The Mass is not all about you

All of the boys are sick, so I decided to go to the Traditional Mass this morning rather than our regular parish.

I sat in the back because it was very well-attended and I got out of the Confessional just as Mass was beginning.  A good number of the back rows on both sides of the aisle are reserved for families with small children, as indicated by the signs with big red letters on them hanging on the pews.  Next to me was a woman, older, and her adult daughter.  Around us were lots of kids.  Squirmy, fussy, active children.   It does not bother me.  Even before I had kids it didn’t, but I digress.

Throughout the Mass, the woman to my left grumbled about the noise.  In front of us was a family with three young boys, the oldest not much bigger than Charley, the youngest a baby about Stephen’s age. The older two boys did not sit still, and the baby cried a little bit.  But it wasn’t a big deal – they weren’t throwing things or playing with toys or making a mess.  There were kids crying in the back, but I tuned them out.  I was able to follow the Mass and listen to the homily (a great one on the importance of Confession, which was highly appropriate for me)

At the end of Mass, I tried to get up to leave and the woman to my left and the mother in front of us were having a heated discussion.  I hate face-to-face conflict; I wanted nothing more than to hurtle over the pews and leave until I heard the woman say this:

“Well, then you either need to get a babysitter or take turns coming to Mass.”

Excuse me?

The woman continued, “I have a right to hear the Mass and all this noise, all these kids.”  It was unconscionably rude and before I could stop myself I replied, “They have a right to be here, too.”

It was then that her daughter wagged her finger at me and said it was none of my business.  She raised six children, after all, so she knew what she was talking about, or at least that was her defense.  I told her I was a mother and that parents should bring their children to church, and I was told to quit butting in.

When it was pointed out that she was sitting in a place reserved for families with small children, she said she had to sit there for certain reasons that, given her behavior, I’m not inclined to believe.  A very nice gentleman came over and told the pair to leave; they left.  The experience left me really shaken and very upset.  And the thing was, aside from moving around a lot, these kids were not really misbehaving.

Before I continue, I want to preface these comments by saying 1) I understand this was the action of one individual with a bug up her butt and not reflective of the entire congregation and 2) it happens at every parish.  The gentleman who ended the exchange approached me later, when he could tell I was shaken, and said he understood and appreciated what I did and hoped it wouldn’t drive me a way.  It won’t.

But that doesn’t make it right and that does not make it acceptable and it does not mean anyone who witnesses such behavior should quietly shuffle out of church without making mention of it – either to the person criticizing children and their parents, the parents themselves, or – most important – the parish priest.  And I’ve never done anything like this before; I remember when two co-workers got into a heated tussle over the copy machine (don’t ask), I was trapped in the copy room with them by the door, it was the most uncomfortable experience of my life but I was incapable of opening my mouth to diffuse the situation (and one of the co-workers was definitely in the wrong).  So I think a part of me is still reeling from the fact I opened my mouth, but her comments were a kick in the gut and totally uncalled for.

Perhaps this woman forgot that her children were not angels when they were little, or perhaps she missed the fact that about the back third of this parish’s pews have big signs that read: RESERVED FOR FAMILIES WITH SMALL CHILDREN written in giant red letters.  Or maybe she just got up on the wrong side of the bed.

But her comments made it clear that she was merely taking aim at this family in front of us because they happened to be within firing range; she was talking, at large, about all the children who interfered with her “right” to hear Mass.  In other words, it was all about her and her wants.  She wanted to sit in the back and she wanted quiet, so the things hampering her wants – the kids – had to go.  And how dare she.  Mass is not all about you, ma’am.

When we present our children for baptism, we make a promise to God to do our best to raise them according to the tenets of the Catholic faith.  I will readily admit Catholics acknowledge the age of reason to be about 7 or so, and before that time, children are not responsible for their sins and not necessarily required to attend Mass.  I will also , in the interest of full disclosure, say that on the Sundays where Dave and I serve as Lectors at our regular parish, we leave the boys with my parents.  But I have been struggling with that; as much as I like to serve the parish in this capacity, my baptismal promises might require me to put that on hold.  I haven’t yet because they are in need of volunteers to do this and can’t seem to find enough people willing to do so.  But it’s on my mind, and when we aren’t both on the schedule, we bring the boys.

