Friday, April 19, 2013

Screaming babies at Mass--when worldviews collide

Deacon Greg Kandra has a post up--a rare one, in that he's allowing comments--in which he shares a reader's question about why parents take screaming children (infants, babies, toddlers) to Mass.  After all, what do they get out of it?

I think that this comment from a young mom is pretty much how I see things:
As the mother of an eight month old infant, I live in fear of a parishioner that asking, “Why is your child in Mass?” As a baptized Christian, my child should be a celebrated member of the congregation.

Some weeks, I spend a majority of the Mass in the back of the church looking at statues and other beautiful artwork because my son simply can’t handle sitting still for an hour during Mass. We try to be respectful of the other parishioners around us and leave briefly when my child acts up, but sometimes it’s not possible to get to the gathering space before he really belts it out. Understanding parishioners go a long way towards difusing a situation. A child can sense when Mom or Dad is not at ease.

It’s also not just about what the child gets out of Mass – the parents are there to worship as well. God must give a special grace to parents of young children, because some weeks I don’t feel like I got anything out of the Mass. However, when my husband and I baptized our child, we promised to bring him up in the faith. How can we do that if he doesn’t come to Mass with us? And with no family in the same town as us, if we didn’t bring our child to Mass with us, we wouldn’t be able to go at all. [...]

But there are an awful lot of comments like this:
There were times when the noise from irate children was so bad and the parents weren’t doing anything about it, so I left. I could not take that much disrespect and distraction. Please don’t use the “Jesus loves the children” line. Yes he certainly did, but that doesn’t mean we all should tolerate noisy babies at Mass. Please don’t tell me to go to an earlier Mass, my work schedule doesn’t allow for that. God gives me special graces too for being at Mass. That is not unique to parents with young children. Getting the kids started young does not guarantee they will continue to attend Mass as they get older. I have been around a long time, and have seen countless young parents believe they were setting the right example; years later, those same kids are nowhere near the church.

I consider myself to be a devout Catholic, have been all of my life. I go to Mass because I want to participate. I want to honor Jesus. I want to be around other adults too. I want to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Do I have to do penance by listening to a screaming child in order to accomplish this? No, I should not have to. All of the focus here seems to be turned on those “poor Parents’ who are doing their best, which I have no doubt that they are, but would you sit in a restaurant, a theater, a ball park, or any other public place and let your child/baby act up? I very much doubt it (well, some people are arrogant enough to do just that, I have seen it). After so many years of this, I have gotten to the point where I just leave whereby denying myself reception of the Blessed Sacrament, although at times I have waited outside until Communion time then came back in to receive. As parents you must understand something. You are not the only one’s who are “offering it up” by stepping out of the Church when you child acts up. I have offered up the distraction of the crying many times. Finally, I also am a parent, when my children were young, it was a given that I would step outside with the babies anytime they acted up/cried or fussed. My thought was about the others who were present at Mass, that they should not have to put up with this. Most parents at that time did the same. My parents did the same. If we missed a part of the Mass, that is the way it was. I didn’t feel denied any graces because I felt that being a considerate parishioner was more important than putting others through unnecessary beguilement. I didn’t center the whole thing around myself like I have a “right” to be there so I will just let my kids cry. Of course, that was in another era, when people were more considerate and respectful of others. It wasn’t the “all for me” and what I want generation. There are sacrifices all young parents must make. In my opinion, one of those sacrifices is removing an irate child from Mass when the situation is warranted. If it means going to the cry room, then go there. If you have to go to the narthex/vestibule, then go there, or go outside in warm weather. But don’t think you have a “right” to cause a disturbance to others because you do not.

