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Archive for November, 2009

I posted awhile back about some of the persecution our family has faced taking our kids to Mass.  I wanted to add an addendum about one of my pet peeves:  cry rooms.

Most new churches have them–a small, soundproof room towards the back of the church.  Usually it is separated from the rest of the church by a large glass window so that the celebration of Mass can be seen and the celebrant is miked and piped in over speakers.  Many wonderful pastors and church architects believe they are making Mass more “family-friendly” by incorporating cry rooms.  They are sometimes stocked with children’s toys or books and sometimes the bathroom is even located there.

I hate cry rooms because the implicit message is that you should use it.  After all, why would you not want to take your squirmy two-year-old to a comfortable room where she can be entertained and make as much noise as she wants while you (the parent) can actually concentrate on praying at Mass.  There are at least three reasons I would not want to do this.

First, because a cry room concentrates all the squirmy, noisy kids in one spot.  The last thing a slightly noisy child needs is another slightly noisy child.  They start to play off each other and each gets noisier.  Once you have more than one child in the cry room your attention is completely off Mass and on supervising the impromptu playgroup:  making sure your child is taking turns with the Jesus puppet and so forth.

Second, the cry room inhibits teaching children how to behave at Mass.  If every noisy toddler gets shuttled off to a playroom there is a strong disincentive to behave in the pew.

Third, the existence of the cry room decreases the tolerance other parishoners have for the noises of children.  Those who are on the fence about having kids at Mass are that much more likely to shoot a disapproving look at the parents.  This only increases the number of children in the cry room, thereby adding to the first problem.

Now, I am not saying that children should always remain in the church no matter how much noise they might be making.  Parents should do their best to keep their children from being unduly distracting at Mass.  But it is a daily judgment call on the part of the parent as to when that line has been crossed.  During our daughter’s second year of life she was very difficult at Mass.  We were making a concerted effort to get her to behave at Mass so her behavior was being judged relative to herself.  There were months-long stretches where a good day was one where she did not have a full-out, on the floor, kicking and screaming tantrum.  If she was only making chattery toddler noises we tried to look on the bright side and keep her in the pew.  She now behaves beautifully at Mass about 95% of the time.

So, what do we do with our noisy children if it becomes necessary to exit the church?  We first take them to back and hold them the entire time.  Our children are taught that they have more freedom of movement if they stay in the pew.  I have found that simply standing in the back and moving around slightly is enough to settle a noisy baby.  If it becomes necessary to leave after that I use a side door to duck out into the narthex.  The narthex is usually cold in the winter which is good for two reason:  first, it encourages me to duck back into the church  at opportune moments if my baby is settled and second, it engages the sympathies of the congregation.  No one at our parish thinks I should spend more time than necessary in our cold narthex where there is no place to sit.  I reserve this area for really screaming babies but otherwise try to stay in the church, or in the pew.

What can priests do to make their churches more family-friendly?  First, being vocally welcoming, from the pulpit, towards families is very important.  It is embarrassing (for me) when I have the only children at Mass and the priest makes a generic statement about children being welcome after mine has screamed for twenty minutes straight.  But I’d rather have the support and take the embarrassment than not have the support.   This sort of thing is easy to work into homilies on a regular basis.

Second, a very small family room can be useful.  At our last parish the only bathrooms with a changing area were very, very far away.  There was no cry room because it was a very old cathedral.  The pastor re-purposed a large closet directly off the main church.  It already contained a window and sink.  He added a comfortable rocking chair, nursing stool, changing table, and privacy screen.  There was a speaker so Mass could be followed but the room was so small that there was no idea that parents should hang out in there.  You changed your baby, calmed a screaming baby briefly, or could nurse privately if that were important to you.  But no one lingered.  There were never two kids in there at once.

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