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!