I have every right to be at Mass too, and have the right to be able to pray without distraction. I am rarely at a Mass anymore, including weekdays, where there isn’t some child acting up. I have even been at Adoration, supposedly a time for quiet prayer with Our Lord, and someone would be there with a crying baby and would not leave. How insensitive! I do not consider myself to be a pious person. I am a Catholic like all of you who is also doing my best to survive. I have my own problems in life to cope with, just like you do. That is my opinion, however unpopular it may be here. But I will tell you, my opinion is not unpopular among my peers. The question asked here was a pointed one, so I am giving a pointed response. God Bless You. [...]

and this:
I agree completely with Preshen, at 8:09 p.m.

I’d also like to suggest that if it is at all possible to leave he very young with a baby sitter, or to stagger the parents’ Mass attendance, then the children can have it presented as a privilege for “big boys and girls.”

I’ll also note that many people acknowledge in their comments that children who are screaming at Mass should be removed, but seem to think that they are disagreeing with the original writer — as if that weren’t exactly what he said. Instead of getting on his case, they should be getting on the case of parents who are so self-centered and lacking in Christian love for their fellow Mass-goers that they are unwilling to remove their screaming infants until they quiet down.
 and this:
I do ‘t know. I never had children of my own, but I do find the screaming really hard to bear at times. Last Sunday I was at a 7:30 PM Mass that was graced by a real screamer who seemed to want to be in competition with the priest, the lector and the cantor. He or she was quiet when there was silence, but once anyone spoke the screams began. A little cry once or twice is not objectionable, but this was absurd. And, contrary to how some commenters have taken this question, the problem is not with children over the age of three or four, but with babies and toddlers, the little ones who have no ability to understand or even be directed to anything.

When I was little my parents took turns attending Mass. It wasn’t till I was about three and had been prepared by my mother through nimerous advance visits to the church so I knew what it was and Who lived there that I went to Mass and we were able to go as a family. The slight delay doesn’t seem to have damaged my spiritual life!

Obviously, the noisy children are blameless as they are too young to understand any of what is happening or even where they are. For them it’s simply an uncomfortable experience of enforced inactivity in a strange place with strange sounds and smells. No wonder they cry and scream! I can’t help wondering if their presence really is of any value for them, or if it leaves them with unhappy memories of a place in which they were confined and uncomfortable. My belief is that it is more a source of the latter. And I personally think that it is more parental laziness that is the reason behind all the screaming.

and this
Don’t you find that the parents who allow their children to disrupt a Mass, are the same parents who allow their children to disrupt in restaurants, movies, stores – generally anywhere in public? There really is no hope for those parents – they are ignorant of societal norms and general rules of etiquette. I notice that the parents who are raising their children reasonably will arrive fairly early and take one of the back seats or near one of the exits and will sit on the aisle in order to make a quick exit when a child begins to act out.

My parish has volunteer babysitting for children during Mass — mostly us old Grandma types who love being with little ones. I also find that the crying room is just quiet enough for me when the ignorant fool parents are letting their children scream. You will often find the crying room filled with us oldsters — peace at last.

and this:
Seems to be a lack of understanding of the reverence of the Mass, and a show of their selfishness.

and this:
Being 60-something I remember a day when mothers and fathers went to Mass separately so one could stay at home with young children. Today that is not the case. While it is nice to go to Mass as a family; one also must consider the other Mass goers and the parents themselves. This is a time for God. Young children and babies can’t understand that. One thing to do is to sit at the back of the Church so that it is easy to remove a child who is screaming.

Personally, I would not take a habitually disruptive child to Church at all until he reaches the age where he learns to behave. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t take one at all.

For most of us concentrating at Mass is a challenge. A crying child, or even a child who behaves, makes it that much more difficult.

I especially resent it when a child is disruptive during the Consecration.

and this:
What a self-assured, arrogant response from this woman. Oh so she finds that screaming infants help her relationship with God? Good for her, she can attempt to pray while her baby screams at home.

As for the rest of us, your child screaming does *not* make me a saint. It takes my attention away from God and tempts me to hate my brother or sister Catholics.

