One Sunday a married couple decided to take their small son to a restaurant. It wasn’t long before the young boy started to make a fuss. He wouldn’t sit quietly in his chair and do what he was told, and soon he was the centre of attention. Fellow diners complained about the child’s noise and behaviour, and the restaurant manager felt compelled to ask the parents to leave. They were very upset. They felt they had a right to stay. The parents must have gone to the media with what they perceived to be a story of discrimination. When the story became public news, everyone was discussing the situation. Everyone had an opinion.
“The parents should have taken the child out of the restaurant. In fact they shouldn’t have brought him in the first place. People go out to dinner to relax and enjoy themselves. How can they do this when a child is screaming right next to them? The parents were inconsiderate of those around them.”
But just as many people disagreed.
“Parents need to get out of the house and enjoy a meal like everyone else. Why shouldn’t they be welcome in a restaurant with a child? Other people need to be more considerate of the needs of parents. They should be more tolerant and not so concerned with themselves.”
The parents, the fellow diners… Why was no one talking about the child? What were his needs? How was he feeling? Was he trying to tell everyone something by screaming?
This morning a child cried at Mass. It’s a familiar situation. You’ve probably heard all the discussion before. Everyone has an opinion.
“No one can hear a word when a child cries. The parents should remove her from the church. It’s the considerate thing to do.”
“Children should be made to feel welcome at Mass. Jesus said, ‘Let the children come unto Me.’”
But what about the child? Was she saying, “I don’t want to be here because I am too young to understand and I haven’t the patience to sit still for so long?”
I’ve heard some parents say, “It doesn’t matter what the child wants. If she can’t sit still she must learn. If we remove her from the church every time she cries, she will only learn that crying gets her what she wants. She will become manipulative. She will never learn to sit quietly.”
I wonder if that’s true. I took all my children out of Mass as soon as they became agitated. And what did they learn? Perhaps my children never learned to sit still in church. They probably never learned to love the Mass and pay attention.
I look along the line of children sitting in our pew. They are all quiet and attentive. Yes, I know… they are older. They should know how to behave at their ages. But it’s been that way for many years.
Now you might say, “I kept my children in Mass even when they protested, and they are all attentive and love the Mass just like your children do.” I don’t mean to criticise. I don’t want to argue about the end result. All I’m saying is…
If it distresses you to deal with a crying child caught in a situation where she is unable to cope, perhaps it’s quite okay to ‘give in’ to her crying and ‘indulge’ her needs.
I am sure children don’t need to be forced to do anything. They will learn to do what is right and necessary when they are ready if they are treated with love and respect.
I am remembering…
I walk through the church door. Gemma-Rose is in my arms. She starts to squirm even before I have entered a pew. Just as I drop to my knees, she opens her mouth wide and a loud cry hits my ear. I sigh as I gather up my toddler and make a hasty exit. Mass hasn’t even begun and we are on our way back out the door.
I am thinking, “She’ll never learn to sit still if I keep taking her out.” But deep inside I know that’s not true. I know that today I am just tired. I don’t want to spend another hour looking at the daisies in the presbytery garden. Today I want to stay in Mass like everyone else. Today I want my child to sit quietly by my side. But I know that day will come…
And it did.