My column published in last week’s Catholic Weekly.
Everyone loves the idea of parents coming to Mass with their young children, but not everyone always enjoys having young children there, including the parents themselves.
I’ve been to Masses where I’ve broken out in a sweat from trying to keep the children relatively still and quiet because all of them had a case of the fidgets at once. Or they would take turns acting up.
At times like that it’s hard to remember why we are at Mass in the first place.
It’s easier these days. Our youngest, at almost two, loves Mass. Like, really loves it.
He sings exuberantly, including during the prayers as well as the hymns. He calls out ‘ickle-ickle-ickle-ickle’ when the bells ring at the consecration, he beams at the people sitting around us, and at random he will point to the tabernacle and cry, “Air-e-sus!” (There’s Jesus!).
In-between exclamations he’s quiet for a good while, which invariably lulls us into a sense that he’s settled, until the next time he yells out.
“Air-e-sus! Where’s Nono (Naomi, his sister)? Ah, ‘ere’s Nono!
We’re grateful that he’s not crying or asking to go home, but he’s quite loud and his utterances can provoke flurries of shushing from his siblings. We’ve tried taking some quiet toys and books for him with little success.
So for the past few weeks, especially as the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins, either my husband or I have taken him out to the foyer or the crying room where he can enjoy himself without being too much of a distraction.
It’s good to have a place to go with a noisy child where you can still hear what’s taking place, but it definitely isn’t the same as sitting in the main body of the church with your family. We’re hoping this is a very temporary solution.
Most parents of young children have the same dilemma; obviously if a child is screaming his or her head off or is otherwise very distracting the thing to do is to take that long, red-faced, walk outside or to the crying room.
But when it’s a matter of a bit of noise and figeting because the Mass is longer than usual, or the children are very young, or have special needs, or all of these together, then what do you do?
Some people at Mass don’t mind or even love having little fidgets in the pews alongside them; others really need peace and quiet to be able to hear, concentrate, and pray. In some other countries, in Africa for instance, Mass can be exuberant and noisy and our Isaac would be very much at home worshipping there.
Our former two parishes didn’t have crying rooms, and I prefer it that way. Our current parish does but we’ve only used it these few times recently.
We find that sitting near the front holds the younger children’s attention better. The further down the back of the church we sit the less engaged they are. Take them into the crying room and it’s party time.
We’re fortunate to usually be met with smiles from other parishioners, but I’m sure it’s been trying to sit near our family at times.
Someone sent me a link to an article this week titled Love for the Loud at Mass, written by a father of five about the challenges of bringing young children to Mass. It’s especially hard on parents who have special-needs children who simply can’t be expected to stay ‘good’ for the whole of Mass.
We would like to think that children would be absolutely welcomed at Mass, no matter what, and without the need for extended segregation from everyone else.
Certainly there are times when parents of young ones need to be more sensitive to the people around them, just as there are times when everyone else needs to remember to suffer the children.
Over all, charity should abound.