Suffer the Children

This is a follow-up to an article I’m fairly certain I blogged (but can’t seem to
find). I usually attend masses performed by fathers of the Oratorian Community (of
Saint Philip Neri). This particular oratory caters mostly to college students. When
I go to a parish for mass, I’m appalled by the the misbehavior of the children there
and the lack of discipline exercised by their parents.

Follow-up:
Let the Children Run?

“I received many comments from readers about toddlers running around church (see
May 11). Some of the comments came from parents of large families who confirmed
that it is possible to teach children to be quiet in Church, especially when given
good example by mom and dad.”

Let
the Little Children Run?

And Observations on “Redemptionis Sacramentum”

“ROME, MAY 11, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of
liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.”

“Q: Little children frequently run around during the Mass fondly watched by their
parents. Do parents have any responsibility in this regard? — R.C., Bangalore,
India”

“A: This, apparently, is a ubiquitous pastoral problem, and expresses a tension that
is part and parcel of being Catholic.”

Update 03/22/07:The demographics of Sundmay morning mass attendance at the Oratory has changed a lot. There are now several graduate students and young professionals with children attending. That young adults are drawn to the solemn liturgies offered by the Oratorians is a blessing and surely one of the fruits of eucharistic adoration. However, sometimes the children are inconsolable, unruly, and/or fidgety to the point being distruptive. Consequently, since these articles now have more relevance to Oratorians, I’ve decided to move this post up from 05/26/04 so that it gets more readers.

Comments 9

  1. Laudemus wrote:

    Indeed, parents can and should teach their children to be quiet in church, but it’s very difficult to teach an infant that. Sometimes, infants just get fussy. Is that disruptive? Sure, it can be. But what is the alternative — that people shouldn’t have children at all, or if they have them, they shouldn’t bring the children to church?

    The parents of one of my friends didn’t bring her to church until she was nearly 5 years old, because they didn’t want to take the chance that she would be disruptive, even though she was a generally well-behaved child. I think their actions send a quite unpleasant message — that church is for everyone but children.

    That’s the message that many Protestant denominations send, incidentally, with their (nearly mandatory) nurseries during church services. I used to be a nursery worker back in my Protestant days, and I remember how the ushers at the church services would “suggest” or strongly “encourage” parents to drop their children off at the nursery instead of bringing them into the service. I have always appreciated that the Catholic Church welcomes God’s children of all ages.

    When I see a child misbehaving at Mass, I always thank God that the parents did not abort this child and that the parents have brought him/her to Mass, ask God to bless that child with a little glimpse of the glory of the Mass, and ask God to bless that child with an enduring faith. For me, that’s been far more effective than dwelling on the child’s misbehavior.

    One final thought: Some parents haven’t had good examples of parenting skills and may not know how to properly discipline or teach their children. Many of the young parents today probably come from some rather dysfunctional modern American families — divorce, remarriage, stepparenting, single parenting, etc. Instead of complaining that they aren’t teaching their children, perhaps we should be looking for ways that we as a church can support them… My old Protestant church had a very active “Mothers of Preschoolers” group, but I’ve never seen anything like that at a Catholic parish. I submit that it might be a good idea.

    Posted 24 Mar 2007 at 8:27 am
  2. Stuff wrote:

    I do concur that children can and should be taught good church manners. Does that mean that they will always practice them? Absolutely not. Much is dependent not just upon parenting or disciplinary techniques, but upon individual temperaments. Children are, after all, human persons, complete with souls, made in the image and likeness of God. Not dogs, nor even cats. As such, they can be quite unpredictable!

    As a personal example, my oldest child, soon to be six, is a shining example of Catholicism. He’s caring, compassionate, and tries harder than many adults to follow the Mass. At about age 2, however, my husband and I wondered if we would ever celebrate another Mass together without one of us escorting Captain Tantrum to his carseat to be strapped in until he could calm down. It took a lot of work and commitment and stress and tension to teach our super-smart, super-active toddler to behave during Mass. Even now, he has his moments – but usually when he is sick or over-tired.

