Monday, July 16, 2012

Mass Hysteria

I usually start every church experience with a prayer that God will speak to me in some way. Whether it's through the priest's message in the homily, a song, a neighbor in the pew, I just want to hear something from God. What I heard this Sunday was my own voice, crying out, "Save me!" Josh wasn't there and I am adamant about taking Liam to church, so off we went. Normally he is pretty well behaved, but I had a feeling when we sat down that things were not going to go well.

I came armed with puffs (snacks), a picture book and another two toys and all he wanted to do was twist and squirm. We spent the entire homily standing at the back of the church. To make matters worse, it was hot. So hot. So I'm holding this squirming 23-pound mess-of-a-kid, and I can feel the sweat beads on my chin and upper lip. Nice. My hair is sticking to the back of my neck and my necklace which I have looped around is choking me because Liam keeps pulling on it.

Then an angel came down from heaven. Ok, not from heaven. From three rows back. My Emmaus sister, Donna popped in next to me right as we all stood for the Lord's Prayer. The congregation all holds hands during this part of the Mass and I just stood still, knowing I was in no position to outstretch a sweaty, shaky hand. She glides in next to me and puts out her arms to take Liam and I got to just close my eyes and say the prayer with free arms. Of course I had tears in my eyes the whole time. I was so grateful for her! She even took him to the back of the church and carried him up during communion. I wonder what kind of mom I looked like when my kiddo was crying in the back and I'm just sitting in the pew!?

The source of the problem is that nap time is at 9am, and Mass is at 8:30. You don't need to be a math whiz to know that 2+2 = crabby. I think for now, we'll switch to church on Saturday evenings, but I know we'll be back at 8:30 Mass occasionally.

I'm told over and over again that it's ok that babies cry and fuss. "A quiet church is a dead church! They are the future of our faith!" I understand and agree, but when it's your own child it just feels so intrusive and disruptive. I feel like some people look at me with pity and understanding, while others are so angry. When I see kids who are misbehaving, I don't get angry or annoyed unless they are old enough to know better.

So here's my question: For how many more months do I receive grace? At ten months, Liam is still learning what the word, "No" means and he's not misbehaving because he wants to manipulate me or the situation. Are people looking at me like I have a bad kid or am I still in the window of, "Poor baby is ready for a nap"? He's still a baby, right? At what age is the child expected to behave in church? 


  1. Hello Abby this is Julie and wow I am so blessed! My boys Garrett and Griffin love Jesus and are very involved in their Children's church. They love Veggie tales too :) Thank you Josh for picking my number! Advice......It will be best to try to take him to the nursery program if Nativity has one when you feel you can not worship the Lord. He will be fine and having raised our boys as "daycare" kids, I know they are better for the times the played and had a fun time than get scolded or watch mama come a bit unglued in the pew.

    Hope this help and thanks again :)

    1. Julie,

      Did you email me with your address? I need to check my email again if you did b/c I didn't see it. We do have a nursery program. I might consider it, especially since Liam doesn't interact with other kiddos very often. I think my first step is going to be to go to church at a time that is more conducive to his nap schedule. I agree with you that my escalating blood pressure is not making it a holy experience for either of us!

  2. That is such an excellent question! Before having a baby, I am afraid I was one who was probably angry as I didn't know that there is an age where you can't impose discipline just yet. Now that I have a baby and understand that right now (6 months) is too early to "make" her behave, I would be one of those giving you and your baby the "hang in there" look and not annoyed at all. I LOVE that you insist on going to church for your son. I LOVE that he will never know things any differently. I cannot tell you the age when they should be behaving in church (as I am not there just yet), but wanted just to give you some words of encouragement. You're a great mom.

  3. Niki, you almost made me cry! Thanks for the virtual hug. I hope you have an easy time with your daughter. I've found that we have our good weeks and our bad weeks. Like life, you've got your ups & downs!

  4. Abby, your post resonates with me *BIG TIME*. I also go to Nativity, and all of their masses are crowded beyond belief. I have a 2.5 year old and a 12 month old. My husband and I have all we can do to manage them a lot of the times. Our 2.5 year old is actually getting a lot better, but our 12 month old . . . antsy, squirmy, walking/climbing everywhere, wanting to get down, wanting to be picked up, etc., etc., etc. The only good news is that it doesn't last forever. With my first, I found the period from about 10 months thru 20 months to be the worst because it really is too early to do much in the way of discipline (they just don't understand) and they aren't as easily distracted by quiet, church-appropriate toys (e.g., books). It's just a trying time, and I did (and currently am with my little one) spend much of mass in the back.

