I wrote a few weeks ago about our struggles to get through Mass with two children under two. Since then, a friend who is a mother of four shared a story.
An older man came up to her one day after Mass and commended her for bringing her young children. He told her that they belong there. Unless they are truly being disruptive, they belong in there and need to learn that they belong in the church. The noise is always loudest in your pew, and you're always going to notice it more than everyone else.
Of course I teared up when I heard the story. What's not to love about an older man telling a young mom that she's doing a good job and that her children belong in the church during Mass? She said that the experience forever changed her perspective, and it changed mine.
She said if we're going to say that we're pro-life, the babies belong with us in church, not relegated to some crying room. She said that unless the child is distracting others, the child stays in the pew. Once they are disruptive, they are promptly removed from the church and have to endure a time-out in the narthex. Once they calm down, they are allowed back in.
We were doing it all wrong. Jane was "playing us." Nobody wants to admit that their toddler is outsmarting them, but my friend was right. Jane knew that she got to run around in the narthex if she got squirmy in our arms and whined in church. I think I knew this on some level, and I told my friend that. I was just falling into the easy trap of getting lazy with discipline when it involves my own embarrassment. So, if Jane was going to embarrass me with a temper tantrum in church, it was much easier to end it by letting her run around the narthex. I sure as heck didn't want to endure the screaming, snotty scene during consecration under the scrutiny of everyone in the congregation. Taking the easy way out was teaching Jane that she could manipulate us to get what she wanted, and it only made the problem worse.
Kids are smart. We're dumb. They think. "OH! So, let me get this straight. I freak out in public. Mom and Dad panic. I get what I want. I gotta keep doing this." Just look at these toddler girls. They know how to work it, and so did Jane at church.
Well, we're onto you, Jane! It's a new regime at Mass for the Boucher family. We've been allowing Jane to play with her "Busy Bible" and other religious books and walk between us in the pew. We bring a sippy cup full of water if she needs it, too. Aside from the water, we have a no food rule in church. Philip no longer allows Jane to struggle in his arms without a consequence. When she starts to throw a tantrum, Philip quickly removes her from church and she has a time-out on a rug in the narthex. It's no longer a fun playing ground. The narthex is the new punishment center.
After two weeks of this, Jane is learning that she gets to see and do more inside of the church. Outside, she has to sit in one spot and have a time-out. Inside, she gets to watch the priest, sing, pray, shake peoples' hands, move around the pew (sit, stand, kneel), read her Busy Bible, and retrieve Walt's binkie. Inside of church is way more fun than the narthex now!
We continue to sit in the front pew whenever possible, so the less than perfect moments are still very humbling. Jane is making great strides, and we just might be able to get through an entire Mass without one of us leaving with her once.
Lesson learned: Listen to good advice from friends, especially when it's the tough love variety. The hard advice is hard because it means we're doing something wrong. Who wants to admit that they're doing something wrong? That's hard, and it takes practice. That's what Christian charity's all about, after all--fraternal correction in a spirit of love. Thank goodness for good friends who tell us when we're doing it all wrong! The sooner we admit that they're right, the sooner we can get on with making things better.