Yes, it’s a challenge.  Charley is a mover.  He doesn’t like to sit still and he likes being told “no” even less.  But we forge ahead hoping he’ll get the wiggles out of him now that he’s almost three and knowing he belongs at Mass.  And, yes, parents should be respectful of those around them – remove a really fussy child from the church, bring little things to keep the children occupied if they really can’t sit still for an hour or so (but avoid noisy or messy stuff).  There is even a point when it’s okay to say something to a parent, if their child is older and they are obviously neglecting to reign in inappropriate behavior.  But that’s very rare.

It’s difficult enough to raise children in the world; it’s doubly hard when you try to raise them according to your religious lights, especially if you are a Catholic.  The last thing these – or any parents need – is to be attacked by someone who professes the same faith as you.  We get that enough from the world and need all the encouragement we can to raise our kids according to the faith.

I know from experience that it’s very easy for a parent to get frustrated and want to throw in the towel until the kids are older.  It’s also very tempting.

What this woman said could, in some case, dissuade parents from bringing their children to Mass.  For some families, this may be enough to push them out of Catholicism entirely.  And while that’s ultimately something the families have to answer for,  I think the person who made them feel unwelcome bears some responsibility for them falling away.  It certainly doesn’t make a parish seem warm and inviting.

Moreover there’s the deeply personal aspect of this.  I know that woman wouldn’t understand, but parents know when their kids aren’t acting up to snuff.  We know our kids and we know their quirks and most of us feel bad when they act up in public or at church.  We are usually embarrassed by this and disappointed in our children.  Sometimes we can even feel as if our kids are the only ones who misbehave.  We’re aware of it.  We don’t intend to “ruin” Mass for you; we’re there because we believe in what the Catholic Church teaches.  We also really love our children  and I saw this woman’s comments not as an attack on this one family, but on every other one in the church and my own boys as well.

Her entire attitude was, Kids make noise and bother me, so those brats shouldn’t be in church until they can shut up; she was essentially telling us that we’re bad parents if our kids bother her and that we should just dump our kids with a sitter or break up the family by going to separate Masses (because, you know, families with little children have all that extra time on their hands to go to two separate Masses).  I’ve been on the receiving end of grumbles, but they’re usually so minimal they can be ignored because I prefer to let the crabby people wallow in their misery.  But I can’t abide telling people to stay home because you’re bothered.  In case she forgot, it is a mortal sin to miss Mass without a valid reason (illness, etc.).

Once again, the Mass is Not. All. About. You.

So when – not if, but when – we go back to that church, we will be bringing our children, and while I’ll save any discussion for the parking lot, I will not let this woman tell me how to be a Catholic, or a parent.

23 thoughts on “The Mass is not all about you

  1. Personally, I LIKE seeing children at our Church! After all, didn’t Jesus Christ say “Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not.”? He wasn’t offended by them sqirming and making noise.
    Often, in our Church, if a child is being disruptive, the mother will take them out in the foyer. But, people don’t complain.

  2. Ummm, you KNOW what I think about this because we both know where this mass took place.

    I’m sorry that I’m being judgemental (you’re a better person than me), but this is total crap and it’s just adds to my reasons to not want to go to a church like this. I was already put off by their “reserved for families with small children signs” as it was.

    And sorry, I’m linking on my blog. Because, well, I just can’t restrain myself.

    1. Jasper:

      I most certainly did NOT post this to ambush the TLM. I, in fact, have a deep attraction to it. I LIKE the Latin, the “smells and bells”; I even like wearing a chapel veil. I tend to trend very conservative in my worship and I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with what some parishes do to the liturgy in the “spirit of Vatican II.”

      So no, this isn’t an ambush. I think I made it clear that I did not hold the community responsible for the actions of this crab and have said – both here and elsewhere – that I’ve experienced this at my regular parish and at Lutheran churches. It’s a crank issue, not a church issue.

  3. Oh, I don’t know, Charlotte.

    Reserving pews for ‘families w/small chilluns’ near the vestibule and bathrooms ain’t all crazy, nor discriminatory.