    Here is what we found that works/helps:

    - Choose (if possible) a mass that isn't very crowded. This allows you room to spread out a bit and breathe (less hot/sweaty, more room for the diaper bag, more leg room for your child, etc.). Sometimes this means going to a different church, especially if you have to go to a mass at a time that may not perfectly coincide with your child's eating/napping schedule. We will sometimes go to Saint Anne in Ruskin or St. Francis in Seffner. While a bit more of a drive, they are both less crowded and have spacious narthex areas that are separated from the worship space (good places to go for a quick 5 minute break to let your child burn off steam) and separate, larger crying rooms for those really bad days.

    - We also started going to Saturday afternoon mass whenever we can make it because it is a MUCH better time for them.

    - Once Liam is a few months older, I would highly recommend sitting in the first pew right up front. I know this sounds absolutely crazy, but Fr. Proulx actually recommended it to me. And he was right. My 2.5 year pays attention and stays interested because he can see what is going on. The first time I did it, I was absolutely terrified. Add to that the fact that my husband wasn't with me and I had both boys alone (my youngest was about 6 months then). But it worked. In fact, I got tons of compliments on how well-behaved my boys were. I couldn't believe it. For kids, I think there is something about sitting in the front, being able to see the priest/altar, and knowing that those behind you can see you, that all lend to better behavior.

    - It sounds like you are doing this already, but I find it very helpful to always make sure I have enough on-hand for my kids to drink (in leak-proof, spill-proof containers, along with enough wipes to clean up just in case). When one of them starts fussing, they are guaranteed to stop (even if just for the minute it takes to run to the back of the church) if you stick a drink in their mouth. Puffs are also great, as are goldfish and pretzels when they get a bit older. I know some people feel differently about whether it is okay to allow your kids to eat/drink in church. At this age, I think you do what it takes to survive. By ages 4 or 5, I think it's different.

  5. Finally, a word on the cranky people who invariably will give you dirty looks if your kid is misbehaving (or they "think" your kid is misbehaving). Just ignore them. Seriously. Anyone who gets upset about a fussy child (especially a baby/toddler) at mass is just being judgmental (especially without an understanding of the circumstances) and seriously needs a reality check on why we are all at mass in the first place. I used to beat myself up constantly when I'd get these nasty looks from other church-goers. Especially since I'm really not one to let my kids get out of line or to run wild. But no kid is perfect. And there are times when, no matter how good a job you do or are doing, they just act up in mass and/or need to take a break in the back. They are kids. Standing still and being quiet just don't come naturally under normal circumstances, much less the less-than-ideal circumstances that occur if they are tired, having a bad day, or going to mass at a time that may not be perfect with their schedule. It happens.

    And when it happens, just try to remember that Jesus welcomed the children ("Let the children come to me.") and that it is His will that you bring Liam to mass and teach him to know God. In bringing Liam to mass(even if he is not behaving as well as you might like), you are putting God first in his life and in yours. It isn't easy to take kids to mass. God knows that. It would be way easier to stay home. God knows that too. But we are going to mass for God's glory, not our own. And it is a sacrifice we make for God's glory. Make no mistake, God is pleased that both you and Liam are there to praise him as best as you can in each moment you are there (some moments will be better than others), no matter how trying it may be. In the end, that's what really matters. As my mother-in-law would say, offer it up. That's all we can do.

    1. Stephanie, you are awesome! Such great words! Have we met before? I'm sure I've seen you. Maybe I'll run into you at the back of the church sometime. :) I have been considering moving to the back half, but I really want to have him up front. I LIKE sitting up front too. There are a lot of distractions, even for a 30-something adult. I just kind of have the mindset of "start as you mean to move forward." In other words, I don't want to all of a sudden one day say, "It's time! Now we're big enough to sit near the front". I want to always do what my end goal is. Does that make sense?

      I think my perception that people are angry is 75% brought on myself. I am self-conscious. I've got to get over myself!!

    2. Stephanie is so on the money! Fr. Proulx also recommended us to sit up front with our girls (which is what we did this past Sunday) least the 5 yr old was completely attentive during mass making it a little easier to manage with the 20 month old. As the years have gone by we have kept moving forward because there are too many distractions if you are sitting in the back.

      It is a challenge, and yes maybe the conflict with his nap time might be part of the problem, but you have to think babies are not able to sit still for an hour. My little one hits her limit 35 min into mass, as I have finally timed it, and for her to get a little antsy is only natural. And it may not be the behavior we want them to display but they are babies after all. I got a big hairy eyeball and big SIGH from the parishioner behind me on Sunday and it took all i could to not say something. I think sometimes people forget how it is to have small children at mass or they don't want to remember the challenge of having a 20 month old at mass.

