To the young family who sat in front of us at Sunday Mass, this is for you. You made me smile as I was reminded of what Mass with young children is all about.
How old are your three beautiful children: six, three, two? Yes, you do have your hands full. You arrived promptly and everyone was so beautifully dressed as you piled into the pew in front of us. Mom, you had your bag of picture books and holy cards to keep the little ones amused. Dad, you prodded and cajoled your angels into their seats as you held tight to your squirming toddler.
The kid shuffle began as you, mom and dad, traded off exuberant little children intent on keeping up their game of musical laps. Then things became intense so one of you picked up an active little one and headed for the vestibule, leaving the other parent at the mercy of the children in the pew. You traded places and toddlers as one returned to the pew and the other parent headed to the back of the church.
I’ll bet you were exhausted by the time Mass ended. I’ll bet you wondered whether or not you actually attended Mass even though you were in the church. I’ll bet you wonder if the weekly juggling act (otherwise known as attending Mass with young children) is even worth it.
Well, I’d like to tell you that it is. We were just like you not so long ago. We balanced one child on the hip while holding on tightly to another child determined to torpedo himself down the aisle. We rushed out of Mass with a hungry baby, a squirming toddler, a crying infant, a full diaper. We brought our bag of tricks hoping that something would distract the children long enough so we could at least hear a bit of the homily.
We were the parents who persevered and before we knew it, the kids were too big to carry, the church bag was frayed and its contents ripped, stained, misplaced, and the children were beautifully behaved in the pew beside us. Then the children stopped sitting with us as they served Mass, lent their voices in the choir, and volunteered as lectors. Eventually, they started moving away, attending Mass in other parishes where they live or go to school, or at other times on Sunday.
It all happened so quickly and believe it or not, it’s starting to happen to you. Look at your handsome six-year-old son who knows when to stand, when to kneel, and who didn’t have to be carried in or out of Mass. Appreciate that child and take comfort in the fact that you did something right with him and you are doing something right with your other children.
After Mass, when my husband and I complimented you on your lovely family and encouraged you to keep up the good work, we meant every word. When I pointed to my sons who were tidying up the sanctuary after serving Mass, my purpose was to show you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Each time you bring your family to Mass, you are inching closer to that light.
I know it’s difficult. Some days you will choose to leave the cranky, uncooperative toddler or teething baby at home and you and your husband will go to Mass at different times with your older children. Sometimes, that is the only way you will be able to manage. Don’t beat yourself up because you think you are failing as a parent. You are not failing; that is just life.
In fact, by your steadfastness, you are teaching your children many important life lessons. You are showing them that Mass is important, that weekly Sunday Mass attendance is normal and non-negotiable, that a life of faith, while sometimes difficult and inconvenient, is worth the struggle and sacrifice.
Cherish this time, parents of young children, and remember it well. One day, when your children know when to sit, kneel, and stand, when they are assisting the priest or attending Mass in a different place, a young family with squirming, curious children will pile into the pew in front of you. When that day comes, you will know what to say to them. You will encourage them because you will understand how important it is to make them feel that their efforts and struggles are a witness to love and faith. You will assure them that families with young children are necessary in the life of the Church.
Painting: Christ with Children by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Wikimedia.org under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.