Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Babies & Church, specifically a Catholic mass

We are currently struggling with baby G's behavior in church. Her first trip to church was at 5 days old & she slept through most of mass. It was wonderful ;-) That behavior lasted all of 3 weeks. Then she started being alert for most of mass, but she wasn't old enough to really misbehave, so that was fine. As long as we kept her from crying, we were golden. I'm not quite sure when she started being 'too much to handle' in mass...probably around 6 months old. She's never liked to sit still & will try to climb between the two of us. We get a great upper body workout during church.
'Good' days at church are when she doesn't scream more than once or twice, we don't have to get up to take her out of the pew, and we walk away from mass with at least a partial understanding of what the message was. 'Bad' days are when she screams to be let down, has to be taken out of the pew multiple times, and we feel like we did nothing but manage her behavior (so we have no clue what was really talked about).

We have a strong stance against using the cry room because it seems to be a crutch for many families, and some parents even appear to use it as a place to let the kid run amuck beyond normal "ancy" behavior. I also worry that it is a petri dish for germs. Oh, and it gets loud with all the crying, I don't think we'd be able to pay attention anyways. Long story short, the cry room is not a place for us to take baby G for the whole mass. We have used it as a band-aid for a minute or two, but this past weekend we spent from the homily on in the cry room. I hated it. I actually thought to myself that I would rather have not gone to mass than be in that hot & cramped room. I know you may be saying...didn't Jesus put up with a lot more than an annoying cry room? Yes he did! I just feel like I'd be doing my faith a favor if I figured out a way to get more out of mass like I did before having a toddler.

We also refuse to bring snacks to mass. I know that she is young & not receiving Eucharist yet, but I still think it is terribly disrespectful to have any kind of eating during mass. I don't have a problem giving her a snack on the way to mass, but inside? No way. I'm not passing judgement on those parents that do, I just cannot allow myself to let baby G think, even for a minute, that eating at church is acceptable in our family. I also think it is another thing that could turn into a crutch, because she would come to expect food at mass & that'd be hard to break. Snacks, no matter how non-messy they seem to be, end up getting smushed on the floor, stuffed into pew-backs, or crushed in the crevices of the pew. I have nursed baby G at mass when she was younger, but I think that's a bit different because it was a necessary part of her survival. Even as a one year old she knows the difference in nursing for sustenance and snacks as a means to 'tide' her over (or, shamefully, distract her while I accomplish something).

Here's what we have tried, although it isn't very effective:

  • Bring her favorite quiet toys
  • Bring quiet toys she hasn't played with in a while
  • Bring several books
  • Attend mass at varying times to see which seems to work the best for her mood (it doesn't seem to matter, as long as she isn't tired or hungry)
  • Allow her to stand in the pew and walk around between us (but that often makes her mad because she can't go outside the pew)
  • Let her go between the two of us as she pleases because it keeps her from screaming
  • Smile, wave, babble at the people around us (sorry, it's better than her screaming though!)
  • Quietly point out neat things around the church
  • Sway to the music with her

Perhaps we are doing all we can for now, but it sure is exhausting and we would love to go back to enjoying and getting more out of mass. I'm considering putting her in the nursery once a month just so my husband and I could pay full attention for at least one mass a month. I'm also considering attending alternating mass times so we can both pay attention during mass. The downside to both of those options is that we are not attending mass together as a whole family, which is something I really want. Mass is a place for us to celebrate our faith, feed our Catholic souls, and hear God's word. The sooner she learns how to behave in mass, the better. I have no clue how to do that, though. So if anyone has tips for getting a VERY spunky kid to behave in church, please PLEASE share them with me.


  1. Wow, I am surprised you have lasted this long with her in the service with you. We don't go to mass, but we do go to church and we have had Alethea in the nursery since she was probably 6 months old and could sit up very well on her own. I am of the philosophy that there really isn't much point in making things torture for both parents and the child when the child can't even really understand what is going on in church yet anyway. We get more out of the service that way, and she has a whole lot of fun in the nursery socializing. In a few years when she can understand more we may rethink our strategy, but that works well for us now.

    Good luck! I am always in awe of the few parents brave enough (and sometimes even successful enough) to have their children sit with them in church from such a young age. Hope you find your magic trick!

  2. Justina is the same way. I know all about the hour (or more) long upper body work out! Justina has also gotten quite the temper recently. She loves to play with the laminated pew cards with the new Mass wordings on them and screams at the top of her lungs if we take them away from her, or if she can see one that is not being given to her. She even tried to snatch one out of the hands of the guy behind us last weekend! We went to the "quieting room" straight from communion last weekend because she was getting very antsy/fussy and we had gotten stuck in the middle of a pew. Then, of course, we were in a new and interesting place so she was no problem. Besides there were lots of whiny, loud kids running around for her to watch :-/. Once Mass was over and we were outside, Sean said, "Let's never go there again!" and I whole-heartedly agreed. A friend posted this article the other day: http://catholicmom.com/2009/10/22/avoiding-mass-hysteria-teaching-children-to-behave-in-church-by-elizabeth-ficocelli/
    I'm not sure I buy it, but it's something to think about. We don't do food or drinks either, but we do bring religious books (to have something to try to distract her from the pew cards with!)

  3. I know a lot of people don't like putting their kids in the nursery but that is what it is there for. You may want to see if a church in the area has a Children's Liturgy of the Word where they take the kids out of mass during the readings and homily. I know she is little but you probably could go with her if you wanted. This is a good option for when she gets a little older.

    I don't have kids but I really am dreading this stage of life especially with all the negative comments the older people say. I can remember my mom and dad leaving us at home and going to mass by themselves but I agree it is not good in terms of "living out your faith." Does your church have a foyer area where you can still here/see mass? Sometimes that is better than going into the cry room. I agree those cry rooms aren't always helpful.

  4. Kaylene, I know you are frustrated now and that G can't really express it yet, but someday she'll be so glad she has a mother that's willing to stick to her guns! And you give me hope - I have already been thinking that I won't be using the cry room (for the same reason - it's like a cage where wild animals are let loose!) and that I won't be one of the moms feeding their toddlers (or worse - five year olds!) cheerios in Mass. I'm sure it'll get easier eventually.

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  6. I had six that I took to Mass from when they were young. I did feed them in church--sometimes that got the priest mad, my more often, they didn't care because I was always covered. We did get a lot of time in the back of the church carrying the baby around. I, too, refused to go to the cry room. It is a room full of germs and kids that just run amok. We mostly walked with them in the vestibule or even outside until they were old enough to sit and be quiet. It has worked out well. I ended up with very well behaved children, and now young adults that are very respectful during Mass.


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