Sunday, April 21, 2013

Church: Babies & Toddlers Not Welcome?

Due to David's work schedule this weekend, we went to Mass yesterday afternoon at the church closest to us, which is not the church where we are parishioners.  (If you're wondering what I wore, it was a rerun of this outfit sans leggings.)  Every time we attend this church, we feel extremely unwelcome and yesterday was no exception.  The reason we are unwelcome is because we have a toddler who, at times, can be noisy.  Today, we were told we must take her into the cry room. In fact, it was the last straw. 

David and I are working very hard to teach our daughter appropriate Mass behavior and involve her in the Mass.  We don't allow snacks or toys, instead opting for children's books about Mass.  When she gets particularly noisy, we take her out into the lobby, as we did yesterday , and bring her back in when she is settled down so she can participate in the Mass.  Today we were told that even being out in the lobby, she was too loud and we must move into the cry room. 
even crying, this girl is a beloved child of God

How are we to teach her appropriate Mass behavior in the cry room? 
There are no kneelers there, the windows are more like mirrors that one can barely see through because of the reflection, and there are not other people around us for her to see as an example.  In addition, when we were told to go to the cry room, no one came with us to tell us where the knob was to turn on the sound or to tell us how to get out since the door between the cry room and the church automatically locks.  I felt very unwelcome and contemplated just leaving Mass because we were essentially told that our family can only take part in the Mass if we were locked away in another room. 

I'm not writing this to complain on our behalf, but instead on the behalf of other parents of young babies and toddlers.   How is it that the Church constantly talks about the dignity of the human person and the defense of the unborn, but once those precious children are born, they are not welcome at Mass as babies and toddlers?  This is inconsistent with Church teaching.  Christ did not say to only allow the little children to come to him if they were old enough to be quiet and behave at all times.  David and I are devout Catholics and would never leave the Church for any reason, including the unwelcoming comments of fellow Catholics.  The Church is comprised of sinners and I can't fault Her for their human failings.  But there are many other parents out there that may become so discouraged that they seek a local Protestant church that shows the love of Christ to all its members, including those that are young and noisy and an "inconvenience".  (I will fully admit that Protestant churches are much better at welcoming young families and providing support and ministries for them.  We have a lot to learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters.)  It's not uncommon for Catholics to stop going to Mass for years altogether when their children are young because they don't receive support from the Church community.

I never understood why so many Catholics don't follow the church's teachings on contraception, but I feel like I am beginning to understand why many Catholic women use birth control and have the same 2.3 children as the rest of our modern society.  They think that if they do follow the Church's teachings by using NFP* and only postponing pregnancy when they have a serious reason to do so (and therefore having larger families), they won't receive anything but nasty comments from the parishioners, volunteers, and staff alike and they are banished to the cry room.  Many churches don't bring meals after a baby is born or have mothers groups (or mothers days out) for struggling moms with young children.  This is a shame, considering the view of the Church that children are incredible blessings from God!  We need to put our time (and money) behind our convictions.

I believe that every pastor should put a policy in place that dictates exactly how parents of small children should be treated in a welcoming manner (and all church staff and volunteers should be made aware of this policy).  Also, it should be announced to the parishioners that the Mass is for all Catholics, even the smallest among them, and that one way they can show the love of Christ is by tolerating noise from small children who are every bit a part of the Catholic Church as they are.  Of course, a crying baby should be taken to the lobby (and I don't think I've ever seen a parent who hasn't done this) but a young one who is more moderately fussing or babbling (or a toddler talking about Mass!) should not have to leave.  Parishioners should be able to handle a little bit of crying from out in the lobby without banishing the family to the cry room.  Mass is not about comfort or lack of inconvenience, it's about Christ and I hardly think He would approve of His little children being treated the way they are. 

Not all churches are like this.  Our parish is generally very welcoming to small children, although it doesn't have ministries in place for young families.  (I hope to work with our priest this summer to change that.)  Is your church (Catholic or not) welcoming to young families?  What exactly do they do that makes you feel welcome there?  What ministries do they offer?  How to members act toward your disruptive little ones?  I'd love to hear your experiences and ideas!


