Welcoming young families

by Melanie Sisinni

There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to pray when there are distractions, but what if those distractions are part of the church?

My husband and I take our kids to Mass every Sunday, and sometimes it goes well. Most of the time, though, I end up in the cry room with our 1-year-old, Luca, and our 2-year-old, Gianna.

young familiesGianna has difficulty sitting still, while Luca wants everyone to be impressed with his shouts of “Ball! Mama! Dada! CAR!!!” My oldest, Stella, and my husband stay in the central part of the church because she is very interested in the Mass, and my husband is more than happy to answer her questions. She has asked many times if we can sit in the front row. While we are delighted that she loves the Lord, we are at least a year or two away from that being in my comfort zone.

I will admit that I am an anxious person. I’m the one who says, “OK, I’m taking them to the cry room.” No one in my parish ever says anything negative about my children’s presence at Mass. They’re little, and they are doing the best they can. We’re fortunate that our parish community welcomes our family, even if we sit in the back, and I duck into the cry room as soon as my youngest starts chatting.

I’m scarred from a few years ago when I had several bad experiences at Mass with Stella. We lived in another city in a different diocese, and the culture was very different from where we are now. People would stare at us if our baby made a peep at Mass, making me feel like we didn’t belong. Taking her into the cry room didn’t help because everyone in the cry room was near perfection. They were silent and reverent, making me feel very out of place. Once, I even left Mass in tears because Stella was making noise and moving around the cry room while everyone else was so well-behaved. I felt like a terrible mom.

Now that I’m older, wiser and a much more seasoned parent, I realize what was happening there. Those other people probably felt the same way I did. Their kids were well-behaved but made a few sounds, and they felt pressured to leave the main church area. None of those people needed to be in the cry room. And, in retrospect, I didn’t either. Stella has always been very cautious and a good listener when corrected, but I was young, in a city I wasn’t familiar with, worshiping with people who turned around to give me a “look” when my child made a little noise.

Look around your parish. How many people brought their kids? Do you think they feel welcomed or encouraged? Those young kids making noise are the church’s future. They need to participate if we want them to grow up to be a part of it.

It’s hard to worship with distractions, but can we turn those distractions into a prayerful experience? If you are feeling distracted by tiny Catholics, can you offer a prayer for their parents who might be feeling anxious and are probably just as distracted as you are? If you’re a parent feeling defeated by the difficult experience of worshiping with your little ones, can you offer a prayer for families who have given up on taking their children to Mass?

Maybe what we all need is a little more understanding of what others are going through.