POST POLL — Taking babies, toddlers to Mass: what works?

How can we make our parish Masses more welcoming for families with small children? We’re interested in hearing voices of experience in the Diocese of Peoria.
Are cry rooms the best solution? Is more sensitivity needed on the part of the assembly at Mass, or from parents who are slow to take out a noisy baby? We’d especially like to hear from parents regarding what works, or doesn’t, for them.
Share your thoughts with members of the diocesan family by sending an e-mail to cathpost@cdop.org with “Post Poll” in the subject line. Be sure to include your name and parish name. Responses will appear here as they are received, and selected ones may appear in a future issue of The Catholic Post.

Responses to other recent Post Polls are found at the bottom of this page.

SIT UP FRONT SO YOUNG ONES CAN SEE

When my sons were small, the church we attended did not have a cry room. I don’t believe that I would have used it if they had had one, as I believe that these children are the future of our parishes and the future of our lives.
When I attended Mass, I sat up front so that they could see what was going on. This way I could answer their questions, and they had fewer distractions. The reason I don’t like cry rooms is that a lot of adults use them, saying that they can’t walk far. Well, at our church, the first pew is reserved for the people who need it. The adults are missing the community of the parish.

Rose Rogalla
St. Joseph Church, Marseilles

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GOOD ADVICE: SIT IN THE FIRST PEW

The cry room (maybe with glass windows and, of course, soundproof)
is a better place for toddlers or babies especially if they are active and
can’t be calmed down. In a way, they won’t disrupt the solemnity of the Mass as well as the focus of the attendees toward the liturgy, but at
the same time the parents can still follow the Mass.
However, the cry room shouldn’t be abused either by allowing the kids to run around, scream or spill drinks or Cheerios on the floor like a playground. After all the room is still part of the church and we must by all means show respect to our Lord’s house.
Speaking from my own experience, I myself have two daughters who are both young ladies now and working outside of Illinois. I would never forget the words of wisdom from the late Father Ray Jacobowski. He told me “Nympha, you and the girls sit in front on the first pew and they will be fine because their minds will be focused on the altar and see what’s going on. Whereas if you sit at the back, all they see are the backs of taller people in front of them.” That’s what we did. Thank you for your golden advice, Father Ray. He was right because the girls didn’t give me a problem and they were well-behaved. (Thanks to God, too.)
Hence until now I still sit near the front (me being short) although most Sundays I am in the choir loft.
If the kids have enough sleep and breakfast before going to church plus the TLC from the parents, I’m sure they sit still and will be fine. Although, sometimes kids will still acting up despite discipline and parents of course are embarassed. So, all I asked from the seatmates or neighbors on the pew is please don’t give them a dirty look and be considerate. After all we all been there one way or another.
Some churches don’t have cry rooms. How about creating a nursery room in the school or parish hall? Ask some volunteers to decorate it and donate
some toys, books and other materials for the room. Maybe the parents can
take turns watching their children while some would attend the Mass? Encourage the assigned watchers to have different faith-based activities for the kids.
Anyway this is just a suggestion.

Nympha White, Ottawa

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OFFER ONE MASS WITH CHILD CARE

We need to be more sensitive and open to small children in church, but at the same time we need to be more sensitive to their religious needs. Many other Christian churches offer nursery arrangements, and Sunday school activities during the adult service.
I know of 2- and 3-year-olds who are going to hear Bible studies and do Bible related projects while their parents focus on their own prayers. I would like to see all our churches offer at least one Sunday Mass with child care/guided play time so the children can experience faith lessons at the appropriate level for them.

Nanette Marx

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NO CRYING BABIES? THAT WOULD BE A PROBLEM!

Dear Members of our Diocesan Family,
We don’t have a problem when we hear babies cry during Mass. When we do quit hearing babies cry during Mass, then we do have a problem. (Let me know if you can’t figure out why and I will explain it to you.)
I think families should attend Mass as a family, including their babies. Yes, sometimes they cry and make a disturbance, but then so do people who have a cold and cough a lot. In my experience, people of my age (I’m a grandpa) usually try to make the mom and dad at ease with their crying child and are quite supportive of the moms and dads. Those who feel that the crying bothers them are selfish. It also has been my experience that when a child does become unruly or is crying very loud and disturbing that the mom and dad are embarrassed and take the child into the vestibule or whatever is appropriate in a particular church.
I really don’t see crying children as a problem in church. My wife and I had nine children and, yes, there were times when we had a child who cried too long and we were embarrassed and one of us had to take the child out into the vestibule. But this was rare and we always felt that we were supported by others around us. And no one ever told us that our child was a disturbance to the liturgy.
Take the babies to church.

