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A letter to the parents who keep bringing their disruptive kids to Mass, week after week

By Anna O’Neil

Christ had something pretty important to say about people like us.

Dear exhausted, discouraged parents,

So your kids are just terrible in Mass. Chaotic, disobedient, and disruptive, week after week. It’s like a big old spotlight is shining on you the whole time, you and your apparently sub-par parenting.

I’m right there with you. I’ve started to dread Sundays. I mean, we’ve tried everything. Going to the early Mass, going to the evening Mass, Mass books, whispered explanations, whispered threats, sitting in the front, sitting in the back, marching straight to the cry room … and maybe a few of the tricks have helped, but the bottom line is that we’re not getting out of that building without somebody screaming, making a mad dash for the altar, or God knows what.

But in spite of it all, every week, I and my loud, chaotic family are going to be there (in the back!) wiggling around and distracting everyone, and subjecting ourselves to the judgment of a large number of people who might not understand how hard it actually is to teach a toddler to sit quietly for 45 minutes. It looks insane. Still, we button up our wrinkled Sunday clothes anyway, and get our bodies under that roof, just like Mother Church asks us to.

I want you to know that if this is you too, that’s okay. It’s better than okay. Christ had something pretty important to say about people like us:

When [Jesus] looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Isn’t this exactly what we are doing? We are giving it literally all we’ve got, in obeying the Church’s request to make it to Sunday Mass. (Sheer embarrassment, unfortunately, isn’t a good enough reason to stay home.) To the outside world, it looks like we’ve done the bare minimum. We’ve gotten into the building, sure, but are we concentrating? Are we having a spiritual experience? Did we even hear a word of the Gospel, for heaven’s sake? It doesn’t look like much. We are the only ones who know how much we are really giving. But Christ knows, too.

Just like the woman’s two small coins into the collection box look like nothing in comparison with the rich man’s gigantic bag of gold, our contribution looks so small a person might wonder why we even bother. Why even come to Mass, if you’re just going to spend the whole time doing toddler damage control? But Christ is there to remind us that he doesn’t see what the rest of the world sees.

Pretty often, I leave Mass feeling like the whole thing was a bust. I didn’t even manage to follow along, and I left so fast I forgot to genuflect. What kind of a Catholic am I? If that’s how you feel too, don’t forget — having little kids, or kids with special needs, or whatever situation you’re in that makes it impossible to kneel quietly and listen carefully, this is a unique kind of poverty. And we, in our poverty, really do give all we have, just by doing our best. Even if our best is just showing up.

So don’t stop. And please don’t worry too much about how your family looks. Even if it never gets easier, keep doing what you are doing, and know that even when the world doesn’t, God sees how valuable your sacrifice is.

What do you think?

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  1. I glad you put this here. I haven’t been to church for almost a year because I feel it to be unfriendly. Nobody talks to me or says hello.

  2. This is all well and good. We do need to be more understanding of families in this situation. But there is responsibility on both sides. Children should not be allowed to be so disruptive as to cause disrespect to God and the people there to worship Him. There are cry rooms for children who are just too young to understand they need to be quiet at Mass. a parent can take the child out for a few minutes to collect themselves. Just the other morning Father pointed out to the parents of a child whose running footsteps echoed through the church during the silence after Holy Communion, back and forth, back and forth, that the only way this child could learn how to behave was to be taught how to behave. He was right, of course. Not politically correct, but absolutely correct. When I was young, I was taught how to behave and expected to behave in social situations. I don’t think that is done much nowadays judging by the behavior most of us witness in public places.

  3. Parents shouldn’t be taking their kids to church. it’s either get a sitter or one parent go to church in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. Simple.

  4. Although my children are all grown, I clearly remember those days. Take heart and keep bringing your children. Church is where they belong. A church without children is a dying church. There are many of us who have been in your place and we understand. If you see me watching you, it’s not because I’m judging you – it’s because I’m remembering those times with my little ones, and offering up prayers for you and your family.

  5. Luke 18:15–17
    And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
    But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
    Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

  6. Children can be disruptive at times during mass. As long as parents have tried their best to pacify & minimise the disruption to the best of their abilities, merely by presence at mass is proof enough that God knows your unique sacrifice. If the Lord can forgive the most vile and abhorent of sins, what are some babbling children at mass that HE cannot forgive?

  7. It works both ways. If your child is disruptive, the polite thing to do is go into the cry room. That is what they are there for.

