Can I hold your toddler?

Example: my sad toddler

At Sunday Mass this week, I saw a friend walk in with her five children, including her sweet newborn whom she was carrying in the Ergo. Wondering where her husband was, I realized that he was the lector and would therefore be sitting apart from them for the first half of Mass. My immediate thought was that I should walk to the other side of the church to help her! I know that if I was alone with my three children, I would be terribly desperate for someone to help me!

As it turns out, I stayed put and her children were amazingly well-behaved, so she didn’t need my help after all. I started wondering, though, how my friend would have felt if I had offered my help. Would she have been insulted? Grateful? Confused? This particular friend would have probably been grateful, but I began to wonder about the mothers in our parish that I don’t know very well. Would it seem strange to them for an acquaintance to offer help with a crying toddler at Mass? Are we so worried about looking put-together that we would be offended by an offer of help? I’m not trying to suggest that we all take on the mentality of “It takes a village” every time we go to Mass, but I am wondering about our ability to give and receive acts of charity on a very personal level.

In this Easter season, we are being inspired and encouraged as we hear about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. We learn that the first Christians took the idea of community seriously, pooling their resources to help those in need, gathering in each others’ homes to celebrate the Eucharist (Acts 2:46), and learning together about the person of Jesus. They were all in this thing called Christianity together, and whatever they did, they would succeed or fail together. The Book of Acts is full of phrases like “they grew in number” and “they were all together” – everything was about community and about their fellowship in the Holy Spirit.

Aren’t all of us also in this thing called Christianity together? Although our world looks very different today than it did 2000 years ago, we face many of the same challenges as the early Christians – persecution by non-believers who think us foolish, temptations of vanity, pride, and sensuality, struggles in raising our children to love and serve God above all. None of us can walk this road alone, and all of us are called to worship, to pray, and to sacrifice together, just as the early church did. Whether we are at Mass, which is the pinnacle of this communion that we have with one another, or out in the world, we are united by our Catholic faith and can rely on each other for support and encouragement as we grow together in faithfulness to Our Lord.

So, maybe you won’t let me hold your toddler at Mass, and that’s perfectly fine 🙂 However, as I said before, I would challenge us all to reflect on our ability to give and receive acts of charity in a personal way. Many of us are very good at serving the community at large – we are on the PTA, we serve at soup kitchens, and we generously support wonderful charities. Today, I am thinking about how we serve one another personally within our church communities, for the purpose of “building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

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  • Saoirse

    I love this. I struggle sometimes with the lack of community in my parish. This past weekend we had First Communion in our Church. My child recieved on Sat. We had a beautiful day – and celebrated with 40+ family and friends. As a 2nd grade CCD teacher – I went to a second Mass on Sunday to see a few of the kids from my class and to help with the kids. A little girl who I didn’t know was late – it was so sad for me to watch her walk up by herself as Father started his welcome. The Mom, a Mexican immigrant, stood at the back of the Church. I suggested she make her way to her family pew – suggesting her family was there. She tearfully told me it was just her and her daughter. I introduced myself and asked if I could sit with her – and maybe one of the other teachers. She accepted. I gathered another few CCD teachers and we joined her. At the sign of peace in broken English she thanked us for being her family that day. My fellow teachers and I discussed after how maybe we should be more a parish family every day.

  • Kathy

    That is a beautiful story. A lot of people would have not helped that woman and her daughter in the way that you all did. A very up lifting story to read – thanks!

  • Kellie “Red”

    Kat, this is a great reflection. I really struggle with allowing others to love and serve me. I’m a doer by nature, and it’s hard for me to sit back and let someone else do. But to have a real community we must all be willing to serve and let others serve us too. I learned that after Therese died. Everyone wanted to help in some way, and I HAD to let them serve me. It was humbling but very good all at the same time.

  • Juris Mater

    Kat, this is really making me think. I don’t mind getting help from others, but I can’t stand the idea that strings are attached and I might have to reciprocate. There have been so, so few times since I became a mother that I felt I had anything leftover to give. By saying yes and trying to be a good neighbor, I have had a couple unforgettable experiences like having to watch another mother’s horribly behaved preschooler and my own kids while laboring at home with my fourth baby–the timing and circumstances have just been really bad. And also so many kids just don’t listen to or respect adults, I can’t take them on along with my own lively brood, it undoes me. I know I should be more neighborly but I deliberately try to go it alone, or hire no-strings-attached help for pay, so that I don’t have to be open to helping others. Maybe there will be better seasons for offering help? But I wouldn’t mind being on the receiving end of charity right now : )

  • JM, I know what you mean – I think we’ve all been in your shoes! Offering to watch other people’s children can be so tricky, and I’ve been very lucky to find a couple of families that mesh well with ours. You shouldn’t feel like you need to help out with others’ kids right now – you’re in the trenches, my friend, especially with the summer fast approaching!

