Friday, May 18, 2012

Children at church....

Some time ago I read an article about the distraction that little children are at Mass to others if they make a noise or cause others to lose concentration and therefore should be taken to the 'cry room' or that even parents should attend two different Mass' so as not to have children interfere with the reverence and quiet of others reflections during Holy Mass......
As this line of thinking is abhorrent me I felt I needed to respond to it.
Below is what I wrote with some more additions as I have had more time to think about this issue.

As a mother of 12 children from young adult to under 1 I find the whole debate about children at Mass irritating.
Children belong with parents and parents belong at Mass together, not separately but as a family. I have on only a handful of occasions taken one of our children out during Mass.
I refuse to take them out if our babies babble, or chat or smile at the granny behind us.
 If the baby starts to cry I will breast feed that baby for comfort.
If the baby still won't settle I pass the child to my husband or to an older sibling. If the baby still does not settle I will walk to the side of the church, this is usually enough of a distraction and then I go back to our pew.

I rarely go outside and we have never attended a Church that had a cry room. If we had I would be a contentious objector ,because I believe we are at Mass, all of us together.
Just for your information I also object to children's liturgy as well for the same reason.
The family attends Mass together. It is important and as such receives due reverence.
We have always attended Mass in our Church clothes too. These are special and dressy and once again shows this is not an everyday event, this is special . We always sit in the front pew (or two) so the children can see what is happening. I believe this gives them a focus.

As for the controversial view of taking snacks and drinks,we never take food or drink as it is a distraction to everyone, children and parents alike. I also maintain that Mass is only 1 hour long, I don't think little ones will starve during this time, so it is purely a distraction tactic which I don't think is a long term good idea.
Having said that we do allow a special teddy if the child is attached or a small hand held 'friend' or a car for our boys. Sometimes we have allowed the little St Joseph books, but only one as this can lead to simply flicking from one book to another and thus can lead to unwanted 'wiggling'

Our middle boys are altar boys and we have had many comments on how their reverence helps the person concerned stay focused.
You may wonder where did this come from- them understanding that Mass is special, was it from being inside the church at Mass or from being able to go outside (or cry room) as soon as they made a noise. Children are very smart they will work that out pretty soon that if they make a noise  and noise is not appreciated that  you get to leave and go somewhere more fun.

Our children are I think pretty good at church, our younger ones are mostly too, and yes we have a few 'special needs' children, which makes it a challenge.
What is our protocol for dealing with ' the wiggles?'  Our focus has been to cuddle and separate any child or children who need a little extra care during Mass. Or I might point out what the priest is doing or point to the  statues or Mary and Jesus, something to bring their little minds  back to the reason we are here.

Finally, I believe because we had decided that we would have our children with us during church that we refused to let any of those stares or comments stop us from keeping our children with us during this most important time.

Of course  our children have learnt appropriate behaviour as they went along. We get frequent comments on our children's behaviour BUT that has taken work and has not been achieved over night.
In fact I am sure our younger ones emulate the older children's behaviour, who were the ones we actually had to train. This does not mean they are ALWAYS perfect. They do have off days as do we and so then we just go back to the basics that we have held on to all these years.

One thing we have never done is to let the children run around the church. They stay within the pew.
I remember a few parishes where we were given advice as younger parents about 'letting our children run around the church so they feel comfortable here'.
For us it never seemed the right choice, we are not at at playground, we are not at a social event this is church and it requires a different set of rules and standards.
Higher standards than we would for everyday events for this is not an everyday event ( well it can be but you know what I mean) it is special and we are honoured to be able to participate and should be thankful for the opportunity and act appropriately.

