people out, whether because their baby/toddler screaming is driving me insane, or because they are talking and texting. We don't go to Mass just to be there and get communion--we are supposed to hear and participate. If a kid is moving from screaming to giggling during the homily (which can only be heard this one time and cannot be read/memorized like the rest of the Mass), everyone within earshot is being deprived of most of what's going on for as long as the behavior lasts. In my experience, that has sometimes been the majority of the Mass. After a while it feels like the family is trying to prove a point, at everyone else's expense.

    As a parent, I take my kids out but hold them and don't let them play. Once calm, we go back. It's hard because our 1-year-old and 2-year-old are insanely disruptive for at least part of the Mass, so I end up juggling them both. Otherwise we'd have our 6-year-old alone in the pew or all five of us would be in the back. We're starting to go to daily Mass so that we can work on the behavior issues more frequently.

  3. Also, I love that pic of your son. My daughter was epic this past summer, which at the time, was kind of a first....we'd never seen her thrown a tantrum before. She was asleep in the parking lot, after screaming and thrashing all the way to the car. Being little is hard!


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