Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why I Don't Believe in the Cry Room

There seems to be a contradiction between the reverent piety of mass and the bubbly spontaneity of little children. As a Catholic mama of three children under three years old, I often sympathize with other Catholic families that feel hesitation and sometimes embarrassment when sitting in the pew on Sunday, trying to be faithful to God and considerate of other parishioners, while also trying to control my little ones and make weekly mass a positive habit.

This struggle within the religious community was met at some point with the creation of a place called a "Cry Room". (If you go to the beautiful Cathedrals of Europe, you'll notice Cry Rooms did not exist back then.) The idea of the Cry Room was a simple one: give families a place to be a part of the worship service while not disturbing the service itself. What we have seen in the evolution of the Cry Room is that it is often viewed as a permanent seat for families with small children, as opposed to a temporary place to address a little one's cries or behavior before returning to the mass.

The problem that arises from this "solution" is that families now either walk straight to the Cry Room for mass without the intention of joining the congregation or are pressured by fellow parishioners (or even the priest) to use the Cry Room for permanent seating. Why is this an issue? Well, in order to answer that, we must consider the design and practice of our Catholic mass.

Why don't we have Sunday School?
We make a point as Catholics to ask families to attend mass together. We do not send our children to another room to be educated in the Church, as we have separate classes for that purpose. Sunday is a day of celebration, to join together as one body and receive the Eucharist of our Lord. By bringing our children into the fold, we teach them by example how to behave, how to believe, and how to love. It is one of my favorite practices in our faith.

So how does this compare with a Cry Room?
When used effectively, a Cry Room can be a temporary place to address a child privately without disrupting the service. However, when families spend their entire mass in the Cry Room, it teaches a very different lesson by example. How a child behaves in a Cry Room is often not nearly as controlled, since they are no longer disrupting the service, and they often learn from other children a very different idea of proper behavior during mass. How a child believes is often not addressed much at all, seeing as they are not expected to follow along during the service with as much focus as they would while sitting in the pew. (For example, there are some Cry Rooms with books and toys to distract children.) How a child loves themselves, their family, their community, and their God is less of a focus when they are unable to see how their behavior affects those around them, and how they are loved is often recognized as "conditionally" since they are only welcome when quiet.

I would like to be clear that I understand and appreciate that not all Cry Rooms are used this way or fit this description. I am not seeking to generalize all parishes. Rather, I am writing this post to bring to light a concern that is affecting many young families within the Catholic Church, and I do think it is important for all of us as a community to support and uplift these families by welcoming them--not alienating them. So how do we do that?

Speak words of welcome!
The easiest way to let families know they are welcome with the main congregation is by telling them! Greet them when they arrive. Let them know how happy you are to see them. Stranger or friend, words of kindness are always appreciated to help us feel like a part of the Body.

Smile at the little ones!
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? I can't tell you how many times a smile, wave, or giggle from a fellow parishioner has kept my little ones distracted and content during mass. Seeing my community react positively toward my children also has spoken volumes to me about how my family is viewed in the Church--as a blessing and not a burden.

Encourage parents during challenging services!
Some days when my daughters are....less than their best, behavior-wise, I have second guessed my weekly struggle to keep my children in the main sanctuary. It is during those moments that I have been brought to tears by a simple "Little ones have so much energy, don't they? Keep up the good work, mom!" It means more than you can possibly imagine to receive affirmation by the congregation that we are doing the right thing by immersing our little ones in their faith from the very beginning.

So, if you are a family with young children, please do not hesitate to make your family part of our collective Family! We are so excited to be able to share in the formation of your family's faith and are filled with joy to welcome your little ones just as our Lord taught us to do. Your continued practice of the faith ensure the future of our congregation, and we are blessed to have you here.

If you are a fellow parishioner, thank you for taking the time to read this and consider how you can serve the families in your church as they learn how to navigate the often rough and spontaneous waters of spiritual parenting. I hope you will share this post with others, and remember to say welcome to the families you see next Sunday!


  1. I love this article. I'm not Catholic but our church also prefers our littles to worship with us.
    In the past, I would take Sirius to our cry room out of fear that I was disrupting services. Unfortunately, this only conditioned my son to learn that crying meant he could play in the cry room. Other members noticed our leaving and absence for the remainder of services. They started to say they missed my son and that he was very cute. Convincing argument. Eventually I decided to stay during worship and let my son cry it out. Since then he's been better behaved (as behaved as an 18 month old can be!) and I feel less guilty about my child's cries.

  2. I agree with you 100%. I despise the cry room. I really don't like the room at our Parish. Ours is off to the side in the lobby of the church, and all there is is a 40 inch flat screen TV showing the Mass with barely there sound coming from it. I have a 2.5 year old and an 8 month old and we've had to sit in the cry room 2 or 3 times since having children because we got to Mass late and there were no seats available in the main church. My toddler behaves worse in the cry room than he does in the church for the reason you pointed out. Other parents let their children yell and run wild! Every time we have come out of Mass where we sat in the cry room, my husband and I looked at each other and said "What just happened at Mass? I don't remember. We may as well have just stayed at home and watched Mass on TV." Obviously we were able to receive the Eucharist which is the most important thing but besides that, the whole Mass felt like a waste of time. One day a woman came up to my husband and I after Mass and basically told us not to bring our children to church. I did take my son out once because he fell off the pew and hurt himself and he started screaming. But after that, my son was just talking every now and then, pointing things out in church, participating the only way he knew how. This lady told us that we should use the cry room and she asked us what Mass we usually go to so she could go to a different one. Talk about not feeling welcome! She told us that she never brought her son to church when he was a toddler because she knew he would be disruptive so she and her husband switched off Masses so they didn't have to bring their son. How sad, right? I just burst into tears in front of her in anger. I told her that we actually want to bring our kids to see Jesus in church, sorry you didn't feel that way about your son. Oh I was so mad. We are supposed to be pro-life Catholics. People should want to see more children in church. They are our future!

    1. Mia, thank you for reading! I am so disheartened to read about your experience, and so proud of you for sticking to your discernment from God in how best to teach your children about faith! Please continue to spread the love and encouragement to other mothers, and keep serving as a positive example to your parish of how we should treat our ever-growing family in Christ! God bless you.