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.”
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.