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The Importance of Having Children at Mass

children-are-a-giftOne Sunday a while back, a family of five filled a pew at church near where I was sitting during Mass. That family grabbed my attention.

The pew was much larger than needed to accommodate a regular group of five. But this family, in addition to the two parents, included three young children. Three energetic, rambunctious young children.

The parents stayed busy throughout that Mass. The kids took turns standing on the pew, reclining on the pew, playing with toys, pawing at Mom and Dad. At one point, when two of the kids were occupying the parents’ attention, the youngest of the trio escaped — she dashed out of the pew and down the aisle. Mom chased her down.

Some of the people nearby looked at the family annoyed and exasperated. I loved it.

I love seeing young families, complete with those little children, attending Mass together. I wish I saw more of them, frankly.

That’s one of the things that concern me about the Church: Not enough young families.

Where are they? Some might be at Protestant churches, as they have done some “church shopping” and found places they feel are more energetic, more “modern,” more hospitable and less “demanding” theologically. Some might have lost their faith or deemed it not important in their lives. Some might be lazy.

And some might not feel welcome, some might feel embarrassed that they can’t “control” their children’s behavior at Mass, some might not want to see the stares from judgmental church-goers who would prefer life fit into their personal mold.

Often, churches have “cry rooms” and some church-goers hope parents will take their young families there, where the activity and noise can be out of eyesight and earshot of everyone else — and where the family essentially is secluded from the Mass activity. Or we have special children’s Masses, where some people wouldn’t dare venture.

Whatever the reason for their absence, the children and their young parents are left out of the Church community.

Oh, some of those children get their religious education by attending a parochial school and others by attending the parish school of religion. Of that group, however, only a percentage actually attends Sunday Mass. And there are countless other kids who were baptized but never again see the inside of a church.

When children are missing from Sunday Mass — and when their parents as well — part of our community is missing. We aren’t complete. We aren’t whole.

I like something that “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling wrote: “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

I remember when Donna and I had four young children. Our faith was strong, and our desire to expose our children to that faith was strong. And we attended Mass every Sunday. Not only that, we sat in one of the church’s front pews, even when one of them fell asleep on my shoulder or was wanting to be held, then wanting down, then wanting to be held again. Sometimes they spoke louder than we wished. Sometimes they crawled around on the floor. But we were there, and they were there with us.

They knew that Mass was the most important place to be on a Sunday morning, and why.

In time, they learned how to behave not just at Mass, but any public place. They learned to be reverent. They got to know the priests and people who usually sat around us. They came to know these people as their community.

Would I prefer that all children were perfectly behaved at Mass? Sure. It’s a special time for me, a time of prayer and worship, and I would like not to have my eyes and mind distracted. But not at the expense of losing some important members of my parish community

I think about when Jesus was teaching the people one time. Little children came to him for blessing. Some of his disciples wanted to shoo those kids away. Jesus was adamant: “Let the children come to me.”

I like to think that some of those children grew up to be some of the first Christians.

Having kids at Mass won’t guarantee devoted church-goers when they grow up. But what chances do they have if they don’t?

And how much poorer are we, both now and in the future, for their absence?

 

This article originally appeared in The St. Louis Review and is used with permission.


Mike Eisenbath can be contacted at meisenbath@gmail.com and www.eisenbath.com
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  • JD

    Our church has a cry-room and children’s Mass. The first is actually a pew outside a glass wall and there are speakers so parents don’t totally miss Mass. The latter is simply a way to amass the littlest ones for about ten minutes while the adults do “serious” work; one of my children went to that once, and never again; none of my kids will go to that, ever. As to children at Mass itself, I am all for it. I bring all of mine except the youngest, though I should start bringing her. Yes, kids are a distraction but they also add life to the assembled. Great topic, and great article.

  • Booradley999

    Yes, its so important for young children to attend mass. But I find that children’s room is needed for some kids who get out of control and whose parents don’t want their kids crying or bad behavior distracting others. I find parents at our church only use it when necessary and don’t appear to make a habit of it every Sunday.

    • MarylandBill

      The basic problem with a children’s room is that in some (not all) parishes, parents can feel pressured into using it regardless of how their children are behaving. Then children’s room can send the wrong message as sometimes some parents feel no need to discipline their children while in that room. Our parish, if a kid starts acting up, parents will simply take them to the back for a little while…and on occasion I have had to take my son out… but generally only for a minute or two. Sooner or later they get it right.

  • Allison Grace

    Thank you. As converts, we were flummoxed at the lack of children’s church and a cry room (at our church, but there is a large narthex where I sometimes need to pace with little ones). “What are we supposed to DO with the children? Keep them in the pew?” It’s been 9 years now and we’ve learned a few tricks, as well as pleasant answers for unpleasant commenters!

