Thursday, July 29, 2010

Motherhood: Is My Vocation Too Distracting?

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.


  1. As often as I see the attitude that children do not belong at Mass (and I do admit, these sorts tend to be more vocal), I see the attitude that you are not being a good mother if you choose, if you are able, that is, to not bring your small children with you to Mass. Is it really what 'is best' for the children? I think that is up to the individual.

    Personally, my husband and I chose to sacrifice attending Mass together so that our little ones can be kept home. We pray often as a family, have many holy reminders around our home, and often take the little ones with us to visit Christ at others times in the Church. We will begin bringing them when they are a little older and able to understand a little better what is happening and what we require of them so far as behavior and attentiveness go.

    I'm not attacking mothers who bring their babies, I support them whole-heartedly, but its the attitude that you are less of a mother if you don't bring them that makes me feel put-upon.

  2. Amen! This is so beautifully put!

    I just keep trying to remember what I've seen said on CAF lately: it's not what you get out of Mass, but what you put into it!

  3. That business of putting "my" relationship with God first rankles me. As a vocation, my marriage IS my relationship with God in a most profound sense. And read that as MARRIAGE. Not wife, partner, relationship, etc... The sacrament of marriage, and all that entails (usually babies) is my relationship with God. I'm not witty enough to put this in words very well, but run it by your scholar hubby and see if I'm not right. And btw - I'm glad he is home OK.

    Sometimes we just have to put up with stuff for the sake of the ones we love. That means I don't fuss about long hair in the sink, I don't yell (well, not too loud) when I trip over toys or craft projects, and I also took my kids out of Mass when needed. And I don't throttle the living daylights out of them even though that's how I feel sometimes.

    On another note, since Paul has made the big "adios" to TSA, does that mean you will be SAILING to Rome? :)

    Take care & God bless! -Cliff

  4. I have a one year old that I tried to bring to daily Mass last week. She usually stays home with her dad (non-practicing Episcopalian) most Sundays (though she is finally being baptized this Sunday! So I will be bringing her more often). It went okay. I brought religious themed books and toys, but she still wasn't very "well behaved". Luckily most people at Mass seemed happy to see her, and asked her if she was coming to meet Jesus, etc. It seems as though the daily Mass people have somewhat of a different attitude than the weekly people. We also have a really young parish with lots of littles, so I think more people understand. I think I will try bringing her again next week so she can get some practice and knows what to expect. The daily Masses are shorter anyway.

    Our church does offer nursery during Mass but I figure if I'm going to bring my child to church anyway, I may as well get them practice at actually behaving in church. She has never been to the nursery.

    I don't have any advice. Last week I ended up kneeling at the back of our small chapel where daily Mass was said, trying to show my daughter how cool it was that her shoes came off so she'd be quiet during the consecration.


  5. Wow, I feel very fortunate to have a parish and especially a priest that welcomes kids, well behaved or not! We usually sit in the pews in the narthex, which works out great. The priest has invited us in, saying "I can preach over even the loudest of children", but we choose to sit outside the sanctuary. If there is a parish that has this, it seems to be the best solution for us. Books do work well and honestly, practice. My now 3.5 yr old boy has always had the hardest time sitting - but I truly believe b/c we've stuck it out and gone on a consistent basis, it's made a huge difference. He even comes behind the pew and kneels with me. I've heard other people who "practice" at home. 2 is a hard age and I think it's unrealistic to expect them to sit still for that long. Maybe it's time to see if another parish is more welcoming of children. I'd avoid cry rooms. though - my experience is that the mothers use it as an excuse to let their kids run wild. Do they offer nursery? That might be a solution too, until she is a little older. Also, I totally disagree with "sacrificing Mass" It's a grave sin to miss Mass and in addition, unless you confess it in reconcilation, you may not partake of the Eucharist when you do go. I understand the temptation of doing so, but I don't agree that missing Mass is the solution, much less a good example to the children. However, if it gets to be too difficult, you could "tag team" for a litle while and you and your husband go to different Masses while the other watch the kids at home.

  6. I've been reading your blog for awhile, and it sounds like you're really trying hard to find the mysterious "happy medium". I think you're doing an amazing job--you're attending to the best of your ability AND teaching your children what it means to be present in church.

    Back when I used to attend services regularly there were families who obeyed the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, but neglected the obligation to teach them how to properly behave. One even tried to claim that their tithing contribution was highest as the father had a very good job, so they "shouldn't have to miss services to take the children to a quiet room". I fear that those children will not grow up to be respectful of a religious service.

    I may not know you that well, but you and Paul are far more responsible about raising your two wee ones than many other (older and supposedly more experienced) parents I've met!

  7. Thank you for posting this. Seriously. I have been dreading Mass tomorrow (esp since I know my husband is directing and I'll be on my own w/ 2 little ones). What's sad is I can't tell you the last time we went... I'm pretty sure it was within the last month, but... its been rough and my 2 year old and how others react to her being there is a big part of it. I think I needed to read this right now though... Still a little nervous, but... we'll be ok.

  8. I lied. We were not ok lol. I hope you had a better day than I did.

  9. Oh no MK! I just got home and saw your comment from last night and was hoping it was going to go smoothly. Today was a little better with Sadie, but I think it's because we were on vacation and went to the cathedral in San Francisco and she was in awe of the stained glass windows. I'm not sure it will last when we go next Sunday (although I'm praying it does). I'll pray it gets easier for you too! I keep telling myself, "this too shall pass!" over and over and over again...

  10. Funny, I blogged about this very thing (more or less) today:

    Personally, I think parents should just do whatever they have to and whatever works best for them. Parenting is a hard job already without having to worry about all the people who have never done it judging the kind of job you're doing! I read a comment awhile back that said mothers shouldn't nurse in Mass because they "might be distracted by bonding with their baby." I don't see how loving my child distracts me from God -- it helps me get closer to God! This baby is my road to heaven, guys!

    I have two bible verses I use for anyone who complains about kids at church: "Let the little children come to me," of course, and "Which of you, if your son or ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would not pull him out?" If our religious observance is causing us to be uncharitable or neglect our duty, we're doing it wrong.

  11. I'm reading a book by the Catholic author Gregory Popcak about marriage that actually (for obvious reasons) talks a lot about being a parent as well. One of the things he said really resonates with me: that the family is a form of a little church and to tend it - spouse and children - with holy intentions is a constant act of prayer. Putting a rosary aside to listen to your child's concerns is all right; putting down a prayer book to spend time with a spouse who aches for your connection is all right. I don't think it means "replace all rosaries with playtime and all prayer with romance," but I think it lets us know that building the family church counts as something that draws you near to Jesus. After all, the Church is his bride, and we are the Church's children. The family structure is not just the way God wants us to live as earthly creatures, but it's a holy metaphor, a continual sacrament.

    Obviously, there are ways to be greedy and do this wrong, but there doesn't seem to be anything self-serving or unholy about calming one's child during Mass. This is your form of prayer right now; I think you are in just the right place because you hunger for a deeper connection during Mass than you're able to give. Everyone, children or not, should feel that hunger during Mass. These are our lives - this is how we imperfectly approach the altar and what the Mass is for - and sometimes people forget that.


I love comments and I read every single comment that comes in (and I try to respond when the little ones aren't distracting me to the point that it's impossible!). Please show kindness to each other and our family in the comment box. After all, we're all real people on the other side of the screen!