Do you ever have one of those moments where something you see strikes a memory in you out of the blue? That happened to me the other week at Mass. Now that my kids are older, I love to see the families with young kids come into church. Many of them I see week in and week out. There is one family, though, that always catches my attention—in a good way. The kids act well-behaved. The parents work well together. But as every parent knows, that scenario is not always sustainable nor the reality.
On this particular Sunday, things were not going as smoothly as usual. Maybe one of the kids didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe one of them didn’t like the shirt he or she had to wear. What I do know, though, is that this mom and dad were working really hard to corral and keep their kids calm. One kid was climbing on the pew. One was trying to escape down the aisle. And a third was just done with Mass and letting her parents and the congregation know it. I watched the mom scurry out toward the cry room.
As she rushed past, I found myself smiling. I’ve been there. I looked at the faces surrounding me. Some people wore scowls on their faces; others bore obvious looks of judgment. One woman rolled her eyes.
A Helping Hand
And that’s when the memory popped up. It was of Christmas Eve many years ago—1977, to be exact. I was 5 years old, and Santa had brought me a Marching Mickey Mouse doll for Christmas. (We opened our gifts on Christmas Eve.) My parents allowed me to bring it to midnight Mass—perhaps simply in order to make it to church on time.
At some point during the Mass, I climbed up on the pew, hoisted Mickey high in the air, and squeezed his hands to make him march. My dad immediately moved to stop me. Not surprisingly, I resisted. I remember verbally protesting and squirming away from him. I’m sure he felt as mortified by my behavior as almost all of us parents have at one time or another about our own kids in church.
Almost immediately, I was swooped up by someone from the pew behind me. Luckily they were close friends of my parents. For some reason, the change in scenery and company diverted my attention, and the showdown between my dad and me was averted.
Doing our Best
I’m not suggesting that people go swooping up kids from the pews around them. What I am suggesting, though, is that we all cut parents a little bit of slack and not shoot disapproving looks of judgment at them when they’re struggling. Trust me, we parents see it and we feel it and it makes us want to just skip going to Mass altogether.
The looks I saw in church that Sunday were ones I remember getting myself and sometimes even still get now that my kids are teenagers. Getting them to church can be as much of a battle as it was when they were little. The unhappiness is often written all over my kids’ faces, letting everyone around them know how they feel about their current situation. Again, we see the way fellow parishioners look at our sulking teenagers. And, by the way, so do they—which doesn’t help us convince them that they want to be part of the loving environment of the Church.
What I’m asking is that, as a community, could we do a little less judging and a little more supporting? If we want families in our churches, maybe we should let them know that we want them there not only through our words but also through our actions.