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Children in Mass are gifts, not distractions

In the last print issue, we published an article titled “How to survive Mass with a toddler” in hopes that it would be a source of encouragement for parents (like me) who struggle to teach their child to behave in Mass. Much to my surprise, the feedback I’ve received has been rather unexpected.

Read an earlier online version: “Narthex laps and cracker crumbs”

One reader said they were offended by my advice to parents to sit in the front with their kids. “Maybe you should expand the statement to include ‘never mind how distracting you are to others, disregard Christian consideration of others and how you are undermining the worship of others,’” they wrote. Another more politely suggested that parents take better advantage of cry rooms in churches, while a fellow parent wrote in and recounted how they remedied the issue by simply not bringing their small children to Mass.

Not to sound brash, but: Really?

I realize that these responses to an article meant to encourage young families in the thick of the most difficult and important task of their life – that is, parenthood – are not what the majority of my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters really think. But as a parent who is currently in the thick of it, I’d like to share what it’s really like to bring a toddler to Mass and challenge those who seem annoyed by children in the pews to remember the words of Jesus: “Let the children come to me” (Mt 19:14).

I think I can speak on behalf of any parent who’s had a child act up in Mass that it’s most stressful for us. I can also safely say that nobody is more distracted than the parents themselves. My wife and I couldn’t tell you what the priest said in the homily most weeks. Add to the equation a sneer or glare from someone nearby, and an already embarrassing situation begins to feel shameful. Here’s my question, though: Why should a parent ever feel ashamed for bringing their child to Mass? Furthermore, why do some fellow parishioners – fellow members of the body of Christ – think it’s OK to make parents feel that way?

If my daughter begins to truly misbehave in the middle of Mass – I’m talking a full-on meltdown or deliberately disobeying my wife and I – then one of us takes her to the back of the Church. However, to those who suggest we remove kids from the church completely or retreat to the cry room, I’ve got news for you: That’s exactly what they want. I don’t know a two-year-old who can sit still for more than 10 minutes at time (excluding marathon runs of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), and kids are smart – they will do anything possible to get to a space where they can run free – including throwing things, screaming or hitting. But it would be counterproductive to reward that kind of behavior, which is precisely why kids should not be whisked away to the cry room anytime they misbehave.

As a convert to Catholicism, I’ve seen how other churches do it. Most other Christian churches, no matter the denomination, have Sunday school classes or programs that parents can leave their children at during the service. This is fine for those churches, but the celebration of the Mass is not the same as a regular church service. If, as the Catholic Church proclaims, the Mass, and the Eucharist in particular, is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), then children especially have every right to be there in the church, partaking in the holy sacrifice, as much as everybody else. This is made even more apparent at Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew.

As a parent, I feel disheartened by some of these comments I’ve received. As a Catholic, I feel embarrassed. We are all part of the same body of Christ, attempting to reach the same paradise. We may all have different paths, but ultimately, Jesus was clear with his instructions to us as Christians: Love one another. I ask the naysayers: Is there love in making parents with small children feel unwelcome in Mass? Parishioners of any church should rejoice at the sights and sounds of children in Mass, because it means that the church is vibrant and alive. Please, Catholics: let’s do better. Be the village for struggling parents. We’re all in this together.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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