Why children MUST be welcome at church
HuffPo has an article praising parents who bring their little ones to church. It is generating a lot of heat so I thought I’d revisit a post I did on this topic back when a very passionate debate erupted at Patheos about this very issue. For those who are interested, Lisa and I offer a TON of practical help for families who wish to worship together in our books, Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids, Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood, and Parenting with Grace. Here are a few tips from those books to keep in mind as you think about the best ways for your family to approach the idea of worshiping together.
1. As far as Catholics are concerned, babies are not merely tolerated. They have aright to be in Church. IF YOU ARE BAPTIZED, YOU BELONG. PERIOD. END OF STORY.
2. As a matter of Catholic social teaching, it is the duty of every Catholic to support the mission of the family to raise godly children. Failure to do so is a serious offense against both charity and the dignity of the family. If you have ever scowled at a parent of a crying baby at Church. I recommend you confess your hardened heart. “Whatever you do to the least…” (Mt 25:40).
3. While I respect the intention behind it, a parent who leaves a child at home “until they are old enough” is being unjust regarding the child’s religious education. Education begins unconsciously before it begins consciously. Your baby or toddler needs to be given the opportunity to learn the rhythm, sights, sounds, and smells of the Mass before he is conscious enough to understand the Mass. Robbing a child of the sensory education makes catechesis that much harder later on. Spirituality is primarily a sensory call (from God) that leads to a transformative response. Robbing a child of that early sensual experience of God and His Church is a very serious impediment to future catechesis and spiritual development.
4. As Calah Alexander rightly points out at her blog, there is a difference between a fussing baby and a screaming baby. As a matter of courtesy to the other worshippers, parents should always remove a child who is being loud and cannot be consoled after about a minute or so. That noted, everyone else around the family with a fussy child has an obligation to either put on an understanding, sympathetic smile or pretend you don’t notice and trust the parent will handle it. As Jesus said, to the apostles who were pushing the kids away, “get over your bad selves.” As a Church, we do not believe in contraception and we certainly should not be promoting contraceptive sanctuaries.
5. Some tips for moms and dads.
-This is counterintuitive, but sit in the front. Kids behave better when they can look at what’s going on instead of some other parishioner’s butt (which is, afterall what’s on their eye-level).
-Don’t ever just sit in the cry-room from the start. Although I understand, and support, their intended use, in practice, most cry rooms are from the devil. It’s like Lord of the Flies Sunday School in there. Go in only for as long as you need to, if you need, then go back to your pew. You and your child will get more out of the experience
-If you have to remove your child from the sanctuary, hold him the entire time you are in the cry room or the back of the church. DO NOT under any circumstances let him down. If you take the child out and put him down and play with him (or, God forbid, let him run around) you will teach him–through simple Pavlovian conditioning–that he NEEDS to cry to get the fun times that happen when he forces you to leave the sanctuary. Let your child have a minimal amount of freedom of movement if he allows you to stay the pew, but none if he makes you leave the sanctuary. If a little one is really that out of control, he isn’t able to get himself back online anyway (remember our discussion about the myth of self-soothing). If he makes you leave, by all means be loving, sympathetic, compassionate, and affectionat, but DO NOT PUT THE KID DOWN. When he’s quiet, return to the pew.
-By all means, for children under, say, 4-ish, bring some quiet, soft, preferably religiously-themed toy-like things. Keep them in a special “going to Mass bag” that the child doesn’t get to see unless you are in church. That will keep these activities special. Regarldess, try to put these things away before the consecration. At the elevation, point to the host and whisper something like, “look at the miracle! Look at Jesus. Say, “I love you Jesus!”
-Don’t do mass in shifts. The Mass is for families. When parents say they aren’t “getting anything out of Mass” when they bring small children they are missing the point. What you get out of Mass when you have small children is the joy of passing your faith on to them. That’s what you signed up for when you became a Catholic parent. Yes, it can be tough, and yes, you may certainly do other things to get your spiritual needs met, but Sunday mass is for your family. Go as a family.
For more ideas about helping you and your children get more out of going to mass as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids, Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood, and Parenting with Grace.