Banished to the Cry Room: A Parent’s Plea to the church
By Sheila Papuzynski
My 8 month old daughter, Mara, loves to babble and sing. Often throughout the day, I catch myself gazing at her, laughing with her, as she delights in the sound of her own voice. What a wonder it is to her, that all those giggles and oos and ahs come from deep within her own belly! This, of course, peppered with some occasional crying and screaming. As charming as she is to her father and I, there is one time of the week that we have begun to dread – Mass time.
One Sunday a few months ago, we decided to attend an early morning Mass. Sensing that Mara was rather awake and alert, and realizing that she would soon be hungry, we intentionally sat towards the rear of the church, knowing we could opt for taking her to the back if she fussed. Our sweet baby was particularly happy this morning, and decided to sing and talk through the beginning of Mass. As the homily was drawing near, I got a little antsy…we were beginning to attract attention. Mara, being a baby, seems to think that the homily is a perfect stage to carry out a deep dialogue between herself and the priest – she always has a lot to say! Of course, we are working on ways to teach her the appropriate times to talk and the appropriate times to be quiet, but in the meantime she occasionally has a burst of bubbly conversation at the wrong time. To some around us, it is precious and they smile; to others, it is a nuisance they would rather not have to deal with.
“If she keeps up that talking, you will have to go to the Cry Room.” This particular Sunday I could feel the glaring eyes, and I wanted OUT OF THERE. Moments after the Gospel was read an usher approached us, pointed us to the Cry Room and said, “If she keeps up that talking, you will have to go to the Cry Room.” Embarrassed, hurt, and not wanting to cause confrontation during the Mass, we removed ourselves voluntarily, but I must say we were pretty perturbed. All throughout the remainder of the Mass we were distracted from a prayerful participation in the Eucharist by recurring thoughts and feelings that we needed to sift through and somehow align with the truth of Christ. That, and we really wanted to stage a revolt – carrying Mara to the front pew and smiling at everyone as we passed. Needless to say, we didn’t do it that day, but since, we have made it our objective to sit near the front of the Church, teaching our daughter as we go that SHE forms an irreplaceable part of Christ’s Body, and that there are times that call for quiet.
There are certain things that we all know to be inappropriate for Mass, such as wearing ultra-revealing clothing, chatting to your neighbors, or markedly checking your watch every few minutes during Father’s homily. Still, some rude people have the nerve to break these unspoken rules, which at times, has sent the Pharisee in me into a wild rage. While some of these things are for the GOOD of the Church, such as dressing modestly to honor God and neighbor, there are certain behaviors and attitudes that we, the American Church, have adopted that I do not believe to be in conformity to Christ and His Gospel. Perhaps the biggest of these is our attitude towards children at Mass. Rather than being a place where little ones are welcomed as “the greatest in the Kingdom,” and are therefore trained to behave as God desires of His children, Church today is much better suited for pre or post children families. Leaving all of us who find ourselves somewhere in the middle out in the cold – of the Cry Room.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that a hysterical child is disruptive to the Mass, and I am in favor of the removal of said child until the tantrum has cooled. I also am every day more keenly aware of how challenging it is to train and discipline children. I am much more understanding of some of my relatives who, in the past, have shared with me that they stopped attending Mass while their children were little as it was too difficult to maintain composure and reverence while their children played and talked and cried, all the while their neighbors (and even the priest) lovingly glared at them. But, I am also much more frustrated with the Church that pressures such parents into believing that their children have no place in the Church. And while I am sympathetic to those parents who find themselves in this situation, I have to believe there is a much better solution for the Church as a whole, than to round up all the littlest in God’s Kingdom and stick them into a Cry Room, where chaos is allowed to reign supreme.
What kind of a “Kingdom” are we building by casting the littlest ones away? And as my husband, John-Paul, has oft repeated, when did Christ say, “Let the little children come to me…unless they are crying?” In Family Missions Company, we believe that from the beginning of their lives, our children have a vital role to play in the mission of our families and of the Church. When we have community prayer, the children are with us, in the middle of the room, playing, and as they grow, PRAYING with us. “Children are the BEST missionaries! ” We don’t leave our children behind so we can go into mission, because we know that children are the BEST missionaries! Often, because of our children, we have gained access to the lives and hearts of the people where God has sent us, and have been able to minister to their needs in a far greater way. And I have NEVER seen a Cry Room in the Church of the poor. Christ tells us that the Kingdom belongs to “such as these,” and that we “cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like a child,” so why, then, do children, with their singing and their crying, not belong in the very heart of the Mass? Why have we created a Church that is so sterilized from the joyous, and often messy presence of our children? It is no wonder to me that young people leave the Church in droves – they have never been welcomed.
Sitting in the Cry Room I have often observed how tired parents are. We parents are tired, because disciplining our children is tiring. We are tired, because constantly looking over our shoulder, shushing our children, apologizing for their childlikeness, and feeling shamed by our inability to control them is tiring. We are tired, because we do not often give ourselves the space to “draw water deeply from the springs of salvation”. We are tired, and so we sit in the Cry Room and stop trying. Children in the Cry Room are not taught proper behavior for Mass. They are given free reign to run wild. Thus, the Church is quiet and happy, the children are unruly and happy, and we are distracted and unsatisfied. Is it any wonder that so many families stop attending Mass? We parents have lost our zeal for the Eucharist, we are too busy placating everyone else.
I believe that we, as a Church, need a total attitude adjustment – to learn the deepest meaning of PRO-LIFE. Priests need to welcome children to the Mass, even the chatty ones, as their own children. Our fellow Christians need to welcome children to their pews with a smile, for they are our inheritance and blessing from God! And we parents need to do the hard work of disciplining our children, and enthusiastically engaging them in prayer of every form. Let us stage that revolt!; against this “sterilized Church” we must stage a noble, worthy revolt. Let’s leave the Cry Rooms empty, as Christ left the tomb empty, and together embrace the fullness of life, as children are especially full of life, in the Church.