    And by Amy’s telling, one could infer that the b*&^%$ aren’t even regular members of that group.

  4. Dad29,
    I’m gonna have to disagree. There’s just something about the way those signs are situated at that church that tells me kids are not welcome. But I could be wrong.

    1. I agree Charlotte. I have not seen this before, but when I read it above my first thought was that I was not welcome to sit in front with my young children, which in my mind means I am not welcome there. We sit in front so my kids can see and they are, usually, quite well behaved at 7, 5 and 3 (though said 3yo is still occasionally taken to the back to help her remember how to behave.)

  5. The Indult Community has been reserving the back part of the church for families with kids since I can remember. Just a very practical arrangement, as far as I can tell. The families keep coming…

  6. Great blog post, Amy. I can surely empathize with you and the young mom whom you defended after Mass. I’m sure the older woman was just being inordinately cranky and impatient, but there are times when parents really should do the right thing and take their kids out till they quiet down.

    I posted by my own reflections about this issue, thanks to your comments. Thanks for posting.

  7. Great post. Thanks for sharing it. Being a mother of five little ones ages 9 and under, I have seen my fair share of unhappy looks at mass, however, this situation took the cake. I will, like most, remove my child should it get out of hand, however, we also work to teach the different parts of the mass to them. How can we do that if we are leaving ALL the time? One more comment: My children have NEVER done well sitting in the back of the church where their viewing is severely limited. We sit in the front few pews and they can see what’s happening, and the behavior improves immensely.

  8. We recently had a visiting priest. He was so sweet, I’ll even give his name so he can get full credit, Fr. Paul Rothschild. His regular job is at our seminary (Kenrick). Toward the end of mass, one little one started screaming. Just before the final blessing he said something along the lines of “just music to my ears”. At the seminary they don’t get too much of that, and he missed hearing it, having grown up in a big family and having served in parish ministry.

  9. Same for an ‘out west’ suburban parish. My grandchild earned a ‘hate-stare’ from some older female (?!?) for saying ‘hi’ to her during Mass.

    He’s not even 2 yet; it’s what kids DO.

  10. Charlotte, I don’t think you know what you are talking about. If you look, you’ll. notice that the Old Rite bunch has more chilluns-per-capita than most other Catholic churches do.

  11. I found this great post from Patrick Madrid’s website, but couldn’t seem to get my comment in there, so I will add it here.
    This is a discussion always close to my heart. We live in the UK and there are not very many families in a lot of these parishes. Those that do come tend to have unruly children, which does drive me a little batty, mostly because the kids are usually old enough to know better and, as a former teacher and current mother, I know they are ABLE to behave especially past the pre-school age. That being said, when my kids were in the older baby, toddler stage I found it very difficult in most churches to take them out. There was usually no cry room, not that I would use it. But even the back of the church was inhospitable—cold, no place to sit and nurse a baby back to happiness (I would nurse in the pew, but that wasn’t always easy with a squirmy, loud toddler). Benches, speakers and doors that close (even in California, the noise and the breeze made it difficult in the smaller vestibules) would have helped me a lot. And as far as an announcement at the beginning of Mass which was suggested in the other discussion, I think it could be done without “offending” people. It could be made inviting…start with a welcome, an invitation to sit up front and then you inform them of the set up in the back of the church equipped with benches/chairs, a box of tissues to wipe upset noses, etc. It sounds accommodating. And maybe you humorously promise not to stare as they drag their child down the aisle. When the priest makes such statements frequently parents are encouraged to not only bring their kids, but discipline them too. I think the message we often give parents (with babysitting and children’s liturgy of the word) is that they are not ABLE to handle their kids at Mass. That is what I see here in the UK a lot, and the message gets through…so they eventually stop trying to get their kids here.

  12. Here from Pat Madrid’s blog –

    Charlotte, I don’t see a problem with the back pews being reserved for families; that is, I don’t see the signs as trumpeting “KIDS AREN’T WELCOME HERE,” but rather, “We’re trying to make this easier for everyone involved.”

    It sounds to me like the parish is trying to cater to all parishioners’ needs equally — the families with small kids sit in back so people who are easily distracted by little kids can just sit up front and know they won’t have to worry about it, and the families, if necessary, can discreetly leave the sanctuary without feeling like they’re causing a huge, noticeable distraction.

