Having recently been approached, again, about my children's behaviour at Mass, I feel I must rehash things to remember when you see children at Mass. In case you were wondering, on the day in question Kieran was sitting quietly, Charlotte was pacing on the kneeler but quiet, and I was standing just beside the pew holding a fussy, uncomfortable Leo. He wasn't crying, just grousing a bit, and I was doing what I could to comfort him (unfortunately he doesn't comfort nurse). I will also say that I bear no ill will towards this person; we have different views, but that's okay.
So, things to remember:
- Siting in the front isn't a privilege reserved for those who are silent or wanting to pay attention. I'd hope that anyone at Mass wants to be there, especially when talking about daily Mass, since there's no obligation to attend then. I really have encountered the attitude that the front row was a privilege reserved for when they could sit perfectly still and quiet. To me, though, the idea that the front row is reserved for the "good" seems more in line with Baptists (or at least stereotypes of Baptists - I was a "back-row Baptist" once) than with Catholic thought. Besides, my children do best when they can see the altar and priest, which would be why a very holy priest and Benedictine monk told me to sit in the front when my kids are with me. So we do. Besides, if I waited until all my kids could be quiet, my older ones would never get to sit in the front and see what's happening, as I am unwilling to have some sit apart from the family.
- Your standards aren't going to be the same as another's. I do not expect my children to be absolutely still and silent at Mass, but I do expect them not to play or be loud. I actually did, for a time, try to be stricter because of comments, but I became stressed and my children started asking to stay home instead of go to Mass. It was then that I prayed and decided to go back to my old way, and I had great peace over it. My expectations might not look like another mum's, and that's ok. My expectations are based on their ages, abilities, and personalities, which brings me to the next point.
- No matter how well you think you know a family, chances are you don't know all the circumstances affecting the child at any given time, or all their personality traits. Kieran works by being allowed the freedom to observe and emulate on his own. If I push him, it backfires. Charlotte can either sit, but be louder, or walk and be quieter. I choose the latter. She also forgets how loud she is, as does any 2-year-old. Leo is sometimes in pain, and sometimes just coos and jabbers quite noisily. Being a baby, he doesn't know to be quiet, and this is just a normal phase anyway. Sometimes we've had rough nights or mornings, but we still manage to get to Mass. Those days we may be less focused or my kids may be louder, but we're there and trying.
- Not everyone disciplines in the same way. You may see a situation and think "I'd handle it by doing x", but that parent might discipline in a different way. People might think a parent like me, who doesn't use corporal punishment or time-outs, isn't disciplining, when in reality the discipline just takes a different form. Also, different children respond to different things, and parent-child dynamics vary, so thinking of how you would handle the situation doesn't really translate into how that parent should handle it.
- Kids are kids. Of course we teach them how to navigate various social situations, but we do that in different ways. I prefer to lead by example. That doesn't mean they perfectly follow that, but they see it and learn. In the meantime, I remember that they are children who have abundant energy and enthusiasm and need to move a bit.