I found this article to be of interest, especially since at our last Junto meeting we briefly touched on a trend that certain restaurants are establishing “child-free” dining times.
As a parent of six children, I can relate to the subject matter. In the course of raising our family, my wife and I have joined a number of different parishes and have been exposed to both modes of children / Mass interaction.
I personally found the crying rooms to be less of a “time-out” place for the loud children, but rather more of an allowance for a “free-for-all” environment. I sympathized (and still do) with the parents of rambunctious children, but it was visually clear from the many who chose this option that it was more from their own lack of resolve in dealing with discipline than from consideration of disrupting the sacredness of Mass. Unfortunately, now I see the same effects where a gathering space is turned into a large playground area with even less parental control being exerted.
On the other hand, we once belonged to a parish where the elderly priest encouraged young families to sit up front, but in the side pews. I was always amazed that in being in close proximity to the altar, our children were intuitively more aware of the actions in the sanctuary, and were less prone to unruliness. This good priest, gruff on the outside, truly loved children, and displayed it during Masses by his quick smiles and after by his kind words, putting parents and children at ease. We all knew the unwritten rules as well – if things really got out of hand, step out the side door. So I remember this whenever I see families with smaller children sitting toward the front of church – they get it.
The rise of crying rooms, nurseries, and other children’s activities that separate them from the rest of the family and Mass may stem from the good intention of less distraction, but it begs the question of whether it is acceptable for the family to not worship together. It would be much better to encourage less separation rather than more. Is this concept simply reinforcing at an earlier age that “church” has to be “fun”? And more importantly, is this concept reinforcing the lessening of fatherly discipline and leadership in the family? We can almost on a weekly basis point out unruly children in pews, and the father is zoned-out to the entire situation. There is no doubt that some children can be nearly impossible to keep under control – and I have no issue with situations where these children can and should be removed during Mass, but the point is rather that parents have to try keeping the family together during Mass, rather than conceding from the start.
We as faithful Catholics have to repel the current culture that children are not important in the family and society – which is the core of the problem. What can each of us do to foster more family attendance at Mass? Encourage and offer kind words to parents, let them know that you also lived through it as a parent and survived, and that it is worth the effort in the end.