In the Narthex

We don’t have a cry room at our church, or else the title of this post would be “In the Cry Room” Over the years, we’ve belonged to parishes that have cry rooms and parishes that don’t. Regardless of what it’s called or where it’s located, it presents the same phenomenon. Something about walking through the door that separates one and their child from the rest of the church seems to make parents think that suddenly any and all behavior is acceptable.

Now, just to be clear, before anyone starts getting all upset about how I simply don’t understand what it’s like to have little ones in Mass, let me remind you: I have three very energetic little boys, currently 6, 5, and 2, and I’m also 28 weeks pregnant. I know all about being at Mass wondering why I even bothered to come. I know all about fighting off tears because of how hard I’m trying to manage my rebellious little one’s behavior, yet failing so miserably at it. But, I also know there’s a huge difference between desperately trying to convince an incorrigible wee one to behave and allowing that incorrigible wee one to do whatever s/he wants, however loudly s/he wants.

For those of you who are lost, let me back up. Many Catholic churches have some area, often a cry room, or in our case, the Narthex (which is basically just the foyer of the Church) where parents can take their little ones who are too loud to remain in the actual church. It usually has a glass wall and speakers so you can still participate in the Mass, but without your little one disturbing the entire congregation. Because of the sacredness of what it happening during the Mass, it is fitting that upset or loud little ones should be removed from the church until they settle down a bit. That’s what the cry room or other similar areas are intended for.

They are not areas designed for you to plop down right from the moment you arrive, accepting defeat before you ever even enter the battle.

They are not convenient places where you can spread your array of snack items, juice cups, video games, and toys all over the place for your child’s pleasure.

They are not your neighborhood park or playground, and, therefore, not the place for running, climbing, or any other park-like behavior.

But that’s exactly what they’re used for.

My husband and I work very hard to train our little ones to behave during Mass. We have very high standards for our children at Mass and expect our children to rise to the occasion, bearing in mind what they are actually capable of handling at their given age. We work with the children both during Mass and at home to ensure they understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. For the most part, these efforts have been successful. (And, thus, I get really annoyed when people comment about how “lucky” I am that my children behave during Mass. Luck has nothing to do with it.) But the fact remains that my children are children. There are times when the standards won’t be met. There are times that, for one reason or another, they are simply unable to behave as they should during Mass. It is times such as these that I need to take my child to the narthex.

But I feel like I can’t.

Because of the free-for -all that we will inevitably find when we walk through the door.

Because my little ones look around and think, “Wait. Why would I want to behave in the Church, when I could come to a party back here instead?”

Because instead of calming down they see all the kids behaving waaay worse then they were when were when I removed them from the church and very quickly jump on the bandwagon.

Because they want to know why all these kids (including many that are way past the age of reason) are hanging out on the floor playing video games, texting, or even TALKING on their cell phones.

There isn’t a place for me to take my child to redirect his behavior thanks to all the parents in the narthex allowing their children to go berserk. That’s simply not fair. If you’re going to allow your children to behave like wild monkeys, if you’re going to stand there chewing your gum and chatting with the mom next to you, in all seriousness, why did you bother coming? Surely a play date would have been a better use of your time.

Now, in case you can’t already tell, I have a really hard time being charitable about some things. I know I should simply pray for the narthex parents and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that, for whatever reason, they did find it important to make the effort to come to church. Some days I’m better at it than others.
Clearly, today is not one of those day.

I really resent the fact that after struggling with my child in the pew, I don’t have a place where I can take him to reinforce all the lessons we’ve been working on. I resent that all the parents who are too lazy, too tired, or too whatever to control their children undermine everything I work so hard on by the way they allow their children to behave.

I certainly don’t expect it to be quiet in the narthex, but what goes on back there is asinine. It is definitely not the sound of children who are struggling to behave and parents struggling to guide them. It’s just a giant play room. And, sadly, the parents aren’t usually behaving much better than the children.

I find it unfair that I’m stuck doing this dance where I’m trying not to actually leave the church because I know the chaos that awaits on the other side of that door. Yet, I’m trying to get far enough back where my 2 year old’s chattering or whimpering or uncontrollable squirming will be distracting to the least number of people as possible. The fact is, there’s a place I should be able to take him. I should be able to go to the narthex.

And in the narthex I should find parents fighting the same battle with me.

Parents who are actively participating in the Mass, but happen to also be trying not to drop their flailing child.

Parents who quietly redirect as their child begins singing the ABCs at the top of his lungs during the Sanctus.

Parents who, no matter how desperately hopeless the situation appears, remain convinced that they are, in fact, an authority figure to their child and have the obligation to train their child to behave better.

Parents who haven’t simply given up, leaving everyone around them to deal with the consequences.

Unfortunately, I don’t how to fix this problem. I suppose it’s a combination of catechizing the parents, offering some kind of parental support group or classes, and a great deal more charity on my part. It certainly isn’t a situation that could be resolved easily.

All that being said, I am so grateful that the Church is much more charitable than I am. She allows all people to be in the presence of our Lord, whether they realize they are or not. I’m grateful that, as always, Holy Mother Church holds up a high standard to me and expects me to rise to the occasion, just as I do with my children. It just frustrates me that these Narthex Parents don’t do the same.

Pray for me, as I obviously have a long way to go… I need to surrender my pride and grow in charity. I realize this, but, nevertheless, I remain frustrated. That being said, I suppose you’ll find me in the confession line this evening because, even after all this, and the realization that I am being called to grow, I still really dislike the Narthex Parents. St. Therese, pray for me.

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