  8. It is GOD’S house and nowhere in the bible does it say children not allowed. I am really fed up with so called Christians hating children whether during Mass or in cages on ARE American borders.

    My God is a loving God

  9. Wish i had read this back when my kids were young and naughty and noisy and distracting. I eventually gave up taking them to church cause i was on my own with 4 of them and i never got tp hear the gospel or pray quietly. I got to the point where i thought it was more disrespectful to God to show up and yet not do anything but discipline my kids and bribe them to be quiet. Such a shame. I should have stuck it out longer.

  10. Our church doesn’t have a cry room. Our late pastor would smile every time he heard a child or a baby. It taught me to be more accepting of it. I will take the babbling of a baby over teens laughing at the Mass, or grown adults chatting like they were at coffee.

  11. I think that grown children should sit in the paws area despite being disruptive.I don’t think adults who forgot how their kids or themselves behaved when they were little should be annoyed or distracted by the disruptive children..they should feel happy that they don’t have to deal with such a situation..If they are going to church to pray they can focus no matter the circumstances are and even if they lose focus for a little bit God will forgive them given the loving heart they have not an annoyed heart from what they think it is a careless family…definitely crying babies should go to the cry room..

  12. Parents must bring there kids to church very important. So that when the kids grow up . it because habit. I understand kids make noise .but god forgive.god love kids. Kids are innocent . my parents was going to church every Sunday. But they never used to take me . look today I believe in god. But I don’t like to go to any church. I feel very uncomfortable. So if you take your kids to church. They will definitely go to church all life. Please take your kids to church .make them religious.

  13. This made me chuckle! My parents took us to DAILY morning Mass….We were many, 13 by final count! As an adult, I had the good fortune to look back on those days with my mother, a woman of great faith. She told me, “It was the only way we could be sure you were all up and dressed in time for school!”

  14. I wish I had read this letter when my son was in that age. I went through all the feelings described here. I’d end up leaving the church feeling “not blessed by Sunday mass,” embarrassed and guilty – guilty for not teaching my child how to behave in church, at the same time, guilty for not understanding my child’s child-ness. Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure this would help the parents with these kids now.

  15. Wonderfully stated. I’m a grandma now, but remember the hurt and embarrassment of a priest telling us to not bring the children to Mass until they can behave. He continued to tell my family and I how he worked so hard on the homily and WE needed to hear it. You keep going, God loves us all!

  16. God wants all of His children in His house no matter the situation. I raised 3 children as a single parent and we were in church every Sunday unless one of were sick or the weather was too bad to get out. My children were taught from very young what was not acceptable behavior. We did fine and I’m proud of the adults my children are today
    People who are criticising parents with disruptive children are maybe the ones that shouldn’t be in church Instead of being critical be an example of a true Christian. Ever thought to offer your help to those families?
    Thank you and God Bless

  17. We have two cry rooms and a nursery. I have 3 sons,two with special needs. I’d have been horrified if I knew they were keeping anyone from hearing the message. They went to nursery until they were old enough to sit quietly in mass.If I bring my grandson, we sit in the cryroom because i know it is a lot to ask a 3 year old to sit still and quiet for an hour.Yes, everyone belongs in mass, but if there are places for you to take your child who you know will not sit quietly,you should utilize them.

  18. I took my 3 children to Mass, but I find it harder with my Grand kids. The Mass is longer, the kids are used to learning methods at school where the do more and listen quietly less. They have interactive toys at home. I think they should try a Short attention span Mass” . I think it would be good for our elderly too.

  19. One the few times Jesus admonished his apostles is when they tried to have the children removed during a sermon. I love to use this reference when I get the stink eye from someone who never had children

  20. I often am told that they do not attend church services because as long as they pray at home it is ok with GOD. I totally agree that church is where you hear his teachings and interact with fellow parishoners. Can you comment of this question

  21. I Love seeing the children at Mass it gives me hope for our future. I often tell parents to hang in there it really bothers them more than me. They are our future, and even if they have a bad day the children will only learn by doing.hang in there.

  22. Thank you soo much for this. I ve not stepped inside the church, my Four year old daughter is soo rambunctious. Whenever am off duty on Sundays,I dread taking her to church cos its either she wants to play during liturgy or she wants to visit the loo.

  23. That’s awesome! As a Roman Catholic, the sound of children is BEAUTIFUL as it means the church is alive and well. Not only should they be there but right up front if possible! A church without is dead.

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