      I would have to say that 2.5 or 3 years old is a point where we should expect good behavior from our kids because they can understand what is being asked of them at a given point.

      The great thing is that there are some great parishioners that will let us know constantly that our girls are well yes I agree with you
      about being self conscious about whether or not their behavior is disrupting others. But as moms we judge harsher and our children my not be misbehaving as badly and we think.

    3. Thank you guys! And, Abby, I know I've seen you around before (I was at the Beckae Shae concert/recommitment ceremony you all did around Valentine's Day a couple of years ago), but I'm not sure if we met formally.

      I love the -- "start as you mean to move forward." And I agree -- that's a really awesome approach. I know I feel self-conscious too when they act up, and I'm positive that I see it probably worse than it is too. Sometimes, I wish there was a section of pews towards the front devoted to families with small children. Not to isolate us or create a place where it is okay for kids to act out (which is unfortunately what many crying rooms seem to have become), but to not make the pressure so intense as when Mr. or Mrs. Cranky-Pants-Doesn't-Like-Small-Children happens to plop down in the vicinity.

      Thanks so much for the solidarity, ladies! I love this blog already!

  6. I started to write a comment but it got so long, I just did my own blog post, see

    Lots of things to consider on this one!

    1. Yes! Lots of great tips from a pro! A corn dog in church. That is hilarious and insane all at the same time.

  7. Hi Abby, don't worry about the judgmental people. I go to the 8am mass at St. Stephen because when the youngest was a baby, he would be ready for a nap by 9:30am so the 9:30am mass didn't work for us. Also, the 8am mass was not as crowded, had less distractions (older crowd), and the kids weren't hungry. The evening masses DO NOT work for my kids. It is when I've had to take them to an evening mass when I've gotten the looks, LOL. I would much rather have a squirmy kid then a loud kid. Squirmy kids are a lot of work but even though they are distracting to you, your neighbors probably don't even notice the wrestling match you're participating in. All my kids started walking early so we had the squirmies early on. I have some great older women that love to help us out with our kids. I love that about the 8am Mass! I also agree about sitting in the first few rows. That has really helped. For my boys, the hardest age was 1.5-2yrs old. That was when they found their voices (loud voices that is). They do not understand whispering at that age. My youngest is almost 3 and we have finally gotten past the loud stage but he is still up, down, over, under. My husband (or I sit next to someone I know if my husband can't make it to mass with us), will sit on one end and my oldest son who is 10 will sit on the other end with me in the middle. As long as you have end blocks, you can let them walk back and forth. When the youngest is extra antsy or getting mad at something we won't let him do, I distract him by asking him questions like "can you point to Jesus?" or "Where's the candle?". That seems to distract him long enough to forget what he was mad about. Good luck Abby! Surround yourself with people you know and you will be fine. We still go to the 8am mass even though my youngest doesn't nap until the afternoon because of all the relationships we have made from people giving us reassuring smiles, compliments that we bring the kids to mass each week, and even help as some of the women would try to distract my youngest if he was having a bad hair day (as Fr. Bill calls it).

  8. Abby, I've sooo 'been there'! I've gotten the good ol' eye roll from people as we were walking into the pew with a baby, I've broken a sweat before Mass began, I've had children cry/call out/flail as I try to get them to sit on my lap during the consecration, and my best (worst) memory ever was a Christmas Eve 7 years ago (seems like yesterday in my mind) when I sat down after leading a group of 20+ children in a re-enactment of the Christmas Story and our sweet three year old asked in a stage whisper only a three year can do, "Mommy, is Mass time over?"...the kicker of it all was Mass hadn't even begun!!! And when people would come up to me and say, "I recognize you from the 8:30 Mass!" I've always wondered what they saw!! ha!ha!
    There's such great advice in all these previous posts, but I can't help hear the words of my older sister, mother of four: "This, too, shall pass!" It's a tough stage for us moms to go through, but it really doesn't last that long...and I convinced myself that God would surely send me some extra blessings knowing how hard I worked making it through Mass with our little ones!!! And I feel He did - I am blessed to have met, and now sit with, another mom and between the two of us, there are at least 6 children taking up a row or two!! (she's a single mom who fosters children and my husband and one daughter are in the choir) We've got a GREAT section of the church all to ourselves - I think we might add some entertainment for others, too!! :)