  • maryalice

    JM, I like to take the pay-it-forward approach — I don’t feel bad about the help that I can’t reciprocate, because I know that if/when I am able I will help out, that same person or someone else in need, and it will all work out somehow.
    Specifically in the church situation, thinking about what would be most helpful, for me it would be to send my older, usually decently behaved children, to sit with another family, so that if I have to walk out with the toddlers or newborn I am not leaving them alone. Just reducing the numbers in the pew can help.

  • Sarah

    This is such an interesting discussion because I think it is really hard to accept offers of help. I always find myself wondering “are they offering because I am somehow not capable or seem desperate?'”.

    I am currently pregnant with our second and am blessed to have had multiple offers of taking my toddler for a little while from other moms. But I have not accepted the help yet, because I think these moms are so nice and self sufficient that they would not ask or let me reciprocate. It’s like I would be crossing a line with these relationships that has not yet been crossed.

    And yet, my husband and I were recently watching the Catholicism series by Father Robert Barring (such an amazing series, I recommend it to Catholics and non-Catholics with all my heart!). One theme that I was struck by was that we are all connected and that community is an essential part of spirituality and life. I tend to be shy and not reach out. Maybe crossing this line with other moms would open the door to more interconnectivity and community. And grace…

  • Sarah

    Sorry – silly auto correct. The series is by Fr. Robert Barrons. 🙂

  • Such a thought-provoking post! Your story made me think of a family from our parish that we have gotten to know well over the years. One of my earliest memories, before we were friends but simply recognized each other from Mass, was of the father turning around to my husband and I to ask if we would keep an eye on their three youngest kids while he took the youngest fussing one to the gathering space and their mother was up on the altar preparing to be a Eucharistic minister. Of course we said yes, but I was amazed that he would ask us – still basically strangers to him! – to watch his kids while he was gone. That said, they are pretty well-behaved kids and know how to stay in the pew at Mass, etc. But his implicit trust in us as members of the community – and by extension, the Body of Christ – was a wonderful example for me as a parent. Not only do I need to learn how to ask for help, but I also have to trust in others. The theology of God as gift-giver teaches that God gives the gifts that the community needs, but we have to be willing to give and accept them with/from each other.

  • I think that line is worth crossing — you will have a new level of friendship with those families, and don’t worry about reciprocating right now, you might have a chance in the future to help them, and in the meantime you never know, you might actually be doing them a favor — I am sometimes a better mom to my own toddler (more present, taking time to read and play) when they have a friend over 🙂

  • Melanie

    Katrina- you can hold my toddler any day 🙂 I am always so grateful at daily mass when an 8th grade girl at our parish who is home schooled carries my 22 month old up to holy communion while I have the baby and the other 3. Then I am actually able to focus on who I am about to receive instead of praying that noone loses it or runs off in the process. I love those friends who just jump in and help without me saying anything. It’s do wonderful to know people like that. But I can also be hesitant to do that with others because I wonder how the other person will respond. It seems that, for the most part, that sense of community is lost in our society and I think anything we can do to restore it little by little (whether on the giving or the receiving end) is time well spent!

  • Kristen inDallas

    It all depends on the context, rather the motivation. I’m a single mom with a larger than life 2yo boy. One occasion I attempted brunch with a friend, he started getting rowdy, I disciplined and he cried. A woman came over to ofer “help,” rather offer trite advice on how to better parent so that she might enjoy her breakfast in peace (A thing I had not done in over a year).
    Another occasion, at chuch, he was running through the pews and up the aisles so we had to “excuse ourselves” to the vestibule. He was just as loud out there, apparently still audible from inside the church and a woman came out to offer help. She offered real, practical and most importantly ENCOURAGING help. Not the kind that says “I can do this better than you” but the kind that says “No one can do this all the time, but I’ll try if you need a break.” It was obvious that she cared far less about my parenting style and far more about me not having a mental breakdown. I’m pretty sure she was an angel unawares…