    Then came our happy-go-lucky second child. At two and a half, we’ve never had to take him out of church. Well, OK, there was that one time that I had the kids at a night Mass alone because Dad had to work late and he started running laps around our pew while I was nursing his newborn sister, who wasn’t at all happy to be there and was letting me and everyone else know it…Oh, and did I mention I was singing with a very *small* choir (i.e. one person per voice part) that night?

    The point is, you’ll never know from three pews back what the real story is. Perhaps the parents really are inconsiderate. Perhaps they really don’t know any better. Or perhaps they are really doing their best and already feel like utter failures and that everyone is staring at them (like me!). And perhaps God is using them as the instrument to increase everyone else’s holiness – you know, virtues like patience and understanding…and patience…

    Incidentally, I’ve been to Masses where the parents shushing their kids are more distracting than the kids!

    Posted 24 Mar 2007 at 4:54 pm
  3. Laudemus wrote:

    “Much is dependent not just upon parenting or disciplinary techniques, but upon individual temperaments.”

    Indeed. Parents may have the best parenting skills in the world, but the child is simply full of energy and struggles to sit quietly for an hour, or the child is easily brought to tears/tantrums, etc….

    My point above about parenting skills wasn’t meant to imply that parents whose children sometimes misbehave during Mass don’t have proper parenting skills (I am certain that most do and the kid is just having a bad day). I only meant that, if Funky or anyone else thinks the parents really are doing a bad job of being parents, instead of insulting their parenting, perhaps we as a Church should look for ways to support them and help them in their vocations as parents.

    I think that would be far more effective — and it also would help create more of a culture of life in our parishes. We believe in the sanctity of human life, so let’s rejoice when the little ones are at Mass and try to figure out ways to help them (and their parents) experience God.

    Posted 24 Mar 2007 at 6:43 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    As a personal example, my oldest child, soon to be six, is a shining example of Catholicism. He’s caring, compassionate, and tries harder than many adults to follow the Mass. At about age 2, however, my husband and I wondered if we would ever celebrate another Mass together without one of us escorting Captain Tantrum to his carseat to be strapped in until he could calm down. It took a lot of work and commitment and stress and tension to teach our super-smart, super-active toddler to behave during Mass. Even now, he has his moments – but usually when he is sick or over-tired.

    With this single example you have demonstrated that which I have found woefully lacking at too many masses – parental effort. Far too seldom are troublesome kids taken out of mass. I applaud you for doing so when the need arises.

    Posted 24 Mar 2007 at 10:58 pm
  5. Stuff wrote:

    Thanks, Funky. It was a lot easier, logistically speaking, when we had just one child to take him out than it is now with three. Also, for the fidgety youngster, being taken out of a quiet, dark place with lots of grownups and hard seats can be a sort of reward that a parent might want to avoid. I’m just not one to criticize other parents.

    Laudemus, I agree with you wholeheartedly about offering support for parents and welcoming children to our liturgy. Part of being a pro-life church is loving and supporting all those little babies God gave to mothers who lovingly accepted them. I’ve gotten my share of both praise for my beautiful family and nasty looks for their imperfections. What has meant absolutely the most, however, has been when those around us have gently, quietly, and unassumingly looked for practical ways to *share* the burden of proper education, discipline, and/or distraction (whatever seems to be most appropriate). I’ve had grandmothers let the kids touch their shiny rings or page through their mysterious missal full of old holy cards. I’ve had dads catch their bored little eyes with winks and nods noticed only by us, only to help turn their gaze to the action up front, where it belongs. Kind strangers have picked up dropped gloves, books, etc. and returned them to the boys with a smile. These are all little ways that others in our parish have helped us, as you said, to experience God. Things like these make us feel welcomed and loved, not merely tolerated. Now that we have a bit more experience, we enjoy passing on those favors – we carry plenty of St. Joseph’s books and Bible board books to share, and do our best to help other parents out without taking over.