Your self-assurance that the crying will be *good for us* is worse than the college bro blasting Macklemore from his dormroom window, assuming everyone with ‘good taste’ will be down with it at that moment.

Okay, then.

It pains me to see how much my fellow Catholics have absorbed the world's view of babies and small children, that they are noisy, messy, inconvenient and disruptive and have no place in the adult world. I think that most sane, reasonable parents try to take a baby or toddler out of the Mass if the child has really reached "meltdown point."  I also remember trying to sit somewhere toward the end of a pew so I could make a quick exit with such a child, only to lose that spot to adults who clearly didn't want me climbing over them with the baby, but who also clearly didn't want me to keep my exit-spot.  The idea that split Masses are the answer just makes me laugh--in our girls' early years we lived in rural North Carolina, mission territory, and drove over an hour each way to Mass on Sunday.  I know that Catholics who live in areas where there are Catholic Churches on every corner don't get that this is the reality for many, many rural Catholics.  And the idea that one should just hire a sitter every Sunday morning is about as realistic as Marie Antoinette's advice about the cake, and even less so for nursing infants.

No, what should be happening here is that people who think of the Mass as a kind of pious entertainment for adults should get over themselves.  I think about what Mass must have been like in a medieval cathedral, for instance, when almost nobody could hear a thing happening on the altar and only a handful could read well enough to follow along in a missal assuming they were wealthy enough to own such a thing, and I can't help but compare that to the entitlement attitude on display in these comments, the mindset that says, "I have a right to a quiet, peaceful, solemn Mass without having to deal with the squeaks and squawks made by your regrettable offspring!"  It doesn't compare at all well.

The sad part is that some of the complainers would be the first ones to insist on the liturgical principle that the Mass is about God, not us, and that we're there to worship Him, not primarily to have a nice pious experience.  I think that when your worship of God is interrupted by outrage that His littlest children are being fussy just now accompanied by great thankfulness that you were never as selfish, clueless, and disruptive as young families are today, you may not be getting as much out of even the quietest Mass as you think you are.



Deirdre Mundy said...

You can't call yourself a pro-lifer and refuse to welcome babies at Mass. If the message you send is "Nice job not contracepting or aborting, we'll see you in 4 or 5 years when God can tolerate that screaming slug you brought into this world" you are not pro-life.

And you probably distract people at Mass too. Heck, maybe I don't like your perfume or the color of your coat. So can I kick you out? Should we kick out the old people who talk to themselves?

That baby is a baptized Christian, just like you. In the eyes of the Church, you are EQUALS.

Will Duquette said...

There's a difference between a baby being fussy and a baby screaming. I often wonder if those who complain about screaming babies are really clued into the difference. I've never seen a parent just sit in the pew and ignore a child who is out and out screaming, but I've often heard children who let out the occasional whoop of one sort or another at odd moments. And in that case, what can you do?

The bottom line for me is that I cannot control the behavior of the other folks in church...and if I spend my time focussed on it, that's my fault. Offer it up and move on. After all, it isn't about me.

Red Cardigan said...

Agreed, Deirdre!

Will--agree with you, too! I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've heard a baby absolutely screaming at Mass, and usually the parents were trying to figure out an exit route. Maybe there are people who really don't remove a screaming infant, but I've never encountered any.

(And I just remembered that I owe you an email about some Vikings!!) :)

Bookworm said...

When I suggested (in Deacon Kandra's thread) that parents could leave particularly difficult babies or toddlers at home, I was thinking in terms of giving the PARENTS a break from constantly struggling to control the child, and allowing THEM to enjoy a little more peace and a little less anxiety and self-consciousness at Mass.

I did not in any way mean to imply that babies or toddlers don't belong at Sunday Mass or that they aren't welcome until they reach the age of reason. Nor did I mean to imply that the Mass is simply "pious entertainment for adults" that cannot tolerate distraction.

