There was a time in our life where Mass was a quiet place for worship. Time to reflect on life and all that has been given to us. Then, we had kids.
These days Mass can be more like a three-ring circus, but without cotton candy — we have plenty of clowns. What was once an hour of worship and total focus on the Lord has become a small, chaotic movement of shushing and tears. It’s become cardio in the form of picking my child up off the floor and holding him while he contorts himself like a gymnast during the prayers of the faithful.
“For all the people sitting over by that family with that kid, we pray to the Lord.”
Once, our goal was to get the most out of each homily as we could and apply it directly to the events of our upcoming week. These days our church goals are as follows:
To get dressed. To go with at least four out of five people, not in their pajamas, is a very realistic goal. Getting shoes on everyone in under 35 minutes is like winning the Super Bowl.
To get there on time. This happens so rarely we should get a medal when we succeed. We’d have a total of two medals since Jan. 1 — of 2013.
To maintain crowd control. There’s something about a new place full of new people that makes children want to wander around and say hello, possibly touch people’s legs and sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to them.
To retain something. Anything. For both of us to remember what the Mass readings and homily were about is not only a huge victory, but it’s a miracle. However, it only counts if you get a keyword or phrase that directly relates to the Mass that day, like the feast of the Assumption. It doesn’t count if you say Mass was about Jesus because that would be cheating. Also, if it’s a holiday then it doesn’t count if you say, “Oh, Easter Mass was about Easter.” If you say, “Christmas Mass is about Easter,” then you’re all confused — probably because we’re sitting next to you and my kids are touching your leg.
You might be wondering what the deal is. Maybe you’re asking yourself why we have so many challenges for something as simple as going to Mass. Why aren’t my kids behaving? Why can’t I control them? Well, the answer is because they are very small children, and, like you and me, they also have free will, therefore, what we are doing during Mass is:
- Trying to intercept a sippy cup before it’s hurled forward and hits the elderly gentleman two rows up.
- Carefully trying to pick Cheerios off the lady’s sweater in front of us, without her knowing.
- Debating where to put the booger my 2-year-old just handed me.
- Repositioning our 2-year-old 80 different ways on our lap to keep him from scaling our head.
- Trying to silently manage the pain created by the kneeler hitting the top of my foot for the sixth consecutive time.
- Hoping the congregation also isn’t hearing my 2-year-old at the same volume I am — but knowing they are.
What we aren’t doing:
- Hearing anything that isn’t a tractor sound or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Every week it’s so hard for us to keep our 2-year-old quiet so people around us can pray and focus. I know a lot of parents struggle with this because I see it every Sunday; I hear it every Sunday. I know a lot of people out there wonder why we even bother bringing our kids to Mass. I know because I used to be that person. The one without understanding, or any compassion whatsoever. When small kids acted up near me during Mass, I would think to myself:
What’s their deal? Why don’t they just parent? Ugh! They have zero control over those crazy kids. My children will NEVER do that.
As a mom of three small children, I have now had the pleasure of learning that the control I have over my children at Mass is the same as anywhere else. It’s not much. Most parents can distract their kids and engage them, but that power is very limited in Mass when there isn’t much for wee ones to engage in.
The point is to learn to sit still quietly with a subject that has no ability to do those things for longer than 40 seconds. I don’t have 50 things for my son to do to keep his attention span rolling in a forward direction for 70 minutes. It’s my job to get him used to being at Mass, but to also instruct him that Mass isn’t just another place to explore and play. It’s not a clear balance for him.
The reason we don’t move to the back is because it teaches our son if he acts up, he doesn’t have to stay.
The reason we don’t skip Mass altogether is because our Lord said, “Come, and bring the kids!” (See Matthew 19:14.) Although many people would prefer a child-free Mass to attend, especially if they sit by us, it’s our duty as parents to bring our children, just as it was our duty to baptize them into the faith. It’s their right to be there as members of the Catholic community.
A lot of parents carry enough guilt about our child/children shouting out during Mass or making loud vroom noises during the consecration. We aren’t bad parents; we have good kids. Unfortunately, no matter how good we parent, it takes time for some kids to learn. Maybe back in your day, your kids never did this. Maybe right now they don’t do this. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.
I also know that as my son gets older, it’ll get easier. But time doesn’t always feel like it’s going fast in these early years. If you struggle with your kids at Mass, you’re not alone and remember your kids should be there. They need to be.
So, if you see struggling parents, perhaps offer some prayers or words of encouragement. We’re always happy to take on support in any form and prayer is a pretty good one. Reach into your heart and say a prayer for us and our kids instead of rolling your eyes, or wishing they just would move, or not come every week.
Help us out by giving us a reassuring smile that you understand we are doing our best because most of us are trying to control something we really can’t. We know we’re a distraction, but we also know we are a part of a community of people who are loving and supportive. We all have a right to be there at the Mass.
Maybe it would be beneficial for us to start bringing cotton candy. At least then, we might be able to keep our little clowns busy until closer to the end. Of course knowing our luck, everyone in our row would walk out of church with sticky fingerprints all over their pant legs humming “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
The cry of a baby is God’s voice: Never drive them away from the Church! — Pope Francis