    As one of our good friends, who is a convert and a parent, says: “I just joined a church that is against birth control and wants me to have babies. I shouldn’t be forced to leave as soon as he makes a noise!”

    One last thing that I’ve noticed: most ushers see a family with little ones and immediately seat them in the back for ease of removal. The ushers at our parish began to notice that we avoided their help and took the kids straight up front – as close to the front as we could get. Now they seat us there. Are we completely rude and inconsiderate? I prefer to think we are giving our kids the best opportunity to behave. They end up sitting where they can see (and we can point out to them) exactly what the priest and altar servers are doing, what the tabernacle looks like, our beautiful Infant of Prague, the statues of Mary and Joseph…what they DON’T see as much of is pews and backs of heads (which can get pretty boring!).

    Posted 25 Mar 2007 at 1:23 pm
  6. Lightwave wrote:

    I have to agree to great extent with the previous comments. However…

    It took two years for my child to behave properly at mass. During this time, I went to this place where there were lots of people and something going on at the front that required I work to keep my child quiet. At this place I was entirely focused on my child. Oh and I think there was some religious thing going on called a “mass”, but I can’t be sure since I wasn’t paying any attention.

    Perhaps some parents choose to get something out of the Mass rather than focusing all their attention on their child? Perhaps they’re the ones doing exactly what they should be doing at mass. Maybe they have their priorities right, and mine are wrong.

    Thoughts?

    Posted 26 Mar 2007 at 10:39 am
  7. Funky Dung wrote:

    Lightwave,

    I see what you’ve done as a cross you’ve borne, for which you and your child will be richly rewarded. It is one which I will someday (God willing) gladly bear. You have sacrificed attentive participation in the mass for the proper upbringing of your child and out of courtesy to your fellow parishioners. However, you still received the Eucharist, and that’s what matters most. Rest assured that the Lord didn’t stiff you on any graces because you missed some prayers or the homily while guiding your child in proper behavior. 😉

    Actually, that brings up an important point. Any parent who deliberately chooses attentive participation in the mass over proper rearing of their children strikes me as rather selfish and as having disordered priorities.

    Posted 26 Mar 2007 at 10:58 am
  8. Lightwave wrote:

    Funky,

    I’m not so sure I was sacrificing all that much. Though I probably would have prefered to be doing something else, I think I was engaged in what I would call my favorite activity in the world: interacting with my child.

    Would your opinion change with what I said above if I also told you I usually didn’t receive the Eucharist (being the sinner that I am)?

    Posted 26 Mar 2007 at 11:11 am
  9. Funky Dung wrote:

    I’m not so sure I was sacrificing all that much. Though I probably would have prefered to be doing something else, I think I was engaged in what I would call my favorite activity in the world: interacting with my child.

    I think intention matters. Interacting with your child because you’d rather do that than be attentive to mass is not good. However, if the child genuinely needs to be attended to, regardless of why you choose to attend, it is good to attend to the child. If your primary intention is to attend to your child’s need (including discipline), rather than distract yourself from mass, you’ve done doubly well; attending the child’s needs is good and so is ordering your priorities properly.

    Would your opinion change with what I said above if I also told you I usually didn’t receive the Eucharist (being the sinner that I am)?

    No. In fact, I’d considered adding “either actually or spiritually” to “recieved the Eucharist”, but decided at the last moment to delete it. You should consider getting a prayer card to help with performing an act of spiritual communion, if you have not already done so or memorized such a prayer.

    Posted 26 Mar 2007 at 11:30 am

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  1. From Catholic Carnival 112 on 27 Mar 2007 at 6:48 pm

    […] In Suffer the Children, FD writes: When I go to a parish for mass, I’m appalled by the the misbehavior of the children there and the lack of discipline exercised by their parents. […]

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