The Cry Room: A Sadly Misunderstood Facility
The “cry room” seems to be a uniquely Catholic phenomenon. There is much controversy over this facility. Some people are sick and tired of Mass being interrupted by the emotional outbursts of small children. They’re more than happy to have these noisy culprits “under glass.” Others contend that children have a right to be in church and are insulted to use the cry room at all.
From what I’ve observed in various parishes, the cry room seems to be misunderstood and misused by many parishioners. Instead of serving as a temporary place to settle a child without distracting the congregation, it has become a playroom, a reading room and a convenient hang-out. I’ve seen some people treat this room as if they were at home, watching Mass on television. Many seem to forget that they are still attending Mass. If the adults are disconnected, their children are certainly isolated from what’s going on in church and are not being encouraged in any way to be a part of it.
To work most effectively, the cry room should only be used when absolutely necessary. It should be devoid of books, toys and food. Parents should hold their children at all times and return to Mass as soon as the child is quieted. People using this facility should be listening to and participating in the liturgy as if they were sitting in the pews. Be advised: excessive use of the cry room delays the process of teaching a child to behave at Mass.
When Mass is Over, The Learning Doesn’t Have To Be
After Mass, we make it a point to compliment our children on good choices they made during church. If there was a problem with a child old enough to know better, we have him apologize to the people near us or to the priest for being distracting. This is done without a lot of fanfare to avoid humiliation but also to instill accountability.
On the drive home, we discuss what happened at Mass. How did God speak to us today? Did we learn something new? Was there something we didn’t understand? We talk about our own choices in church and how that may have affected those around us. Moreover, this is a good time to discuss things that distracted us during Mass and to reinforce why we have the rules we do.
Better Behavior and Beyond
One way or another, children must learn how to behave appropriately in a church environment. Our commitment to teaching this to our children from their infancy has enabled us to worship together as a family. We don’t have to “split shift” and go to separate Masses, leaving the little ones at home. We have elected not to send our children to children’s liturgy, since we are making the effort ourselves to explain things to them at their level. For us, it’s important to be together as a family and benefit from the graces we receive at Mass.
It’s never too late to try new strategies with your children for a better outcome at church. To be fair to those old enough to understand, you need to discuss ahead of time the new rules that are going to be in place, why they are going to be enforced and what the consequences are if these rules are not abided by. I can’t say it enough: be consistent!
For those who are single parents, I’ll be the first to admit that your job is harder. I’ve attended a number of Masses with my four boys when my husband was out of town. I take my two littlest ones to daily Mass routinely during the school year. There’s no question that with one adult, it’s harder — harder, but doable. It requires the same love and consistency and perhaps an extra dose of patience.
When people give us positive feedback about our children’s behavior at church, it is most rewarding and helps us to get through those moments that are somewhat less positive. Our goal for our children, however, goes beyond teaching them to behave appropriately at Mass. We want them to develop a joyful appreciation of it. We want them to be able – and eager – to listen for the unique message God may be giving them in word, song or prayer. And that cannot come from anything short of attendance and participation in Mass on a regular basis. We never cease to be amazed at what our children – even the little ones — grasp from their church experience. Their theology may be a little askew at times, but the spark of interest and enthusiasm is there.
Three weeks after a seminarian gave a homily at our parish, my ten-year-old off-handedly commented that something the young man said inspired him to think about the idea of becoming a priest one day. I’m not sure exactly which words of wisdom hit the mark, but I’m sure glad my son was at church and behaving appropriately to hear it.
Elizabeth Ficocelli is a Catholic author of fifteen books for adults and young people, a national speaker, and host of the radio program, “Answering the Call.” For more information, please visit www.elizabethficocelli.com
Published in America, May 6, 2002