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Noisy children at Mass are not the problem

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An open letter, if you will, to the "People Who Are Tired of Listening to Your Kid at Mass."

Over the years I’ve written a bit about dealing with small children during Mass and have given my fair share of advice to parents; parents who are tired and exhausted by their struggles or who just need encouragement because every Sunday they’re met with disapproving stares from those sitting near them. Seeing that after so many years it’s still a popular, and contentious, subject proves that is an ongoing challenge that every parent eventually faces.

Even parents of older kids, myself included, do well to read about these struggles because it’s a helpful reminder to be sympathetic to the trials of others. Anna O’Neil recently addressed the subject in her letter to parents who find themselves discouraged and worry that their children are being disruptive in Mass. It’s important that we, as Catholics, continue to encourage each other and Anna’s article does a wonderful job at just that.   

However, here’s the thing; as long as I’ve been writing about this subject and responding to parents’ emails, we never seem to address the aggrieved, the individuals who seem most bothered by the behavior of others around them.  

We keep advising parents to change their attitudes, their practices, lower their expectations, and even suggest they change the time and place they come to Mass. We continue to put the burden entirely on the already overburdened parents. I can’t help wondering if there’s someone else who should also shoulder some of this responsibility. I don’t think it’s an entirely unrealistic thing to expect some attitude and behavioral changes from those who are the most bothered by the sounds and distractions around them at Mass.    

In light of that, I would like to propose something entirely different. A letter, if you will, to the People Who Are Tired of Listening to Your Kid at Mass. It would be a very short letter; something along the lines of, “Dear Annoyed Individuals, The liturgy is public worship, independent from private devotion. If you need absolute silence to concentrate on your prayers, adoration is a good place to start. So is daily Mass, or arriving to Mass early, or even praying in your own living room. It’s unrealistic to expect the same noiseless environment be replicated in a public place of worship that houses hundreds, if not thousands, of families. If you have trouble hearing, sit up front. If you’re tempted to glare angrily at the family with the fidgety toddler, close your eyes. If you feel the urge to suggest to a parent that they should leave their child at home, it’s better if you just don’t say so.”

Sometimes the best thing that other Catholics can do to show their support for families is to just be more patient. Parents don’t want their kids acting up anymore than you do, and all that tutting, huffing, hushing and eye rolling just exacerbates an already tense situation. The Church is welcoming to all individuals, including noisy children. I know we have to keep reminding parents not to be discouraged and that their presence is most welcome and needed, as if we do them the favor of tolerating their existence. As if we allow them and their unruly brood the privilege to worship with us. But it would probably be more accurate to say that families honor us with their presence, and they equally have to tolerate us at times.

So parents, keep doing what you’re doing (brining your babies to Mass) and if someone has a problem with your kids, that’s exactly what it is … their problem. And folks who are bothered by children and their spontaneous outbursts: pray for patience as you worship in this public house of the Lord.

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