I’m a mother with four young children; most of my friends are in a similar state of life. As any parent knows, there are many joys and challenges to this time of life. Navigating Mass with young children is its own challenge.
For some reason, Mass is one place where we often feel least able to just be ourselves. We want to present our best images, without any flaws visible. Our children, however, don’t seem to know about that. If they’re uncomfortable being there, they act out, and if they feel like it’s a second home (due to going there regularly), they are relaxed enough to act like they’re at home. Either way, it’s often considered an unacceptable disruption by other parishioners.
This in turn leads to higher stress for the parents, who are trying to run interference while also worshipping God. For their efforts, they often receive criticism (spoken or implicit). Sometimes people will comment after Mass that they would’ve helped, yet the parents had no way of knowing that at the time and so could not make use of their assistance.
What’s the solution? Some would say the nursery, or splitting up and having the parents go separately while the other watches the kids at home, or something similar. Occasionally you’ll find someone suggesting going more frequently and sitting in the front (my own confessor suggested this). Obviously it is up to each family to determine what is best for their own family – thankfully the Church doesn’t say there’s only one way to go about it.
Whatever option the parents choose, I think it takes the support of the entire parish. It can be as simple as encouraging parents with young children, though that needs to be paired with actual help if possible. The simple act of someone offering, at the moment of need, to watch the older kids or hold a baby while a parent tends to another child is so valuable. Not only does it help the parents who may feel frazzled and in the spotlight, but it also helps show the children proper Mass behaviour, shows love to the family, and helps ensure the family remain in the Church. I know more than one family who have left the Church, or haven’t returned to the Church, because they felt unwelcome with their children.
Lately I’ve seen some of that in action. My 3-year-old was melting down, so someone offered to hold the baby so I could tend to Vianney. It’s hard to attend Bible studies or other groups, since Vianney dislikes being away from me, but now my parish has a study group and I was told to go ahead and bring the kids. They did open the nursery, but that isn’t a requirement, so if he needs to stay with me, he can do so. It’s made it so much easier for me, and I can’t begin to express my appreciation.
It doesn’t take a village to raise a child – it takes a parish.