Children at church. It is a hot topic at the moment. On one hand you have people quoting Jesus’ “Let the children come to me.”
For many parents, you have the reality of toddlers having a meltdown in Mass – and always in the quietest part of the Mass with what feels like the whole of the congregation’s eyes on you and your little darling. My two-year-old daughter loves music and she sees the hymns at Mass as a chance to exercise her vocals.
At the end of one particular Mass, a lady turned round and said sarcastically: “nice singing.” I was annoyed but smiled brightly and said “oh thank you, I think she gets it off me.”
We were in church. Surely she had children, or if she didn’t, she was once a child herself. Is it not Christian virtue to welcome people to Mass and make them feel welcome? I can sympathise with priests. It must be very hard to concentrate on the Liturgy when a child is screaming the place down, but since most churches have discarded the cry rooms at the back, what are parents with young children supposed to do? Stop attending?
The internet is full of ‘helpful’ lists of tips to keep children controlled at Mass but as any parent will tell you, there are days when no matter what planning, routine and snacks you have in place, nothing can appease your child. I think the biggest problem is that people forget what it is like to have small children.
This is not a criticism I think it is just a fact of life. The same goes for people who don’t have children.
Before I had my daughter I was guilty of this myself. I’d see parents struggling in the supermarket with their child squealing and having a tantrum and think to myself, “it must be the parents’ fault.”
Believe me, I try so hard and spend so much time with my child and she still has mini-meltdowns. It is just a way of growing up and pushing boundaries. I stand by the fact that I think it has no reflection on parenting skills (in most circumstances). My one pet hate however which can be avoided in all circumstances is reading material at Mass.
Now don’t get me wrong, Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom have their place in most children’s book cases, and I confess, I enjoy reading them myself, but not at Mass. Children’s biblical picture books are widely available and I find, if I keep them in a special bag and reserve them, solely for use at Mass, they become fresh and new each week.
Rather than vilify parents of screaming children and be annoyed about how it is affecting your Mass, have a bit of compassion and smile sympathetically at them. Children are the future of the Church so if their parents feel embarrassed or unwelcome at Mass, we would all be affected by the loss of such people from our parish communities of the future.
This article appears in the November issue of Catholic Life magazine. To order a copy, ring 01612141215 or visit: www.thecatholicuniverse.com