  • Isabel Geary

    I have 5 kids myself, and the fact that it’s so hard to manage them at Mass all by myself gives me a clue as to where the families are. 1.)They are at home because it’s just too hard. Or 2.) They are at Protestant churches where their children can participate in a quality Bible study while the parent(s) find respite and refreshment at service. There is just one parish in my city that offers a nursery. As a mother of 5 who has to attend Mass without Dad or other family and who has been severely postpartum more than once, I cannot stress enough how much help moms desperately need. My own extended family is not supportive of the JPII Catholics who are open to life and living out their faith radically. Dad has to work hard to support us, even working many Sundays. I have approached our Bishop about this need to provide help for moms. My friends and I attend Mass on Sundays, but we take advantage of every other Bible study/Kids’s Night Out or whatever at our local Protestant churches. Because our needs are being met there and our kids are being loved on, many eventually leave the Church.

    • Isabel Geary

      My suggestion of a nursery (at a minimum) at each parish was discussed at a recent deanery meeting. It was decided (by celibate men without input from young mothers) that this wasn’t really needed. I challenge pastors to consider WHY another reason why there are few children at church – the parents are on BIRTH CONTROL. Let’s not be naïve or stick our heads in the sand on this issue. Do we really want to discourage this grave sin? Then provide practical help for parents. Otherwise, parents take matters into their own hands. Let’s REALLY flesh out what we teach. Let our love not be just words – meet moms and dads where they really are. :) I could go on and on, but I will cut myself off there for now. Shalom!

      • Tantem Ergo

        Couldn’t agree with you more Isabel. See my post above, but our parish had free child care which absolutely got young parents in the pews and not distracted. It was an incredible blessing. Once our kids got older, say after age 5, they could come and learn the Mass in time for First Communion. We moved, our current parish like yours won’t consider child care, our kids are older, my youngest being 10 and 13, who commonly say the small children, precious as they are, are a distraction. There’s a happy medium, and the all or nothing mindset isn’t the solution.

        • Isabel Geary

          I am so grateful for the nursery at our parish. Parents at least have an option. Personally, I only use it for children 3 and under. After 4th birthday, they are expected to sit in the pew with me. We do use the first row, and they do pretty well. A newborn cannot help himself really neither can a two-yr old. 3 yr olds vary. If they start Mass at 4 yrs old, that’s all they’ll probably remember. And then it’s something they GET to do, now that they are “big kids”. I think forcing a two-yr old to sit still and quiet turns church into an unpleasant experience from very early…
          Since I am alone with my kids, if the baby were to cry or the 3yr old were to throw a fit, I couldn’t just leave my 4, 6, 8 yr olds in the pew and go to the back with the littles. I’d have to pack up all 5 and leave the front row in the middle of Mass, possibly dragging them kicking and screaming. Logistically, not good for ANYONE.

  • Leah

    I can vouch for the fact that encouraging parents to leave kids out of Mass is leading the next generation away. I personally grew up going only at Christmas and Easter because we were a wiley bunch (we would have learned more discipline if we had the opportunity to go at least weekly.) I was never confirmed and I felt no real connection to the Catholic Church when I became an adult. Anyway, after 15 years, I am finally coming home ;-) And I am dragging my Protestant husband and our five kids along. The folks at the church we are going to thought it was funny that it took us five kids to realize we belonged there.
    I attribute this to the unrelenting prayers from my grandparents who sent me a card every year on the anniversary of my Baptism and the gentle nagging and perhaps shoving I have felt in the past decade and a half. Most kids who grow up marginally Catholic because they are excluded from Mass do not end up like I am.

  • Leah

    I can vouch for the fact that encouraging parents to leave kids out of Mass is leading the next generation away. I personally grew up going only at Christmas and Easter because we were a wiley bunch (we would have learned more discipline if we had the opportunity to go at least weekly.) I was never confirmed and I felt no real connection to the Catholic Church when I became an adult. Anyway, after 15 years, I am finally coming home ;-) And I am dragging my Protestant husband and our five kids along. The folks at the church we are going to thought it was funny that it took us five kids to realize we belonged there.
    I attribute this to the unrelenting prayers from my grandparents who sent me a card every year on the anniversary of my Baptism and the gentle nagging and perhaps shoving I have felt in the past decade and a half. Most kids who grow up marginally Catholic because they are excluded from Mass do not end up like I am.

  • Angie

    Nice article. We have taken our 4 children to mass since birth. I feel that it is my responsibility as a parent. Why would I deny my children to be in the presence of Jesus. I am thankful for the numerous kind words from priests and others in mass. It truly helps during those rough times.
    We always sit in the first few rows, that’s where the kids want to be. After our 4th was born, we regularly went in the cry room for about two years. It would be nice to see more families at mass, then ours wouldn’t stick out so much :-).

  • Angie

    Nice article. We have taken our 4 children to mass since birth. I feel that it is my responsibility as a parent. Why would I deny my children to be in the presence of Jesus. I am thankful for the numerous kind words from priests and others in mass. It truly helps during those rough times.
    We always sit in the first few rows, that’s where the kids want to be. After our 4th was born, we regularly went in the cry room for about two years. It would be nice to see more families at mass, then ours wouldn’t stick out so much :-).

