Guess what, moms and dads — kids cry in church! Shocking, isn’t it? I know. It’s even been confirmed by Pope Francis! Who knew? Yes, friend. Children fuss and cry and flail around and poop their pants and spit up all over everything…IN CHURCH!! Can you even believe it? Kids cry in church… Mind boggling, isn’t it?
And do you know why kids cry in church? Lean in and I’ll tell you. Because they’re kids. And lean in really close here while I drop another truth bomb on you. Ready? It’s not just your kids that do it. Honestly, I know it feels that way sometimes, but nope! My kids. Your grandparents’ kids. That really cranky old lady that gives you the stink eye when junior drops the kneeler for the 17th time? Yep. If she had kids, hers cried in church, too.
But what should we do when kids cry in church? How are we, the people of God and the congregation gathered together, supposed to react? Should we ignore the plight of their poor parents? Do we throw hateful glances? Or, here’s a super helpful one, should we sigh loudly in hopes that Mom & Dad will get that hint that we’re annoyed? I’m going to go with a hard NO on all three of those options.
Instead, let’s look at a couple things non-parents and parents alike can do to make Mass a little easier on everyone…especially the littlest members of the congregation.
When it’s not your kids crying in church…
The parish I attended when I was a really little girl was tiny. The families all knew one another and the priest we had at the time was fabulous with children. Looking back now, I realize he must’ve been pretty young; maybe in his late 30s? He used to come into our CCD classes and lead us in parades, singing and banging pots-and-pan cymbals about how much we loved Jesus. So fun!
Anyway, there was one particular family in our parish who had a whole bunch of kids. In fact, they just always seemed to have a baby. And those babies were always loud. Like, really loud. And in a church building as small as ours was, loud babies meant that nobody could hear the priest! Well, one day, apparently Fr. Mauck had enough. While he was giving his homily, he walked over to the family, plucked the screaming baby from his haggard dad’s arms, and walked back and forth in front of the congregation! He continued giving his homily and that baby stopped crying! Whether it was shocked into silence or simply lulled by some movement, we’ll never know. But we sure were grateful!
Now, I’m not saying that whenever you see a crying baby at Mass, you should go remove it from its parents. There would probably be some unsavory legal repercussions if you did and nobody wants that. But, really, what can we (the baby-&-toddler-less folk) do to help? Here are just a few ideas:
- Smile at the parents.
- Wave at the babies or toddlers.
- Pick up the toys/sippycups/missalettes/kneelers/etc that they throw.
- Offer to hold a baby or mind a toddler should one child need all of mom or dad’s attention.
- Speak words of encouragement only.
- Remember when it was your kids acting up.
- Show mercy.
- Pray for the family.
- Congratulate them for making it through Mass afterwards!
- Reach out to them after Mass to introduce yourself and offer help.
- Be nothing but encouraging.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Keep your huffing and your irritability to yourself.
When it’s your kid who’s crying…
I will never in my life forget Palm Sunday of 2012. It’s one of those days that will live in my own personal Parenting Hall of Misery and I’m pretty certain most of you will be able to relate.
Picture it: tiny Tennessee mountain church, springtime. The kids and I were visiting my mom and dad for spring break and we had gone to one of the longest Masses of the year with 4 kids, ages 10-1 in tow. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve blocked much of that Mass from my mind (sanity preservation and all that). But I can tell you that 1 year-old Lucy wanted nothing to do with being at Mass that morning. Nuh-thing.
What I can tell you, though, is what the parking lot looked like in great detail. See, there was no cry room. There was no narthex or gathering area in that little church. What there was, though, were great acoustics and a lot of crabby parishioners who didn’t like my fussy, fussy baby. So I did what most moms would do in that situation. After offering my screaming toddler all manner of bribes and comfort tactics, none of which worked, I did the ol’ cut and run. I left the other three kids with my parents and I went outside. And we walked. We walked and walked around that parking lot for the entirety of Mass, from the responsorial Psalm all the way through the recessional. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure I knocked some time off of purgatory that day.
So, moms and dads, what can you do when it’s your baby that’s causing all the commotion? Here’s my best advice from 18 years of taking kids to church. Because, as we all know, hindsight is 20/20:
- Give yourself some grace.
- Feed little ones that are hungry.
- Respond to each child in an age-appropriate manner.
- Don’t be afraid to nurse your baby in church.
- Leave if you have to, but come back when you can.
- Sit by the choir! They make a lot of noise, too, and might entertain your kids.
- Sit closer to the front where bigger kiddos will be able to see what’s going on.
- Remember that there is grace even in the trying to go to Mass, whether you make it all the way through or not.
- Come back again next Sunday.
Because the Pope Says So
Here are two of my very favorite things that Pope Francis has had to say about kids in church.
Today the choir sings, but the most beautiful choir is the children making noise… Some of them will cry, because they are uncomfortable or because they are hungry: if they are hungry, mothers, feed them with ease, because they are the most important ones here. (credit)
one will start, then another… Do not be afraid, let the children cry and shout. But rather, if your baby cries and complains, perhaps it is because he is too hot: take something off; or because he is hungry: nurse him, here, yes, always in peace. Something I also said last year: they have a ‘choral’ dimension: you just need one to give the go-ahead and they all start, and the concert will start. Do not be afraid. When a child cries in church, it is a beautiful sermon. Make sure the baby feels good, and let us get on with it. (credit)
All this to say, friends, is we need you and your crying kids at church! A silent church, a church with no little ones to raise in the faith, is a dying church. So bring those babies. And bring those toddlers. And, for goodness sake, if you need some help? Well, just come sit by me. And rest assured that the more they come to Mass, the easier it will get. I pinky swear.