*Natural Family Planning (NFP) is scientifically proven to be as effective as most forms of birth control in preventing pregnancy, however, there is still a common misconception that NFP is the same as the old rhythm method that is not very reliable.  Therefore many women think that if they use NFP they are destined to have a large family.  That's not the case (unless they do in fact want a large family!).  There are many methods of NFP and while none of them work for all women, there is a method that will work for each woman.  Find out more about NFP here. 




33 comments:

  1. I am so sorry this happened to you! (Again.) It makes me mad, and you sound like you are able to handle it with so much more grace than I would. We rarely get to attend Sunday morning mass, but we did today, and there are so many families with all ages of kids. I noticed during that lull when the EM's are getting communion this sort of background chatter of just all the little babies and such in mass, and it was actually really sweet.

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  2. Mandi, I'm so sorry that happened to your family! I cannot imagine the frustration. Jim and I don't have kids, but I agree that def. an important way to have young families feel welcomed and included...

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  3. I hope you'll send this blog post (or a similar letter) to the pastor of that parish!

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  4. Wow, I remember the exact same problem when our children were little.
    There were two parishes in our town.

    One parish was not very welcoming toward children. (At least not the Anglo community. Not sure about the Hispanic community.)

    The other was VERY conservative. They had more programs for young children, but the expectation among the mom's group was that everyone would have a large family/homeschool/join conservative political causes/etc.

    It's VERY frustrating to follow the teachings of the Church only to have no one at your parish support you.

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  5. Wow, I remember the exact same problem when our children were little. There were two parishes in our town.

    One parish was not very welcoming toward children. (At least not the Anglo community. Not sure about the Hispanic community.)

    The other was VERY conservative. They had more programs for young children, but the expectation among the mom's group was that everyone would have a large family/homeschool/join conservative political causes/etc.


    One parish thought we were strange for having children before 30, the other wanted to know when #3 was coming along.

    It's VERY frustrating to follow the teachings of the Church only to have no one at your parish support you.

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  6. I was really worried about registering at our new parish when we moved - there was this old man there that we encountered frequently at Latin Mass and Daily Mass who would go out of his way to tell us we had ruined his Mass, or would glare at us and other families with young children (I think he was mentally ill, that's the only explanation that makes sense to me). So much so that the Pastor would talk effusively during his homilies about how wonderful families are, and how he wishes he saw more children at daily mass, and would write notes in the bulletin about proper treatment of children during Mass. It's amazing how ONE person can drive families away from a parish...

    I haven't seen him in quite a while - sadly, I think he must have died... I hope he's happier now than he was in life! But it makes it so hard to go to Mass when I'm dreading the reception other parishioners will give us. It's the complete opposite of the pro-life mentality the Catholic Church embraces!

    I wonder why there isn't more outreach to young mothers? I feel like it's in no small part because we're all so busy - it's a ministry we need, but not one that any of us have time to start! I think that's awesome that you're willing to take up the reins yourself - I'd love to start something but with working part-time and managing 4-under-4, there's just no time for it :(

    And in case you haven't read it: http://www.piercedhands.com/your-screaming-kids-are-distracting-me/

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  7. I already did, Stacy! In fact, much of this post was copy and pasted from my letter to the pastor.

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  8. I'm having this problem as well. I have two 22 month olds and I've pretty much stopped going. It's discouraging, embarrassing and frustrating. This post helps me feel as though I'm not alone. Thank you.

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  9. Sadly your experience is all too common! The parish we joined two years ago is by God's grace the opposite! It's a new building that specifically doesn't have a crying room because we don't want to isolate our families. If someone has a crying child more often they'll be offered a smile and a hand from other parishioners of all ages. All are welcome is our motto and extends to all ages! We have lots of family focused ministries, including family style catechesis, an Alpha program with free babysitting for the kids, Food for Families (pre-made meals for new parents), a Parents & Tots group that meets weekly to pray, grow and laugh together, as well as many mentoring based programs where we link people up with other parishioners in similar places in their lives for guidance and friendship. Our parish is a rare gem, produce by lots of hard work and devotion from our pastor, staff and volunteers! Our website is http://saintbenedict.ca

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  10. Good for you! Hopefully it will help affect change in that parish.

