Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why I Bring My Toddler to Mass

A few days ago I started noticing several different articles about whether babies and young children belonged at Mass. (Click on these links for some of what I've been reading here, here and here.)  With blog posts and articles of this nature sometimes the comments section becomes something which I feel compelled to read but typically I find myself irritated and enraged within minutes.  There are stories of grumpy people who dislike kids and don't want them ruining their weekly Mass experience, and there are the stories of those mothers who have been treated uncharitably because they dared to bring their child to Mass.  And of course, there's always someone who asks a question like "What do those parents get out of bringing their screaming baby to Mass?"

Let me give you my take on why I bring my toddler to Mass.  But first, let me tell you why I didn't bring my first two children to Mass.  I was once one of those grouchy people who were annoyed at those parents who brought their noisy child to Mass.  I didn't get it.  I was one of those childless know it all people who couldn't fathom why the parents couldn't keep their child [regardless of age] quiet at church or at the restaurant.  Now that I have kids, I get it.  I know that sometimes you just can't reason with an unreasonable child no matter how hard you try.  So now I'm less likely to be annoyed by your noisy child at Mass or when I'm dining out provided that you are actually taking action to settle your chid.  If, however, you're the person who sat next to me at the 2012 Easter Vigil who allowed your toddler to scream and wail for two solid hours while those of us around you tried to calm your child, then I'm not going to cut you any slack and I will continue to wonder why you didn't take that child to the cry room or the narthex so the rest of us could hear Mass.  And I feel I can ask that question because I held my sleeping infant while your child sat right next to me and screamed.  I would feel differently if you had actually attempted to sooth the child or remove her from the church after the first 10 minutes of wailing.

When Madeline and Ellie were very small we attended Mass very infrequently.  So infrequently that there were times when we went an entire year or more between darkening the door of our parish church.  It wasn't because I couldn't be bothered to carve out an hour for Mass each Saturday night or Sunday.  The bottom line was I didn't want to irritate people if my children made noise.  So it was fear of angry stares or uncharitable words that kept our young family from Mass.  When we did attempt to start going to Mass regularly around the time that Ellie was born we sat in the crying room.  The crying room was a zoo.  There's no reverence in the crying room.  It's wild chaos.  In the crying room at our beautiful parish church we had to sit on metal folding chairs .  There were no kneelers, so our four year old wasn't learning how to participate in the Mass.  Instead, she would sit and complain that she couldn't "see the show."  A couple of times we attempted to sit out in the pews, but I would retreat to the crying room as soon as the baby cried.  I was so worried that people would be annoyed with me for bringing my baby to Mass.

By the time Ellie was three we were at a different parish attending Mass every week.  When Ellie would make some noise or start playing with the kneeler, I would cringe.  I fully expected those around me to be irritated by her antics.  Instead, they were welcoming and encouraging.  For a while there it was just me and the girls going to Mass and I couldn't leave Madeline sitting in the pew to take Ellie in the back without causing a big commotion, so we stayed put.  Even on the days when I thought she was badly behaved, the lovely older woman behind me would tell me she did a good job and was so incredibly encouraging.  As time progressed other parishioners would complement Ellie on her good behavior.  So while I thought she was being disruptive, they thought she was actually quite well behaved.

When I was expecting Katie, I began to worry about how I would be able to bring her to Mass.  I had decided years before that I was NEVER going back to the crying room.  It's different in our current parish than the one we used to go to when Ellie was a baby, but I want no part of it.  For the most part we have been very blessed with Katie behaving quite well at Mass even on her bad days.  The vast majority of Masses she attended during her first year she slept through all or part of the Mass.  We have had a handful of weeks where she has been fussy, but we have only had to remove her from the church about five times.

Maybe our baby irritates some people at Mass.  I don't let her scream and wail at Mass, but I also don't fly out of the pew and head for the back of the church at the first cry.  If I can't quiet her within a minute, then I'll get up and take her out.  Most of the time she settles down for us quickly.  Sometimes she cries, but that's what babies do.  If she babbles during a song, I don't fret about it.  For the most part,  the people who sit around us are happy to see her.  The lovely older woman who sits behind us at the 5:30 vigil Mass will even hold Katie's hand during the readings to sooth her if she's fussy.  And on the bad days, I typically find friends smiling back at us or giving me a sympathetic glance.  So I think offering a welcoming environment to parents of little ones is important.  I'd probably contemplate leaving Katie at home with Bryan and not going to Mass as a family if I was getting angry glares or comments on a regular basis.

So why do I bring my toddler to Mass?  Well I bring her because I want her to grow up knowing that going to Mass is important.  It's non-negotiable.  Unless we're ill or there's inclement weather that makes traveling to Mass unsafe, we are there every weekend without fail.  I bring her because I want her to grow up practicing and loving her faith.  I bring her because I need the graces that I get by attending Mass with my children. I bring her because in doing so I stop focusing on myself and I focus on what truly matters, my God and my family.  I bring her because I promised at her baptism to raise her in the faith.  I bring her because I was very sternly told once in confession that failing to bring my children to Mass is failing in my duties as a Catholic mother.  I don't like to fail, and I haven't missed Mass for a frivolous reason since.

So what do I get out of bringing my children to Mass?  Well this is an easy one.  I get to spend the best hour of my week with my husband and my children and to top it off I get to meet Our Lord in the Eucharist.  That's what I get.  And even when Katie is at her worst, I still come away from Mass feeling incredibly at peace and centered.  I suppose that's grace at work.

Now recently I started stepping out of my comfort zone.  I began going to daily Mass a few times a week during Lent.  I only went on days when Bryan was at home in the morning so I could leave Katie with him so I wouldn't disturb anyone at Mass with my sometimes noisy toddler.  Then one morning I had no choice but to bring her with me.  My options were bring the baby to daily Mass or stay home.  I was determined to go to Mass so I brought her.  I was incredibly anxious.  I was amazed when we got through the entire Mass without a peep from Katie.  And best of all, the elderly woman sitting behind us came up to me after Mass to tell me how nice it was to see my little one at Mass.  What a relief!  It was at least another month before I brought Katie back to a daily Mass.  I formulated a plan for where to sit so I would be able to either stand off to the side or make a retreat to the narthex if she became fussy.  Over the past four weeks Katie has gone to several daily Masses with me.  Only a few times has she cried and not once have we been given the stink eye.  I have a friend who sometimes sits behind us and her children apparently entertain Katie and she does likewise.

Oh, and can I tell you what my toddler gets out of going to daily Mass?  She's picking up certain mannerisms and postures.  She holds her hands out during the Our Father like many of the other parishioners do (I do not).  Bryan noticed it when we were at Mass this past Sunday.  She can't kneel and see what's going on at the altar, but she tends to wiggle out of my arms during the consecration so she can stand on the kneeler and watch.  So she knows that something special is going on up there.  So she's learning.

So I bring my toddler to Mass because she belongs there.  As a baptized Catholic she has every much of a right to attend Mass as the rest of us.  It's true that she isn't obligated to be there until she reaches the age of reason but I think she'll grow to know and love her Catholic faith if it's part of her every day life now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...