On the one hand as a parent you want to (nay, need to) pass on the faith. As Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen said “When a child is given to his parents, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents who raise a child without consciousness of that eternal crown!” Faith is led by example. Mass is a key part of our Catholic faith.
But how do you teach your children and allow them to experience Mass when their attention spans are short, there is risk of misbehaviour and the congregation is disproving?
Sure there are strategies. Mass bags of books, small toys and colouring pencils. Raisins and snacks for bribery perhaps. Stickers and promises of trips to the park. Discipline (without disturbing?!) and removal to the crying room. When taking children to mass, their slightest sound seems to echo through the church. And I know people have come to pray. For quiet time with God. And the echo seems to get louder in my head. Prayer is mixed with settling children and either distracting them or keeping them focused. And I know I need the graces from this mass.
Finding a child friendly parish is tough.
As the parent of three children under four, my experiences generally have been good. Our parish priest makes an effort to encourage and welcome young families. As the norm, other parishioners seem to come up and compliment rather than criticise. They say they do not even notice the noise. They remember their days with their own children.
But I have heard of parishes where the opposite occurs.
I have heard of a parish priest pausing his homily so the whole congregation could watch a father take his crying toddler son out of the church, while the priest gave a commentary on the other “upsets” that other members of that family had caused in the past. I know a family who changed to a more family friendly protestant church after being asked to leave the parish by their local parish priest after their small boys wouldn’t remain in their seats during mass. I myself have recieved lectures from older parishioners on having many (3) young children.
The best gift your average parishioner can do for a young family is to be encouraging. Give a positive word. Offer to hold that fussy baby (even if your offer is turned down). Make mass slightly more at ease for that young parent next to you. Mass is important. And worth it. Even if it seems some weeks the parent gets to hear very little. Perhaps the next week will be better. The children learn more, they get more involved.
The last thing that the church wants to do is to lose young families. In a increasingly secular world how do we hold strong and retain our young people who are trying to live authentic lives for Christ against the temptations of the world? We need to be a church of young families to have a future. And you are the church. It starts here.