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  11. This makes me so mad. I don't have kids yet but my mom never liked cry rooms b/c the kids acted way worse and parents think they are soundproof (which they aren't).


    I remember this movie theatre used to have "kid days" or something and they'd play a G rated movie, keep the lights on, and it said other things about being breastfeeding friendly and basically the kids could talk and stuff. Imagine if we did that with mass?


    I know places have done children's masses but usually that is only for 4 and up which doesn't help with the infant - 3 yr old range. *hugs* I hope you have a better experience next week.

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  12. Mandi, since I have six kids under 12 who come to Mass with us every week, I feel your pain! It's actually an extremely complicated problem. Yes, I want my kids to learn to behave in church, but I don't want to intrude on someone else's ability to receive spiritual sustenance. Sometimes the pastors don't like noisy kids or families, sometimes it's the parishioners. At daily Mass, people tend to be much more supportive than at Sunday Mass. And as for the extraordinary form, most parents we know who attend with their large families have no problem spanking their children for misbehavior at Mass. So their children are very quiet. We don't do that because we don't want our kids to associate Mass with being spanked!


    Most of all, I wish people would understand that we as parents are working like crazy the whole Mass through to keep our kids quiet and focused. So we're the ones being most disrupted! Sometimes my husband and I split up for Mass, so one of us goes and the other stays home with the kids. Doesn't do much for family unity but helps with family sanity. If you look at accounts of what devout families did fifty or sixty years ago, they frequently didn't take young children to Mass. They left the children home with someone else -- a helper or an extended family member. So this is a cultural/parenting issue as well as a religious issue.

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  13. How frustrating! I had a similar experience a while back at daily mass when a mom(!!!) came up to me and told me I should take my son to the cry room because he was distracting. It's amazing how that one comment has stuck with me even though I've had many other people in our parish tell me how much they love hearing my son (now sons) at mass.

    I definitely think more needs to be done to support and build community around young families. I like to think that our parish is a little ahead of the game on this one. A few of the mom's at our parish started a mom's group simply by word of mouth - if we see a young mom at mass we try to say hello to her after mass and invite her to mom's group. We try to keep it simple and just meet at one another's houses every other week - and we switch off who hosts so no one feels overwhelmed with hosting.

    We also just had our first "Young Families Social" which was initiated by our new (young) priest, Fr. Regan. He's been so helpful with building a community for the young families in our parish. He recognizes the need to get young families connected with other young families so they feel comfortable enough to participate in other activities at the parish.

    Being a young family with pre school-age children (babies-5yrs) really is a unique stage of (family) life that can benefit from specific ministries/activities being geared specifically for them. It's different from your typical young adult crowd and really does require a ministry all its own.



    On a similar note - I find the stigma given to families to go to the TLM frustrating. We have found the TLM to be very welcoming - even of our noisy children. The families there have been so encouraging to us when we talk to them about our frustrations with getting our son to sit quietly through mass. They've all been there and really support us in keeping our sometimes noisy son(s) in the main sanctuary.

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  14. I'm so sorry you had such a terrible experience! We're due with our 5th in May, so I can tell you we've had our fair share of comments like this. Finding a parish that loves and supports families is so rare these days. We've been extremely blessed to have found a vibrant, loving community in our town that is open and supportive of families at Mass, and has some amazing programming! A few examples: Food for Families (a ministry to bring meals to parents with a new baby), Parents & Tots Group (meets every Monday in our auditorium after we attend daily Mass, we discuss our faith, laugh and cry together), Alpha programming geared towards couples with babysitting provided in house. In fact, any parishioner event that isn't entirely kid friendly (and most are) we make a point of providing babysitting and entertainment for kids so the parents can still come and join us. We also have mentoring in many of our programs (Baptism prep as well as through our welcoming committee) where we link up people with other involved people from the same walk of life. A friend and I are the representatives for young families. :) I also love that if my kids are losing it in Mass (happened once at daily Mass when I took a pre-schooler, two toddlers and a newborn) parishioners come over and offer help rather than asking me to leave.

