That Time I Cried In Church - How Parishes Can Be More Family Friendly

Monday, March 6, 2017



Yesterday was the first time in a long time, perhaps the first time at this parish, that I had a run in with one of the church ladies of internet mom lore.
The ones who make it clear that they are tolerating your kids in mass, but that only extends as long as perfect silence reigns.
One wrong sound and the glares start.
Two and the snippy flares up.

We have been attending the 8am mass at our parish for a few years now. We are, typically, the only family with young kids at that mass.
That has been far and away a positive experience. Therese will pop across the aisle to sit with her "Grandma Helen" - the sweetest old lady you will ever meet who has adopted Therese as a spiritual granddaughter of sorts. I'm pretty sure there are two sprinkle doughnuts saved specifically for the kids at the social after mass, and people have gone out of their way to smile and be encouraging about bringing the kids to mass.

But then there is an event like yesterday, and I end up crying silent tears in the pew.

To get settled in the pew, I paired off with 2 year old Therese and my husband, Matt, got 4 year old John. Everyone was in good spirits and even doing better than usual. Therese was talking about her "singing book" (the hymnal) and looking to find the first song to sing. John found the kid page in the bulletin and was coloring in page.

The problem came when the woman I'm going to refer to as "church lady" came in late and slid into the pew directly in front of us.

John dropped one of the fliers from the bulletin, and Therese retrieved it from under the pew for him. *Glance back from church lady.*

Therese came back to me to start looking at the hymnal again.
*Second glance back from church lady.*

Therese went down the pew to Matt to ask for water.
Church lady turns around, gives me a look, and says, "Can you do something about your child?"

Can I DO SOMETHING about my child? Like what?
Gag her? Tie her to the pew? Make sure she is something adults never have to hear or see? She's asking for WATER (ya know, that human necessity) not having a screaming fit.

I just stared at church lady for a good minute, unable to say all of the things that were popping into my head. Things like, "Can you DO something about your lack of human charity?", "I'm sorry, this is not your private mass.", and, "You're welcome to find a different seat."

Instead I held my two year old in my lap, and cried big silent tears.

Because I'm pregnant and hormonal.

Because I had never before felt un-welcomed and unwanted in that mass before.

Because attending mass with little kids, much akin to flying with little kids, is HARD. It feels like a full contact sport some days, and I will spend most of mass working my butt off so to minimize sound or distraction for anyone else - often at the expense of getting to participate much myself. To have someone suggest I'm not even trying hit deep.

Then my little community went to work.

A lady a pew ahead of church lady invited her up to her pew, I'm guessing to prevent church lady from doing any more damage.

Grandma Helen got Therese to come over and sit with her a good portion of mass.

At the Sign of Peace, I turned around to find two guys I know had been sitting behind us the whole time. My first thought was, "Great, more people who know me just saw me cry in church. Fan-freakin-tastic." Then one told me not to worry about it, and I teared up again. Because hormonal, but also just so relieved to hear something encouraging.

I saw the woman who invited church lady up to her pew giving church lady a talkin'-to after mass. She also made a point to come up and tell me I had a beautiful family.

To all of y'all who helped yesterday, thanks for not leaving us to deal with that on our own.
Thanks for saying something and doing what you could.

No parish can prevent bad experiences from happening, but the little things matter to parents. Things that show us you think little kids might show up to mass at your parish.

I love that our parish has started having a kids page in the bulletin. They even provide little crayon packs to use.

I love that all of our concerts at the parish, including the ones with extremely good musicians, are free for all kids 18 and younger, and that kids are actively encouraged to come.

I love that we have a changing station in the bathroom. It sounds so simple, but I have been hard pressed to find one in most restaurants here.

I love that we have whole parish events that include kid specific activities, like the St. Patrick's Day party and parish BBQs.

I love that the priests make a point to say hi to the kids as they come in.

Those little signs add up to give parents the hope to keep coming, even when bad experiences happen. We can always keep improving and be better at serving the families who are raising our future priests, nuns, and parishioners, but I hope parishes don't neglect to make small changes. Just because they are small does not make them without impact to a family searching for a place to make their faith home.

11 comments :

  1. My heart hurt for you! You might be more hormonal that usual, but I can guarantee - hormonal or not, I most likely would have cried, too!

    I also almost cried when I saw how your community rallied around you! What a blessing they are - to you and your family, and to all young families who may be blessed to find them as a church home.

    I will pray for Church Lady - that she recognizes the value, beauty, and goodness of all little children present at Mass! And, keep heart - your children (and you and your husband) are loved in church, and I firmly believe Jesus smiles when our children are doing what they do best at church - being children!

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    1. Absolutely! The whole experience reminded me that I need to make sure I speak up and help out other people who come up against resistance to being welcomed. Parents do experience it a lot, but I've heard it from care givers of special needs adults too.

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  2. Oh my gosh! I can't even express myself properly right now!

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    1. I had the same problem. Hence not being able to write this until it was 24 hours past the incident.

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  3. Yep. I woulda cried too. I'm so glad everyone around you followed up with support!! I mean... why sit right in front of kids at Mass if you can't stand em? That's like THE perfect place to get all their sounds funneled right into your ears... Anyways, keep bringing the kids! You're an amazing mom! Jesus Himself said, "Let the little children come to Me," so poo-poo to anyone who's got something different to say!

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    1. That's the verse I kept telling myself in my head! Especially when the thought of scooping up the toddler and skedaddling back home sounded REALLY good.

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  4. For someone on the fence faith-wise, one incident like this might be the last time they see a Catholic church. Thankfully you were the recipient and not someone else. (Not that I'm thankful this happened to you...but...you get the idea.)

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  5. “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

    I am so sorry that you had to experience that, Kirby. But wow! What a beautiful faith community you belong to. To be surrounded by such love and support when you needed it the most is truly the work of the Holy Spirit active in the hearts of your church family.

    In my 14+ years of mothering, I have received plenty of those looks and "shh-es" from people. Sometimes, if we are visiting another parish, we still get "looks," because there are 8 of us and we often take up a whole pew! So, please know you aren't alone, and your tears are a normal response ... Offer them to the Lord. Offer your children to Him. He knows how hard it is to bring littles to Mass. He knows you may not get out of it what your heart longs for. But His grace will strengthen and nourish you, as you are fed on the Living Word and Bread of Life! He is so happy you are making the sacrifice to worship Him at Holy Mass! He is delighted in you and in your family.

    So often people who hurt others are hurt themselves. May church lady's heart be softened by the love of God!

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  6. The sweet sequel to the story--how kind everyone else in your parish was--was just amazing. I had a very similar experience once on Easter when the guy in front of us turned around and told me that my toddler was "ruining it for everyone else."

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  7. I'm so sorry about the reaction of that church lady. When my oldest was very young, that is all I was thinking about--disturbing others. Then one day, my priest said during Mass (after my daughter yelled out "Amen" a second too late). Since it was an early Mass, (we were the only one with a young child), I was afraid that we were going to get the 'evil eye.'

    The priest was understanding, and said, "I love it when you hear little kids in the Church. It reminds us that we have a YOUNG community to protect, raise, and grow in the faith." Those were the words that I needed to hear.

    I'm so relieved to hear that your church team came through for you. I wish that woman well, we may never know of the battle she faced. But yup, I would have cried too--hormonal or not.

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