Dr. Edmund Andracki
Westville

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DON’T BRING BACK CRY ROOMS

I certainly hope churches will NOT start reinstating “cry rooms.”
When we moved back to our home parish after 20 years elsewhere, we
were dismayed to hear the tales of moms who didn’t like the “cry
room.” The same parents who never thought of taking their screaming
child out for a few minutes allowed their kids to run and play all
through Mass, making it impossible for anyone in the room to pray or
follow what was going on.
We have a number of families with very small kids who bring them
to church each Sunday, and if they just pay attention when a squabble
starts, or offer some Cheerios or other item to eat if the child seems
to be hungry, they are usually able to get through Mass without
bothering anyone.
They also pick up the unhappy child, and if that doesn’t work,
they go out for a bit and calm him/her down. As long as the mother
and father both take the kids, and both are willing to take care of
problems, the problems are few.
It also helps if people sitting behind them smile at the
child, include him in the gesture of peace, and give back anything
that rolls under the pew. Scowling and crabbing about crying babies
is foolish, and only makes things worse.

Betty Sullivan
Bradford

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A FEW MINUTES OF PREPARATION GO A LONG WAY

How can we make our parish Masses more welcoming for parents with small children? I wonder about that nearly every time I go to Mass and find my concentration suddenly shattered by the shriek of a bored toddler, or when I find myself cupping my hand around my ear in an attempt to hear at least part of Monsignor’s homily.
I was once one of those parents with the screaming children, and hopefully my tips will be considered constructive.
While it is important to make attendance at Mass a family activity, when the child or children are too small to understand the message or the ritual, the message is not only lost on the parent who has to juggle the child throughout Mass, but all those sitting around the young family, watching the struggle and hearing the protests. When the child is a baby or young toddler, the experience would be happier for all if the parents attended different Masses, leaving the baby home with the other parent. It seems all would win in this scenario–the baby can stay home with a calm parent who isn’t worried about the behavior that the baby can’t control, and the parent at church can concentrate on the message and the Mass, gaining a more satisfying spiritual experience. Since most parishes have multiple Masses every weekend, with just a little planning attending Mass separately should be possible.
We certainly do want to bring our youngsters to Mass from time to time, especially as they become old enough to understand that something very special occurs at Mass. We also know that sometimes preparation to go to church can be hectic, especially when we have several children to get ready to go. However, a few minutes spent on setting expectations for behavior at church can go a long way toward making Mass more pleasant for everyone.
Remind the child that we are going somewhere very special, and this requires us all to behave in a certain way. Ask the child to tell you what that means and how we need to behave in church. Remind them to use their “inside voice,” to listen and not speak when Father is speaking, and not to run in church.
After Mass, remember to thank your child for good behavior, and even provide a reward to the youngest children to reinforce the good behavior. This could be something as simple as putting a sticker on a reward chart once the family arrives home from church, earning the child a reward for 10 stickers in a row. If the reward is related to our Catholic faith, so much the better. Such rewards could include prayer cards, small prayer books or coloring books, or other inexpensive items.
A parent can make attending Mass a reward in itself by not taking the child until the child asks to be taken. If a parent returning from Mass describes Mass positively to the child, the child will feel as though he is missing out by not being allowed to attend. Talk about how special you felt when you talked to Jesus in prayer, and how happy you were to see your friends at church, for example. Coming home from Mass and discussing the experience with the spouse who remained home, and talking to the child about Mass will build up a desire in the child to attend. Once the child asks to attend Mass, then we can have a discussion about the specialness of Mass and the behavior expectations.
Once we are at church with our baby or toddler, the question is what should the parent do when the child is restless or noisy? I have heard parents say that they do not leave the sanctuary with a fussy child because then “the child wins.” I do not agree with this philosophy. Staying seated for a minute or two while attempting to quiet the child is one thing, but staying throughout Mass with a disruptive child is a losing scenario for all involved. The parent gains no spiritual meaning from the Mass, the child gains nothing, and all the others attending Mass have had their weekly worship experience disrupted unnecessarily.
When my children were small, we went thorough the restless phase with them, which I find begins as the child becomes a confident walker, and starts to end when the child can start to identify with Jesus as a child himself, understand the structure of the Holy Family, and start to put some meaning in to the ritual of the liturgy. Families may need to think about the Mass time they choose to attend with their child. Know your child’s habits. If our child begins to get tired and fussy around 10 a.m. and usually naps at that time, for example, this is not a good time to go to Mass. Children might enjoy attending a Mass whose audience is parish teens — the music is usually more contemporary, more young people are in attendance as well as performing roles at Mass which are more generally performed by adults, such as lectoring or ushering. This may be more interesting to our toddlers.
Family is a central and important value in our faith. By making Mass attendance a key highlight of the practice of our faith in our homes, it can become an experience that our children look forward to rather than dread. Every family has to do that in their own way. This means that Mass has to become an important and central event in our lives, not just something we do as a habit or out of obligation.

