Why don’t parents take screaming babies out of church?—UPDATED

Why don’t parents take screaming babies out of church?—UPDATED April 18, 2013

I’m opening up comments for this, to see what you parents out there have to say.

A reader writes:

Hi Deacon Greg,

I am desperate to find answers to above question!!!  When I politely ask the parent of a screaming child why they refuse to leave Mass so they don’t disrupt it for everyone else, they get angry at me!  I really want to know what they think their screaming child is getting out of–or adding to–Mass!

I have Meniere’s Disease, & high-pitched noises cause me to get dizzy, nauseated, headache, etc.  Last Saturday, there were 4 screamers at the morning Mass–every Saturday the same families show up with screaming babies & STAY in the chapel with them!  People have expressed their desire that they leave the kids at home, but they don’t.

What do the parents get out of Mass, if anything, when they have to juggle a screamer?

Thoughts?  Comments will be moderated.

UPDATE: Providentially, someone posted this item on Facebook this morning. It was written by a young mother:

I’ve gotten plenty of dirty looks.  But more often, by God’s grace, I’ve gotten affirmation.  People thank me for bringing “my” kids and compliment me on their behavior.  Once after John Paul threw a particularly loud fit at Mass, an elderly man came up to me and told me it was the holiest sound he’d heard all day.  “He reminded me that I’m alive,” he said with a smile.

But more often than not you don’t notice the smiles.  You notice the rolled eyes and raised eyebrows and dirty looks and you think that at best you’re not making anyone angry.  But that’s not true–at best, you’re making the people around you saints.  You’re pulling them out of their self-obsession and reminding them that being at Church is about emptying ourselves for God and each other.

Prayer is so often just a veil for narcissism.  We talk and talk and talk about ourselves and then slap an “Amen” on the end and consider ourselves holy.  When your kids start screaming, it distracts us from ourselves.  We start praying for you.  Or for them.  We pray for single parents.  We pray in thanksgiving for our grown children or we beg for screaming children of our own.

I was visiting with my grandmother the other day and mentioned that Cecilia shouted stream-of-consciousness for the entire Mass today.  She said, “Oh, do they let children in the church?”  Needless to say, she’s not Catholic.  But it’s an attitude I’ve found from some Catholics.  “Until they’re old enough to sit quietly,” they say, “leave them at home.”  Or maybe “You know there’s a cry room, right?”  As if the Mass is their personal property and they get to decide who stays and who goes.

Jesus embraced children, folks, and so does our Church.  If you don’t want to hear them cry, the solution is not to remove the holy little ones from the church.  The solution is for you to go to the 7am quickie Mass or the solemn high Mass that takes 3 hours.  Find a Mass kids aren’t going to and shut yourself up in that one.

Or maybe offer up your distractions and frustrations for their parents, who are so much more distracted and frustrated than you.  Take this as a sign that God is calling you out of yourself.

UPDATE II: The original author of the e-mail, after reading comments here, dropped me a note:

Thank you for posting my questions; I really do appreciate it, as do a few of my priest-friends who are also wondering what more they have to do to get parents to take disruptive babies & young children out of Mass.

The comments really saddened me.  I have worked as a DRE for all age levels, & am working on my master’s degree in theology.  My husband & I also have 6 children, ages 15-27, so we have a fair amount of experience with kids at Mass.

What most saddened me were the comments by clergy & laity alike saying that disruptive children belong at Mass.  It seems that we’ve forgotten what the Mass really is–the worship of God, the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.  It is not meant to be a place to socialize children.  They should be prepared to join the worship of God along with the rest of congregation.  It is not a place to be oogling the newest baby or be waving at kids who are antsy.

People like to say that because the Church encourages couples to have children that we are obligated to have babies & young children at Mass.  It seems to be that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” He wasn’t teaching in the synagogue!

Yes, parents have a duty to raise up their children in the faith.  But, before they have the ability to participate in the Mass & have a basic understanding of what the Mass is about, they belong at home.  It isn’t fair to expect them to behave beyond their age level.  Babies & young children have almost no attention span, & need to be moving around.  It isn’t fair to them or the adults who’ve come to Mass to participate in parish Masses to be constantly distracted by crying, screaming, banging toys, etc.  That’s what happens in day care centers.

I appreciated the few comments by adults who agree with what I’ve said.  When we had babies & toddlers who couldn’t handle Mass, my husband & I split-shifted.  He’s always attended daily Mass; Sunday Mass was my one chance to worship Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Our pastor told us one evening when he was at our house for dinner–he came over frequently because all our kids (& my husband & I!) loved him–he enjoyed walking in for 7:30am Mass on Sundays & seeing me sitting quietly in prayers, completely at peace–“She always looks so peaceful, like she’s already in heaven!”  He understood.  I was with Our Lord!

When a mom has babies & young children, that is the time to develop a very deep inner prayer life that will carry her through the rest of her life.  It is the time to be available to your kids, to play Mass at home so they can learn about it.  To invite priests & religious brothers & sisters to your home, to visit religious good stores, to take opportunities to introduce your kids to the faith on their level.  My husband would take our kids to Saturday morning Mass once they were able to sit still while reading or playing a game for at least 30 minutes, usually around age 4+ yrs.  Sunday Mass began when they entered kindergarten.

All of our kids are practicing our faith.  All of them know it well enough to defend our faith in high school & college classrooms, at work, to friends, in the newspapers, etc.  We receive many favorable comments from priests & friends about the apologetics work our kids do.  They’ve learned their faith through family discussions as they were growing up.  We homeschool for religion.

Kids remember nothing of their religious instruction before age 5 or so. They remember the fun things they did like playing Mass, role playing the gospel readings, etc.  They’ve always enjoyed being at Mass because they never were forced to sit through it before they were able.  Young children learn best through fun activities & that’s what we, as Catholic parents, provided.  But, Mass is not “a fun activity,” & should never be reduced to that.

Thanks for reading this long post, Deacon Greg.  I guess, after sacrificing for so many years, I feel like I’ve paid my dues & am entitled to be at Mass without being forced to leave or not come because of the crying & screaming.

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One response to “Why don’t parents take screaming babies out of church?—UPDATED”

  1. I admit to being unfamiliar with Mass. There was one church we attended for a few years, and there was a single mom, grandma, and young girl who also attended. Now, you pretty much knew that if you were seated anywhere near this family, you just plain would not be hearing the sermon, period. Yelling, laughing, flailing, throwing hymn books around, trying to crawl away, lying on the pew and kicking the wooden back of it over and over and over again. Every Sunday. This child was eventually old enough that, if mom and grandma had bothered, she could have started learning some age-appropriate behavior.

    Oh, and she didn’t have any disorders or illnesses that would have caused her behavior. Just a normal kid who would have benefited from some higher expectations. And I don’t know if anyone ever tried to give a gentle piece of advice, or if we were all too petrified that we wouldn’t be thought of as “nice” or that we might be judgmental of a single mom; nothing could have been further from the truth as she was not the only single mom in the congregation. It was actually kind of funny how we would always wait around to see where they would finally light so we could sit on the opposite side of the room. Didn’t always work, though, lol! I’m certainly not against kids in church, but this situation was really over-the-top. That degree of ignoring a child when she’s that young doesn’t bode well for when she’s older and can get in much more, and many more kinds, of trouble. I really hope things have changed, for her sake.

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