I was simply trying to reassure parents who think they MUST bring their child every single Sunday from birth lest they "never learn to behave in church" that this is not necessarily the case. (It wasn't the case with me.) You can give the child (and yourself) a break when they are young, and you are not yet obligated under pain of mortal sin to bring them to Mass, without doing them any harm.

That's assuming, of course, that you CAN safely leave them at home, or can attend a different Mass than your spouse; I know many parents cannot do this and they should not hesitate to bring their children.


Kate said...

THANK YOU, Erin! I have to say, this comment in particular:

"After so many years of this, I have gotten to the point where I just leave whereby denying myself reception of the Blessed Sacrament..."

reminded me of one of the confrontation passages in The Great Divorce - "I'd rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see?"

James Kabala said...

"You can't call yourself a pro-lifer and refuse to welcome babies at Mass."

That should be some kind of name (like the familiar "Godwin's Law" for Nazi analogies) for comments that ratchet up the debate this quickly. The very first comment must be some kind of record. Being pro-life does not have to mean being sentimental about babies.

Mack Hall, HSG said...

One is always pleased to see parents bringing their babies to Mass. And one is equally pleased to see a parent discreetly taking the little booger outside or to the scream room when appropriate. I know some parents feel embarrassed about taking the infant away briefly, but they shouldn't be; they are doing everything exactly right, and God bless them.

And, hey, who knows -- that little screamer might be the Bishop of Rome someday!

One group who are not appreciated enough in our parish are teenagers -- they really are good in Mass, and are generous with their service on the altar. And shame, shame, shame on the old twits who complain about them!

Kate said...

"After so many years of this, I have gotten to the point where I just leave whereby denying myself Reception of the Blessed sacraments....I have every right to be at Mass..."

Anyone else think of one of the Ghost conversations in The Great Divorce?

"Tell them I'm not coming, see? I'd rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see?"

Jacque said...

I think the distraction has more to do with one's self than it does with the babies...

You can't expect to settle yourself into a prayerful mood after you get to Mass, that process should begin the moment you wake up on Sunday morning.

There are plenty of things to distract us at Mass, babies are just one of them. It's our resposibility to collect ourselves. Some days are eaiser than others, but it's not impossible.

I think the bigest problem is... A lot of Catholics go to Mass because they have to go, not because they love Jesus. It's more cultural than a relationship.

Jesus said, "Let the childern come to me" who are we to deny them Jesus? Anyway that's my 2cents

B et G said...

Jaw-dropping...I don't even.

Susan Miller said...

Oh, my baby has screamed at Mass. He has gallstones and attacks would come out of nowhere, often in the middle of a feed. I could either get up immediately and flash everyone or put myself together as quickly as possible and then stand up. Standing was often all it took, but I would leave if it didn't. It just might take a few minutes to get all the kids out. Usually, though, the baby just grouses a little or happily "sings", so I wait a little to see what will happen (praise God the gallstones aren't causing much of a problem now).

Tony said...

I love hearing the occasional "whoop", or assorted "googling" or other vocalizing at Mass. This tells me that God wants the world to continue.

What I can't abide and I won't be apologetic about it, is a baby in full throated screaming meltdown mode. In that case the child is in distress, and the parents appear to be ignoring him or her so they can continue their Mass experience. The child needs help mom and/or dad. Take the child out, figure out what's wrong and DEAL with it!

The other pet peeve is the terrible two who is having a tantrum. This sort of behavior should earn an immediate time out. Out of the church proper and preferably in a place that is sound-proofed.

Other than those two cases, I'm really tolerant of children in Mass. Much more tolerant than I was of my children when they were small.

sdecorla said...

I agree with Elaine. As a parent, I would strongly prefer not to bring my small children to mass so I can enjoy a peaceful mass free from distraction and being so self-conscious about their noises. If other people want to bring their kids to mass, that's fine. I certainly don't think small children "don't belong" at mass. I just resent being told that I HAVE to bring my kids to mass.