So apart from the special cuddle toy we don't allow them play things, colouring books etc, either - this is not entertainment this is Mass. Of course we have had slightly older children get to the stage that says 'this is boring' and we tell them 'this is special and you are not here to be entertained.'
Do they get it? Well I think so, they certainly 'get' the fact that this is our standard and we are not negotiating.
I once knew a family that allowed their daughter to take her knitting to church because she was bored!
What does this tell the child? That it isn't important and you can just be here without 'being here at all.'
Not really what I think attending mass is all about.
For heavens sake it is such a small amount of time really.
Do remember though that little children don't always have a clear idea of time and so can't work out how much longer mass will take, our 6 year old still asks how many more songs before we finish. This gives him a focus and something to work too, but he knows the routine and respects it too.

I also compare this time and the expectations to what you would expect your child to do at school. Would you allow your child to run around and eat and drink while a teacher was trying to teach them?
No you would expect them to pay attention for that amount of time!
'So why not expect the same amount of attention for the most important part of our child's education - their faith.

So I would just say to any new parents DO NOT be intimidated by those who would ask you to leave. Stand up for you and your child's rights. Attend as a FAMILY. None of this going to separate Mass' to keep the little ones under control, so others don't get distracted.
Be gentle but firm in your response to children and babies behaviour but remember they are children and not perfect, oops neither are we.
However, give your children the gift of Mass as a special event in their lives that we attend as a family because God gave us families to learn and grow in and that is our responsibility as Godly parents.

As an aside- from personal experience I would like to say that I am more distracted by those teens and adults (who actually come) who are dressed immodestly and those who show little respect in the way they take Communion.
Not to mention all the people who chat before and after mass.
We have also been very distracted after confession as we are praying, that people show so little respect for those preparing for Mass and chat so liberally and loudly.
Should not this be a bigger distraction than children who are still learning the importance and specialness of attending Mass, with their parents as guides and role models.

Patience, humbleness and gentleness is what is needed for our children as they come to know and love the beauty of this Sacrament.

And for all those who pass judgement on families with young children at Mass I would like to ask them 'where are their own children and grandchildren?'
Because they are not at Mass either. Perhaps they thought they would be better off not coming because they never understood the significance of Mass and felt as if they were a burden or not worthy of teaching the significance of  proper behaviour and so just shunted off to the cry-room or outside where they would not bother those more holy then they.

Please welcome the little children as Jesus would. Help them and train them with love, respect, patience  and gentleness so they too can know the wonder of Holy Mass.

Blessings to you and your homes,


Jane Ellen said...

Thank you for this Gae. It's very timely. My little boy has some special needs and is very noisy in church. After years of struggling we stopped taking him. It's nicer for us, but I feel so bad about him not being part of it. I just wrote a blog post about him and that subject yesterday.

You've given me new inspiration to begin taking him with us again.
Jane@Shades of Mercy

allisamazing said...

Although my children are grown now they always sat with us during the service so I couldn't agree with you more!

Emily Fay said...

This is a wonderful post! And I agree with you - little children shouldn't be shoved out. We don't have cry rooms, and our service can get a bit noisy with baby's crying or (like my son who is 18 months old) saying all his words he knows. We still teach reverence, but it is a joy to have my children beside me to worship. :)

Thank you for posting this!

Erin said...

Well said! And to all those mums with only littles, it does get easier, yes, some days you may wonder but it will. Hang in there, these 'hard yards' will pay dividends, you are building a 'house upon rock.'

Elizabeth said...

I remember when I had one baby, I could go to daily Mass easily, we just nursed when needed, and it was easy. But I also remember those tough days when there were just two, a one year old and a newborn, I would go to daily Mass and sit in the cry room because my husband wasn't there during the week to help me should one of the children make noise or something... not too long after the second was born and I started hiding in the cry room during weekday Masses that a delegation of older ladies came to talk to me, to tell me that hearing baby voices during Mass brought joy to their hearts and that they hoped I would never hide in the cry room again. 17 years later, I make every effort to talk to, or at least smile at, young moms with only little ones at Mass... i remember how much that encouragement meant to me.

Unknown said...