  • Big Guy

    A church without children is a church with no future. (not original but I do not know to whom to attribute it)

  • Stilbelieve

    I attend a Church that have some of the most amazing parents. There is one family that has 7 children from teenager to toddler and mama is pregnant again. She was missing last Sunday, Dad had them all. I think she probably delivered her new baby a day or two before. All those children are the most well behaved children I’ve ever seen in church, and reverent as well. I mentioned to the mother one day that they ought to write a book on how to train your kids to behave in Mass.

    Then there was another family with 6 kids, who we found ourselves sitting behind one time. Dad had the 3 boys on his left and 1 girl on his right while mom had 2 little girls (4 or 5) with her on the end section of a pew that extended out without a kneeler. The girl on the left was mostly quit and still; the one on the right of mama was all over her little area and mom. Mom kept having to reach to get her back in a respectable position, over and over again; never showing any frustration or irritation. I meant to complimenting her after Mass on her patience but didn’t. The next week we found ourselves sitting behind that family again, this time they were all in one pew. Mom had the same two girls with her, and had a little better time with that one than the week before, but still had to do some mothering with her. After Mass, I reached over and taped her on the shoulder just as she was about to usher the girls out of the pew. I told her how she reminded me of a wild cat living in my back yard with two identical looking kittens. The kittens were all over her playing with her tail or her ears, or a paw and mama would just lay there and let them play. When I put food out for them, she would sit back and let them eat first for a while and then she would join them, all three heads eating out of the same bowl at times.

    I told this women that her patients with her two little girls reminded me of that wild cat’s patience with her two little kittens. She had a worn but gentle face that broke into a big grin when I said that to her, and she replied with a body movement that showed gratitude and said, that I “made her year.”

    So, when you see a family at Mass, say an honest, kind word of congratulations or encouragement to let them know you appreciate their parenting.

    • tk

      We attend our parish because of the kindness of the parishioners and our pastor in regards to our rowdy bunch.

      Some children are naturally more docile than others. I’m always in complete awe of those parents who can walk through the grocery store with their preschooler obediently and quietly following behind. Mine would be out at the highway hitchhiking to the next town before I noticed they were gone if I didn’t strap them down in the cart. But I digress…

      Thank you for being kind to a struggling mom. I stood at the back of my the church with my friend and cried with her not long ago because my kids are older now and hers are still preschool, spit-fire boys. I went to help her and I was feeling her frustration and sense of being overwhelmed. Her husband is gone a lot on Sundays and she brings a large brood to mass, all aged 10 and under.

      To everyone reading this, do be patient with parents struggling at mass. I have nine children with the full complement of temperaments. Some kids /are/ more feisty than others and it’s not because the parents are doing anything wrong. Support, don’t judge.

  • Jana

    For a while my husband and I split the mass. I would go in the early morning and then my husband would go to the next mass when I got home. We have two active little boys ages 1 and 2. They climb everywhere, interact with the people around them, crawl on the floor, talk or shreak in the quiet parts of mass, and bang their few toys on the pew or the head on the people in front of us. It’s exhausting work but we have begun to incorporate them back into our Mass life and thankfully no one has asked we leave them at home. Our parish doesn’t have a cry room so we use the Narthex if the 1 year old needs to practice walking. I do have a problem with cry rooms in some of the parishes I’ve attended and that is that some parents let their kids run wild and my boys want to join in the fun. Cry rooms should be used for nursing moms who want a more private place, new crawlers/walkers, and sanctuary for those whose children are having a momentary melt down. It should not be a free for all play-place. A parish I used to go to had both a cry room and a nursery. The cry room was a quiet calm place to hear the mass and the nursery was for the kids to run wild. The only problem I had was that the nursery cost $80 per month.

  • Tantem Ergo

    I’ll risk annoying everyone, but we’re not going to Mass to see cute kids, we’re going to take part in the Holy Sacrifice. Our parish offered child care which was a huge blessing when our children were younger. The few times I tried bouncing my toddler through Mass I ended up drained and weary.

  • Renee

    I suggest going to the Traditional Latin Mass (extraordinary form). That’s where the young families are… our parish is swamped with children, including my 5 rambunctious ones.

  • goral

    Get the kids to behave at home first, then they will also behave at Mass.
    The “celibate men” are right. The children belong with the parents in the pews
    not in a nursery.

    • Isabel Geary

      Who is to say my children do not behave at home? I am a mom people always compliment on how my children behave. And tell me the secret to making a newborn and 2 yr old sit still and quiet for an hour. You could sell that secret!

      • goral

        Then I want to compliment you on their behavior in church.
        Newborns have no behavior issues. Two year olds are trickier
        but entirely controllable. There is plenty of room in the pew to fidget and change positions and places. That’s not misbehavior,
        it’s normal. We all know what misbehavior is.
        Behavior is best enforced by the father, although some of them are noodles or absent so the mom has to struggle by herself.
        No charge.

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