Being a Mom during Mass has been on my mind lately. The idealized version of what this should look like isn’t hard to come up with: a mother and a father with X number of perfectly behaved children between them sitting, or kneeling, silently. While this certainly is something to be aspired towards, the reality, particularly with small, opinionated toddler-age people in tow, often falls short. Teaching a toddler how to behave during Mass sometimes feels like penitential suffering that, if the parents survive, could knock off major time in purgatory (okay, maybe that’s a little over the top, but sometimes that’s what it feels like!). It’s hard to focus on the Mass when you’re getting up and leaving the building with a screaming toddler every fifteen (or twenty, or ten, or five…) minutes.
I started reading all that I could about the subject, looking for the wisdom of more experienced mothers, and reminding myself that this too shall pass. And I found the sort of advice that I’d typed up in the past (when I had a well-behaved 23 month old, instead of a rowdy 25 month old and felt like I was in a position to give advice… ah, pride…): sit in the front row so the child can see, bring religious children’s books and a child’s rosary, and don’t allow the child to play if they have to be taken outside (time outs shouldn’t be fun!). All things that we do that used to work, and that hopefully, someday, will work again… but that for the time being aren’t working at all…
So I cling to the knowledge that this truly will pass (all too quickly too! Because I love these baby years and I’m not looking forward to a baby-less time in the somewhat distant future, although Mass will certainly be quieter and sleep should be easier…).
The other advice I saw given didn’t really offer anything concrete to help, but repeated instead that children could not be allowed to distract their parents from the Mass. This advise usually began with the disclaimer “I don’t have children, but…” or “I don’t have children, but when I do…” possibly followed by something about childrearing gleaned from books (it’s amazing how far the gap between theory and practice can actually feel in reality). The advice usually went on to say something like: “My relationship with God comes before everything else and I can’t let my children distract from that during the Mass.”
This way of thinking about children and the Mass has bothered me all week and my thoughts kept returning to the words I’d read and the advice-less “advice.” Here’s why:
As wives and mothers we have a vocation, a call from God, to care for our families. Ideally we would be able to focus every bit of attention that we have on the Mass… but at this moment we have been tasked with raising up children who will love and honor and know God and sometimes that means small (or enormous) distractions that are also a part of our vocation, which ultimately should draw us closer to our Creator.
Caring for our children should not separate us from God. Instead it draws us closer as we sacrifice our own desires to do what is best for the little ones who have been entrusted to our care. The priest at the front of the Church saying Mass is living his vocation… and when a mother scoops up her child in her arms and takes them out to have a little talk about how we behave when we are in God’s house, she is living her vocation as well.
Our vocation involves self-giving from the start and this does not end when we walk through the doors of our parish. We do our best to participate in the Mass and to raise up children who will follow our example, perhaps learning humility along the way as we realize how imperfect our attempts are and trusting that God’s Grace will get us through.