    I think as we experience declining attendance amongst younger folks, we need to go out of our way to make them feel very welcome! A priest from our diocese liked to say that kids should never remember the first time they go to Mass! It should be such a normal experience to them that they know it's just a core part of their lives. Also, it's easy to stop coming to Mass when you have little ones, but hard to get back into the habit after. Is that a risk we want to take with our young families? Please feel free to check out http://saintbenedict.ca for a sense of the type of community we have (and our twitter account @saintbp is pretty cool).

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  15. Reading things like this remind me how incredibly BLESSED I feel to be at my current parish. Our Catholic church has a moms group every Thursday morning and what they call the "Visitation Ministry," which provides cooked meals to moms who have just given birth to a new baby. The church is filled with young families and prides itself on being a "pro-life, pro-family" church, which is clearly evident in the parishioners' attitudes towards the little ones. I have honestly never attended a more sincerely pro-life, pro-family parish and it's incredibly welcoming of all babies and toddlers. I'm not sure how parishes develop this strongly pro-life and accepting attitude towards young children, but I'm sure the Visitation Ministry and the moms groups are a great start for any parish looking to be like this church. All I can say is that I am so grateful to be pregnant with my first child knowing I have this upcoming support from my Catholic brothers and sisters!

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  16. Mandy, I commend you for addressing this via a letter to the Priest. I think pastors are often unaware of how their parishioners relate to one another in the pews. This can be such a difficult and frustrating age for simply learning how to be and participate in Mass. Tough on mom/dad and tough for baby. But you can only make progress as you keep going and keep trying. Having a supportive community can make or break your resolve. There were many times I felt on the verge of tears as we left embarrassed and some sweet elder parishioner gave us such encouraging words as we left. I wish you had this support and am glad that things sound different in your regular parish! I'll be praying for your efforts to grow a ministry for young mothers there!

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  17. Thanks, Deme. I have not heard back from the priest and I don't really expect to, but if my email made him change anything for the positive, that's all that matters.

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  18. It sounds like your parish is great! All parishes need to move in that direction!

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  19. Sure, borrow away. I did write an email to the pastor, but never heard back. Hopefully he did take what I wrote to heard.

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  20. Adrienne, I had the same concern as you, that that kind of attitude toward families would drive people away from the Church (or stop them from pursuing and interest in it). So sad.

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  21. I definitely will check that out when the school year ends and I start thinking about how to add family-focused ministries to our parish.

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  22. The Young Families Social sounds great! I wish no one could relate to how I felt when I wrote this post. No one should be made to feel that way!

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  23. I've never really made daily Mass with my daughter. Only a few times when David was there as well. I don't know that I would be up to trying it without him! We've left Lucia home with my parents a few time, but only when she's been sick. We prefer to have her with us, even if she acts like a mongrel the whole time!

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  24. I have heard of movies like that! Not a bad idea for Mass, although I like the idea of Mass being for everyone - young, old, single, married, etc. - without there being a separate Mass for families. It's a catch 22.

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  25. I think Food for Families is the first step in getting parents involved in the Church and the Church involved in supporting families from the beginning!

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  26. I'm so sorry to hear that! I wish that those people who make us feel terrible would stumble upon just one post like this and see how they make people feel with their unChristian attitudes!

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  27. You are probably right - the ones that know that there is a huge void in this area are the moms that are too busy to step up and do the legwork. But it should be the whole parish that cares about families and should pitch in. I'm hoping to start meals for new parents at my parish and I'm hoping that some of ladies with grown kids will want to help make meals!

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  28. I tend to see those two extremes as well. There must be some happy medium, right?

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  29. The thing is, so many of the non-parents I talk to feel the same way as you! I think most of the people making the nasty looks (and comments) are parents whose children are grown. It's like they forgot what it was like to have babies and toddlers (because I'm sure not all of them had perfect angels!)

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  30. That's so nice. I think in the end, it's a few people who ruin it. They are more outspoken than those who support young families, so their voice is heard.

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  31. This is how I feel every time I bring my 4.5 with me to mass. That I am unwelcome and that I should not be there. I am a single parent and a convert and frankly I feel so unwelcome at my parish and at the others in town that I have seriously considered ceasing my attendance and finding a protestant church that I can tolerate and one that is more family friendly.

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