Dear parents of young children who bring those children faithfully to Mass every week, or just about: this post is for you.
Yes, I'm continuing to write about the question of bringing children below the age of reason to Mass on Sunday, mainly because I keep reading the comment threads (particularly this one and this one) and seeing downright heartbreaking comments from parents of young children who get glared at, stared at, scolded, forced to sit in the cry room (as opposed to choosing to sit there), and, in one instance, actually shunned (a woman with a developmentally delayed two-year-old wrote that people will get up and leave the pew if she and her family sit down beside them).
Even though it has been many years for me, I still remember what those years were like, the years when we drove over an hour each way to Mass with children ages 2.5, 1.5, and newborn. I remember feeling like people hated to see us coming, that even though the older two were mostly good at Mass already they weren't wanted, that the baby was downright unwelcome (and me with her), and that these good, pious, holier-than-thou aging Catholic baby boomers were seriously annoyed by the mere fact of our presence--and that's when the girls were sitting perfectly silently and looking through board books; heaven forbid one of them became, you know, audible.
I expected that attitude out in the world; I know we live in an anti-child, anti-family age, sort of like the age when a certain innkeeper took one look at the travel-weary poor young couple, the woman already experiencing birth pangs, and told them they could sleep in the stable. I bet he hoped they would just leave, so the sound of the Child crying wouldn't disturb his better guests, so they would become someone else's problem. That's how most people in our age view children: they are someone else's problem: their parents' problem, mostly, unless the parents are able to pay someone else to take care of them and have the sense to hire sitters whenever they must visit a restaurant or shopping mall or grocery store or fly on an airplane to a family funeral and stay in a hotel, because the alternative--inflicting one's regrettable offspring on the adult world--is rude, and shouldn't be done. What else can you expect from an age which sees babies during pregnancy as 1/3 of a person at best, and that much only during the third trimester when some laws may restrict killing her by abortion?
The thing that hurt was encountering that same attitude within the doors of the parish church. You know, the Catholic Church. The pro-life Church. The pro-family Church. The Church that teaches--truly, I believe--that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and gravely sinful. I exclaimed more than once in frustration to my husband that it seemed that the Church wanted us to have these children, but after that the parish wanted us to keep them out of sight, out of mind, and preferably out of Mass altogether. I know, young parents, how utterly tempting it is to just do exactly that, to skip Mass on Sunday mornings because, hey, "care of infants" exempts you from the obligation, and after a few years of sleeping in and reading the comics and having pancakes together you'll get back to Mass--maybe--if it's still important enough to you by then...
But don't. Please don't. Trust me on this.
Those angry people who glare at you and your kids would probably glare at puppies and kick kittens for mewing too loudly when they're trying to get their peace and quiet on their favorite park bench (and heaven forbid anyone brings children to the park...). Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh. But, honestly, unless your child is running up and down the aisles unattended or otherwise behaving so badly that your first impulse is to lie to everybody and pretend he's a neighbor kid visiting for the day, the glarers and starers are grumpy because you brought the child with you, and if you discuss the matter long enough, they'll inevitably reveal that fact. Oh, sure, it starts out with a gentle question about why a parent whose child has been engaged in non-stop Banshee wailing for the entire homily doesn't take the precious tyke out for a quick visit to the vestibule (and maybe the water fountain--bless her poor little throat), but sooner or later the attitude is revealed to be this: your child might become a problem, so you have a duty to avoid that by not coming to Mass until you can be sure your child is old enough not to become a problem, because anything else is rude and inconsiderate of the pre-child, post-child, and childless Mass-goers.
And to that, I offer this advice: tell 'em to put a lid on it.
Oh, you can't use those words, exactly. So here are the words you can use (and I wish I had):
To those who glare or frown just because you come in and sit down, "Excuse me. I couldn't help but notice your expression, and I just wanted to tell you that little Benedicta is terribly afraid of scary faces. Perhaps it would be better if you didn't turn around again, or she might start to cry..."
To those who hog the seat ends so that you can't plot a quick escape, "Excuse me, but last Sunday I had to take little Xavier Aloysius out three times: once for fussing, once for crying, and once for a really, really bad exploding poopy diaper that dripped all over the people we had to climb over. Is there any way you'd consider letting us sit here at the end?
To those who turn around to stare if the child is fussing: "Oh, don't worry! I asked Father to have the ushers tell us if Thomasina Teresa gets too loud for him. We hate to climb over the people at the end of the pew more times than we have to."
To those who fidget at every noise the toddler makes--well, technically, you're talking to the baby, but you get the idea: "Now, little Timotheus, what have I told you about setting a bad example? You're making those grown ups all fidgety, and you know we're not supposed to be fidgety at Mass. Please sit still for Mommy--there's a good boy!"
And if these ideas don't work, you can hand the baby to the redheaded woman in the choir for a while (yes, this happens at our church with one precious little guy, and I LOVE it) so you can attend to the older toddlers. :)
But, please, keep coming to Mass with your children. If you weren't there, I'd be tempted to be even more critical of my fellow adults than I already am, and that's not good for my soul.