Debra Ciskey
Epiphany Parish, Normal

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PAST POST POLL: TELL US YOUR FAVORITE JOKE

In these uncertain economic times, maybe a little humor can go a long way. And so we invite help in spreading smiles around the Diocese of Peoria and on the Internet.

Do you have a favorite joke to share? E-mail it to cathpost@cdop.org, putting “Post Poll” in the subject line. They will appear here as received.
The “Post Poll” will return to deeper topics soon enough, but for now, let’s spread some cheer!

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From Father Harold Datzman, OSB, St. Joseph’s Parish, Peru

A Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest met at a town’s annual 4th of July picnic. Old friends, they began their usual banter.

“This baked ham is really delicious,” the priest teased the rabbi. “You really ought to try it. I know it’s against your religion, but I can’t understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden. You don’t know what you’re missing. You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried Mrs. Hall’s prized Virginia baked ham. Tell me, rabbi, when are you going to break down and try it?”

The rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin and said, “At your wedding!”

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From Paddy Schwemlein of Mendota

A priest was walking along the corridor of the parish preschool when a group of little ones trotted by on the way to the cafeteria. One little boy of about 5 stopped and looked at the priest’s collar.

“Do you have an owie?” he asked.

The priest was perplexed until he realized that, to the boy, the collar tab looked like a bandage. So the priest took it out and handed it to the boy to show him. On the back of the tab were raised letters giving the name of the manufacturer.

As the boy felt the letters, the priest asked, “Do you know what those words say?”

“Yes I do,” said the boy, even though he hadn’t yet learned to read. Peering intently at the letters, he said, “Kills ticks and fleas for up to six months!”

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From Joseph Roels, East Moline

My great-granddaughter was 5 years old and in kindergarten at Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island. After coming home one day from an all-school Mass, she asked her mother “What does roast mean?”

“It could mean a piece of meat like a beef roast or when you roast hot dogs and marshmallows,” her mother answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” said the girl, “at Mass they said ‘Jesus roasted from the bed!'”

“No, they said ‘Jesus rose from the dead,” her mother corrected with a smile.

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From Michael H. Berlinger, Peoria

WALNUTS IN THE CEMETERY

On the outskirts of a small town in central Illinois, there was a big, old walnut tree just inside the cemetery fence. Nuts were falling from the tree.
One day, two boys hopped the fence and began filling up a bucketful of nuts. Then they sad down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

“One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me,” said one boy. While they were dividing the nuts, several more dropped and rolled downhill towards the fence.

Another young lad came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed the fence, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”

He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off at top speed. As he came into town, he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along. “Come here quick,” said the boy. “You won’t believe what I heard! Satan and God are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!”

The man eventually agreed and hobbled slowly to the cemetery. Standing by the fence they heard, “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”

“Boy, you’ve been telling me the truth,” the old man whispered. “Let’s see if we can see God.” Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of God.
At last they heard, “One for you, one for me. That’s it. Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.”

They say the old man made it back to town a full five minutes ahead of the kid on the bike.

Smile, God loves you!

From Joseph Hyde, St. Michael’s Parish, Bement

Hot Air Hand Dryers

My pastor friend put sanitary hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms at his
church and after two weeks, took them out. I asked him why and he confessed that they worked fine, but when he went in there he saw a sign that read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

From Ken Roberts

The grade school teacher asked her class to draw a picture of someone they knew. As she walked around the classroom observing, she stopped at Mary Virginia’s desk and asked: “Who are you drawing, Mary?”

“I’m drawing a picture of God,” the student replied.

“Well Mary,” said the teacher, “you know nobody really knows what God looks like.”

“They will in a minute!,” said Mary.

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