We have a cry room at our church and, although my children are 6,8, and 12, we have been continually told (in not so many words) that they are not welcome in "regular church" and must stay in the cry room because of wiggles. It is ridiculous and makes me feel very intimidated. I hate it.

Gae said...

Dear Jane,
I pray you find the inspiration to take your special boy back to church and that you can find support form someone there to encourage you.
Blessings as you sort through this

Gae said...

Dear Elizabeth,
That is wonderful that those ladies appreciated the blessing of babies and small children in church. We still get comments on how wonderful it is to see our children at church, but sadly this isn't always the case
Blessings and prayers for you as always

Gae said...

Dear Alicia,
How very sad for you and your children. These people need to be thankful for the blessing of children as they are the future of the church.
Is there any opportunity for you to find another church that would welcome you and your children>
I know that can be hard as we have always (up till now)lived in small towns with only one church of our faith.
There we just had to stick to what we believed God was calling us to do in this area, which always means going outside what everyone else does.
Praying for you as you work through this struggle
God Bless

Denise said...

I haven't read the whole blog just yet because of the length.I read most of it,and will complete it in a min.I just had to stop and tell you- ME TOO.I agree with you so much.I am passionate about the whole subject as you can most likely feel from me through the keys of My computer.First of all,I'm a full gospel protestant,but that same issue is in our churches more and more.It drives Me crazy when I want to bring one of My VISITING Grandchildren to church with Me,and the usher's suggest to me nicely that the children are suppose to go to Children's church during the adult only service.I understand the reasoning but We could give them other reasoning for children to sit with family.Oh My!I never got a chance to talk about this -HEEHEE-I could go on forever......Love and blessings to you Denise.P.S. Sorry Lord if I seem a little angry.

Denise said...

I;m so happy others feel the same as We do.No matter Catholic or protestant.Our Lord would have the children in His Temple,and in the future in heaven I don't think they will be in a separate room-HEEHEE

Anonymous said...

This is a WONDERFUL post and SO true.This issue is even more of a problem in protestant churches where children are often just not welcome in Church for the servie at all once singing is over.Instead they go to "children's church" to be entertained usually not taught and then we wonder why our children loose their faith.Families must worship together that is how Jesus would have wanted it I am sure.
We even have friends who were told all their children must be in children's church( they had 9)or they had to LEAVE the Church. ...which they did.The heart of Jesus must ache at seeing a pastor doing that to his sheep.We were shocked!

Erin said...

I love this post! I wrote a similar one myself a few years ago, in fact! Many parents send their children to the church nursery at our parish, and the school-age kids to the "children's liturgy," and I just don't feel right about that. It is always a lay woman doing children's liturgy and from my understanding of the GIRM, only somebody ordained (priest or deacon) should be reading the gospel and speaking on it during Mass, even if it is to children in a separate part of the building. A few other very devout homeschool families even send their kids who want to go to children's liturgy, so I can feel kind of alone on this, so it's good to know there are others! I am also always glad to know when somebody else nurses their babies during Mass; I used to leave to nurse my first during Mass until I decided that it was silly to have to do so, and so I nursed my next one during Mass until she was just over two! We get compliments from older ladies about how well-behaved they are, and I think it's because we always took them with us and have done many of the things you mention, like not having snacks, etc. And the older ladies just love seeing cute babies peeping at them from over their mothers' shoulders!

Ruth Green said...

Hi Gae

This is of my own heart too! I am blessed at this stage to have four treasures and they have been to mass from the day they were born. We too sit up the front and have taught and continue to teach our children about the beauty and sacredness of the mass. They know what is expected and participate in what they can. We have a special bag which comes to mass with us, which includes St Joseph books and usually a colouring sheet on the day's readings for my VERY wiggly two year old. How else can we instill great love for the Sacrament of the altar, than immersing them in weekly and daily mass? :) Blessings on you and your beautiful family! You are an inspiration.


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