    Amy – I thought your post was spot on, and kudos to you for sticking up for that young mother. My kids are 6, 3, 19 months, and due in December, so they’re not always perfect angels at Mass (especially my toddler – she will NOT sit still) and I would have appreciated the moral support, had I been in her shoes.

  13. I have five kids, eight and younger, and another due soon, and often I get to Mass pretty close to time, so the only seats left are right at the front (I feel awfully conspicuous). My Mass time is usually distracted, the older kids are mostly well behaved, but need a few reminders to pay attention or keep their hands to themselves. The younger two require a bit more work and I sometimes have to duck out with them to settle them again.

    Last week an older lady approached me and said “I had to tell you, my husband nudged me in Mass and said ‘That was you once.’ I used to come with my five youngsters and my husband worked so I did it all myself. But I don’t remember it being that hard. If that’s how it was for me, I deserve a medal!”

    I’ve been shushed once by another older lady with a sour expression, but so have a lot of other people. Mostly I get good comments or some people will sit next to my group and offer the little ones rosary beads or hold their hand.

  14. Hi Amy, what a good post. I am still trying to recover from this mornings mass experience, 4 hours later! My husband and oldest child (13yrold daughter) are on the christus Rex pilgrimage – which meant I had to go to mass with the three boys (11, 8, and 3). And I was doing the readings! To avoid any time with the boys unattended in the pew, I arranged for my inlaws to sit behind us which helped somewhat. My children behave badly in mass. My 11 yrold doesn’t join in and gives us killer scowls if we try to correct him; my 8yrold has some autistic behaviors – he cannot sit still, sometimes waves his arms around and makes stupid noises and does not pay attention, my 3 yrold cannot sit still, talks continuously, etc. All three boys need to be physically separated by an adult to prevent them hitting or kicking eachother. It is so humiliating. I am so embarrassed by my childrens behavior. Today they were fine during the readings (I should say, there was nothing I noticed from the lectern!) but I had to walk to the back of the church during the sermon with the 3 yrold (TALKING CONTINUOUSLY) I returned to my seat after the our father to the other 2 squabbling, (8 yrold tells me it’s not his fault – he has this weird drumming inside him he had to get out…) then off to the back with 3 yrold (NO MUM DON’T TAKE ME DOWN THE BACK I WANT TO STAY IN OUR SEAT IM GONNA BE A GOOD BOY) and 8yrold to prevent any fighting in my absence. So we head up to communion from the back of the church and 8 yrold decides he needs to touch every pew (tracing each shamrock with his finger) ( 3 yrold is pulling my hair and telling me he HAS TO TALK) so I am trying to move 8 yrold forward and get him to cross his arms ( he hasn’t received his 1st communion yet) he ends up very cranky as I propel him forward, he turns around and tries to kick me in the shins right as we are at the head of the que! The extraordinary minister is looking rather horrified as I plant my hand firmly on his head so that she knows he is here for a blessing and not to receive. She gives him a long deliberate blessing (which I appreciate) and then I receive my Jesus – and return to my pew with such turmoil in my soul! I kneel, crying, trying to ignore my children for a moment with my Lord. After a very short time I realize that we are just causing too much distraction for everyone, so I try to hide my tears and red cheeks and gather my things and we all traipse out before the final blessing. I would LOVE to attend mass on my own! But my children NEED to be there.

  15. I guess the point of my post is that people need to be VERY careful about being critical of parents at mass. My husband and I try extremely hard to have our children behave in mass. It is really really hard for us. It is embarrassing and demoralizing for us when they misbehave. Our children are aware of what is appropriate behavior in mass, they have been to mass all their lives. They are very ‘full-on’ boys, they are the loud ‘savage’ type. SPIRITED. We are doing our best to civilize them! Some children are more difficult than others – I have realized this after many years of beating my self up over my failure to mold my children into what I thought they should be! They will never learn to understand and love the mass if we don’t bring them. They are Gods children just as much as my sisters immaculately behaved 6 shy children, and God made them Spirited (not me!!!) ON PURPOSE !!!

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