Each Sunday, I again begin wondering why am such a complete failure as a Catholic mother. It’s so disheartening. I see these lovely families full of children, dressed perfectly, sitting all in a row, from oldest to infant. The babies sleeping deeply while swaddled tightly to their mamas, the toddlers quietly content to be passed between parents and siblings. Is this Stepford? Tell me the truth, cradle Catholics. You’re giving those babies Benadryl before you walk in, aren’t you?
My littlest is not yet 18 months, but has a personality three times bigger than she is. She is a ball of sass and sunshine, who is very rarely in a bad mood, and delights in sharing her cheesecake smile with anyone whose attention she can capture. I’m not sure she’s ever actually been ill-tempered at Mass. Her problem is all that joy: she wants to share it! It shall not be contained! She is very content to sit on my lap, as long as she can say my name repeatedly and with increasing volume every time she notices something or someone new, feeling that such novelties should be brought to my immediate attention. A budding bibliophile, she is thrilled to be given a book to keep her occupied during the service, as long as she can “read” aloud, babbling at the top of her voice, so that no one misses a single plot point of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. A couple of weeks ago, we just completely gave up starting in the sanctuary, because let’s be honest, we are clearly card-carrying members of the Narthex Club.
I am trying to understand where I am going wrong. On one level, I think: maybe it’s because we are both converts. We missed the “how to make your kids sit quietly in Mass” upbringing. Never mind that we both did, after all, grow up going to church, regardless of denomination. Or maybe it’s because I’m simply failing at discipling. Never mind that my oldest is constantly complimented on her manners by strangers and friends alike, or that they are both incredibly pleasant to be with, even at adult-heavy meals or parties. Some small part of me thinks: Okay, she’s a year old. She has neither the attention span, nor the will-power to sit completely quiet for an hour, but then I see all of those other perfect families with their ducks in a quiet row, and doubt myself. Deeply.
Honestly, I couldn’t possibly tell you what I’m doing wrong, or what the problem is, but it is incredibly disheartening and we instantly cringe the moment we walk through the doors of the church. The Mass which has, since I discovered it, truly been my sanctuary, my reprieve, and my vital place for restoration before beginning each week, has become a punishment. To walk into a place that should provide community and feel like you aren’t wanted, that your presence is not only irritating to others, but ruining their experience of a peaceful refuge as well, is so painful to me, as an introvert, as a perfectionist, as a person. Add to that the tension it causes for my husband and I as parents and parishioners, and between us, as partners, and I feel like getting my family to Mass is ruining our day and everyone else's.
I know this is simply a season in life and will pass, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to believe that there will be light soon enough at the end of this tunnel. I feel quite lost. I have no answer. Giving up Mass is obviously not an option, but continuing to cause such strife and stress in our lives, does not seem to be an acceptable outcome either.
Toddler mamas, care to share your Mass magic? It would be so deeply appreciated.