As we sat down at Mass last week, I couldn’t help a slight cringe. My toddler was so excited to notice all the people sitting behind us that she started waving and calling “Hi! Hi!” across the pews.
It’s tricky taking little kids to Mass at the best of times, but especially when they’re in that tough age between a baby and a toddler. Some people refer to one-year-olds as “tabies” because they are a cross between a baby and a toddler. They’re too little to listen to you, but big enough to run, shout, and get into mischief.
And it is really tricky taking a “taby” to Mass. Little babies at least hold still. But a one-year-old is desperate to climb and jump all over the pew and run down the aisle, and has absolutely no conception of the need to be quiet in church.
Lately I’ve been struggling with taking my “taby” to church, and I thought maybe some of you could relate.
It might seem like a really silly problem to have; after all, it just lasts for a year or two, right? But that short developmental phase really adds up when you have a lot of kids! And my toddlers have all been really chatty, eager to sing along at Mass and greet everyone in sight.
So what should you do if your baby is non-stop babbling during Mass? Here’s what’s helping me.
1Accept that they’re acting the way God made them
God made toddlers to be loud and active. It’s okay if your little one is being their sweet, active little self at church. I sometimes bring quiet toys for my toddler, but most of the time, I just let her stand on my lap or hold onto the pew behind me and let her do her thing.
Singing along, dancing, and vocalizing with music are all developmentally appropriate milestones for this age group, so it makes all the sense in the world that your baby would do those things at Mass.
It’s a different matter if your baby is screaming; I do take my kids out if they are crying or yelling. But most of the time, I try to let go of my feeling that my baby needs to be perfectly silent for every moment of Mass, and let her babble away to herself. It’s the way God made her right now, and frankly, we wouldn’t get through a minute of Mass if I took her out every time she made a peep.
Recently, an elderly woman sitting behind me got up and moved to a different pew after several minutes; clearly, my baby’s babbling and attempts to climb the pew were a distraction to her. I was a little hurt at first, but then I realized that she had found a good solution. She has as much right not to sit behind a distracting baby as my baby has the right to be at Mass. So remember that people can always move away if your toddler is really distracting.
Most of the time, however, people seem to really enjoy hearing my baby at Mass. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me afterwards and said something like, “It was so sweet to hear your baby singing along during Mass!” or “I love hearing a baby in the church!”
Many of the churches in my urban neighborhood are totally bereft of babies; the pews are filled with elderly people, and most of the time, my baby is the only baby in the entire church. While this is a sad state of things for the church here in Chicago, the silver lining is that most people are delighted to hear my baby babbling during Mass.
2They’re not as loud as you think
I’ll never forget a funny incident from my childhood. My siblings and I were being rowdy at Mass, and my parents whispered that we should behave like the kids in another family, who were sitting several pews away. After Mass, the parents of the other family came over and revealed that they had been telling their kids to act like my siblings and me, because from where they sat, they couldn’t see or hear any of our shenanigans!
What I learned from that incident is that most people in the church are sitting too far away to even notice if your child is being loud. Several times, I’ve apologized after Mass for my kids being loud, and the other person said, “Oh, I didn’t hear a thing!”
So just focus on keeping things as calm as you can, and don’t stress about what people think of your baby’s chatter. Honestly, if people notice your baby at all, it should be to thank God for the gift of their life and for their presence at Mass.
3Most people are so happy to see and hear your baby
I know I said this before, but it’s really true. Several priests have told me that they love to hear my babies “participating” in Mass in their own way, and I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind when I’m embarrassed by their chatter.
I think of the saying, “If the Church ain’t crying, it’s dying.” My baby might be the only one in the entire church making any noise, but thank God she’s there!
You know I mentioned that time when a woman moved away from us at Mass? Yes, I was embarrassed. But after Mass, a man came over and told me firmly, “Thank you for bringing your children to church. It’s so good that they are here.”
That really sums it up best. Yes, it is good that they are here. Thank God for the babbling babies in church. May our churches never be empty of them, as long as there are churches and babies to be in them.