Nov 16, 2017 1021 Carissa Douglas, Canada

At Mass with Kids: Discouraging the Discourager

I was once a young mom attempting to attend daily Mass with my three little ones (ages three years, two years and one year). One morning, an older woman approached me and inquired as to whether or not I fed the children prior to Mass. I assured her they were well fed and she scrunched up her nose and shrieked, “Reeaally? ‘Cause they’re so loud and whiny, I was sure that they must be hungry or something. Maybe it would be better if you left them at home.”

I was a little tenacious back then. Okay, I am still tenacious; I am working on it. I told her that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me …” so I was sure they were welcome at every Mass. I reassured her that if they were too loud at any point I was fairly adept at heading to the foyer until they calmed. I also told her that Father had assured me it was a blessing to have our children present and that he felt it benefited both parishioner and child alike. “Well, priests don’t have children, so what do they know?” she quipped. “Perhaps it would be an act of kindness to myself and the other daily Mass attendees if you saved us from the constant distraction caused by your children.” I bit my lip and tried to mentally calm myself. It did not work. “Or perhaps it would be a good opportunity for you to learn how to remain focused on the Mass in spite of minor distractions,” I countered. She huffed and scurried on her way.

The Sunday following the encounter, I saw this woman approach another young mother who was holding a baby that looked to be about 18 months old. The spectrum of emotions on the mother’s face broke my heart. First there was friendly surprise at being approached by someone new, then confusion, which was quickly followed by shame and a trembling hand rising to wipe her eyes as she walked away.

I ran up to this young mother. “Thank you for bringing your little guy here. I know how hard it is and you’re doing an amazing job. Please don’t be discouraged and know you both belong here.” I probably freaked her out a little, but she smiled slightly and then hurried off with her head bent low.

The next Sunday, I was on guard. I scanned the church and observed the contorted, crustaceous, disapproving eyebrows attached to the “work in progress.” She was sharing a pew with a young couple and their two children who were age-appropriately bubbling with energy. My little ones were under the weather, so I was uncharacteristically child free. I genuflected beside their pew and offered to let them sit on the end, planting myself between them and the self-appointed parent punisher (who did not seem to recognize me without my babes in tow) and then the fun began.

Every time I heard an excited squeal from the children beside me, it was followed by an enraged, “Hmph!” on my other side. In my peripheral, I could see this woman attempting to make eye contact with the young couple. She leaned forward, so I leaned forward, pretending to adjust my dress, fully blocking her. She stretched her scowling face above me and I quickly straightened. She lurched her head forward again, desperate to convey her disapproval. I hunched over my purse, pretending to dig through it, once again deflecting the stink eye targeted at the couple. Finally, she seemed to give up. The children were serenely sitting in their parents’ arms and she seemed to realize her moment had passed.

After Mass, I was warmed by an incredible elderly couple I overheard praising the parents for bringing their children. They assured them that children’s voices were one of the most beautiful and welcome sounds at Mass. It was so good to see how fellow parishioners were ready to stand up for young families and counter the condescension.

Young parents desperately need support and affirmation when it comes to attending Mass. I have encountered so many parents who feel like they are failing every Sunday, and many who will even refuse to return until their children are practically tweens. It is an enormous offering for them, but one that imparts even greater blessings and graces for their family—graces they will need to raise faith-filled children.

One of my missions—and I hope the mission of every person who attends Mass, be it single, married, religious or widowed—is to support parents with little ones. As their babies are loud, pint-sized parishioners who let out energetic shrieks, let their nervous glances around the church be met with an understanding smile or a subtle hand signal of solidarity. Perhaps if you are able, offer to lend a hand when you see exasperation plastered on the parents’ faces, fetch the wayward sippy cups or the keys and songbooks that have just been thrown onto your pew for the 11th time and smile with genuine warmth as you return them. Following Mass, if the opportunity allows offer words of encouragement and gratitude. Even a simple, “You have a beautiful family” can go a long way. What they are doing is a gift to the whole church community.

A few months after my run-in with the “less-than-charitable” woman, I overheard her mentioning that none of her grown children attends Mass anymore. I had recently been through a cancer ordeal with my two-year-old and felt compelled to share how I believed we had been sustained by the graces accumulated with each Mass we had attended together. I wrote a letter and discretely left it on the pew beside her. I shared about my son and I pleaded with her to be gentle and understanding toward other parents, because perhaps there is a reason God has called them to make an effort to more frequently attend Mass. I assured her of prayers that her children would one day return to the church and asked that she in turn pray for me and other parents who are striving to impart the gift of faith to the smallest members of our parish.


Carissa Douglas

Carissa Douglas is the author and illustrator of the Catholic children’s book series “Little Douglings,” which promotes the sacraments and the culture of life. She is the mother of 14 children. Be sure to check out her site at littledouglings.com where she blogs about her adventurous life with her big Catholic family and shares the humor and joy in her comic series: Holy HappyMess.

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