What to do when small children are loud or disruptive at Mass? It’s a sensitive subject. Parents become stressed and embarrassed as they try to keep their kids sitting quietly for an hour or more, and other parishioners struggle to hear the homily. What can we do to help young families and make the future generations of the Catholic Church feel welcome in our parishes?
“I still find that it’s a struggle sometimes with my little ones who are antsy in the pew and I’m ashamed to admit that for a long time I made the mistake of trying to control their behavior rather than form their hearts. And a lot of it was about me—I want to look good in the pew, I don’t want them misbehaving. I also don’t want them disrupting other people, you know sometimes it’s hard for the elderly to hear over kids screaming. And I’m sad to say that I think a lot of my bringing my children to Mass was about me and not them! So I’ve made all the mistakes that parents make and sometimes I still make them today,” said Colleen Duggan, Catholic mother and author.
It can be difficult for young families who might feel they aren’t welcome at Mass. How can they respond to kind or even not-so-nice criticism? “I’m still called to form my children in the faith and the best way to do that is by bringing them to the sacraments, going to the altar. And sometimes that might mean that I inconvenience other people because they are loud and distracting … so for me, it’s not getting overly focused on the fact that I might be right in bringing my children to Mass, which I am. But trying to find a way to respond lovingly to all the people that are disrupted by my kids or even responding lovingly to the child that’s disrupting me—I’m frustrated by them! So, do I want to be right to the cranky person, or do I want to be loving?” asked Duggan.
She reminds young parents that it’s okay to accept help. “For years, our family friends helped us during Mass when I had five little ones ages eight and under. They would sit in between my bigger kids, they would take a baby and they would teach them the prayers.”
It’s also a beautiful thing for others in the parish to offer to help a parent who is struggling. You could make a difference for families who are on the fence about continuing to attend Mass when things get difficult. Duggan was working on the Catholic Mom Instagram account a couple weeks ago and polled the moms there. “I asked them if the behavior of their children ever kept them from attending Mass. And thirty-some percent responded ‘yes’ … and I think that that’s a significant number. Because if people are feeling critiqued and like they’re on the defensive, if we can offer support, and ‘Hey, come sit with me. I think your baby is adorable!’ Or if we can hold that precious baby while the mom goes up to Communion, if will make her feel wanted and loved. Don’t we want that for all of our family members to feel wanted and loved? I mean, we are a family! And the last thing we want to communicate is that someone isn’t wanted, especially in this day and age where we have such an egregious leak of membership in the Catholic Church.”
What can your parish do to reach out with help for young families who want to form their kids in the Faith but really struggle to corral the toddler, feed the screaming baby, keep a brother from pulling his sister’s hair, and try to hear anything that the pastor is saying? Please be kind and understanding, it’s not easy for these families to get to Mass and afterwards they might wonder if it was even worth it. But if we as a Church want to grow, we must be welcoming to others, especially young families who feel in over their heads.
“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Matthew 19:14
For more advice from Colleen Duggan, listen to the full segment here: