Saturday, October 12, 2013

In Defense of Cry Rooms

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. - Unknown

Modeled by one of my little room criers.
It seems at least once a week someone on my Facebook feed shares a piece attacking cry rooms. There are three main directions of attack, which interestingly enough, also attack each other implicitly:
  1. Babies and young children should be able to cry, scream, laugh, and talk during Mass and other people should ignore, accept or even celebrate it.
  2. Babies and young children need to be in the pew in order to be taught to behave. You must swiftly correct every disruptive behavior every time until your children sit attentively, or at least quietly, in the pew for an hour and a half every week.
  3. Children under 7 shouldn't be at Mass at all. They should be left in a nursery or at home with another caregiver so that the parents can focus on Christ. The parents can switch off Masses if necessary to achieve this.
But although they implicitly criticize each other, the focus of their criticism always seems to be the cry room, that semi-segregated section of shame (how's that for alliteration) where brats hang from the ceiling while their mothers chat about toilet training, oblivious to the homily or the consecration.

My perspective is that there is no section on cry rooms or child behavior at Mass in either scripture, the catechism, or canon law, except inasmuch as to say that children under the age of reason are not bound by the obligation to attend Mass. Despite the dire reputation, in fact, the Church isn't terribly keen on telling people The Only Way to Do It unless there IS only one possible choice that is binding on every person without regard to circumstance, something that is rarer than you might think.

We laity are actually a lot more judgmental and strict than the Church in these matters. My perspective is basically that everyone should figure out what works for their family. Unfortunately, the cry room attacks often go all the way to a call for priests and administrators to remove or ban cry rooms. To the extent that they succeed, this is an attack on a perfectly licit and for me often a very helpful option. So I feel the need to defend cry rooms, with the important caveat that I am not claiming that letting children be potentially disruptive in Mass, OR swiftly correcting all possibly disruptive behavior in Mass, OR not bringing young children to Mass are wrong things to do, much less sinful things to do. Any might be right or wrong for your family, at this moment. Any can be taken to a harmful extreme for sure, just as the hyperbolic example of cry rooms I gave previously is easily recognized as a harmful extreme. A child who is allowed to sing loudly all through the homily, a family that is never IN the pew for more than a few minutes before yanking a child who dared to scratch an itch out to the vestibule for a time out, and a poor breastfeeding mother who misses Mass for months because she can't be separated from her baby and yet doesn't want to "disrupt" Mass with an infant's cries--all these would also be harmful extremes.

Any parent of more than one child knows that being a good parent means recognizing that the same approach doesn't work with every child. The Church is our mother, and she recognizes that we all have different needs, and require different disciplines, and different consolations. And, frankly, some of us are weaker than others, some of us are the bruised reeds. There are definitely weeks, or just moments, where I feel like a bruised reed. It's time like that, that the cry room is one of my consolations.

So if the hellscape version of cry rooms is a harmful extreme, what does an appropriate version look like? Maybe it's boastful to say so, but I think my parish does it pretty well.

At our parish, the cry room is one of the confessional rooms, with the screen pulled back, some kneelers at the window, some chairs, and a box full of quiet toys (an alphabet puzzle, some religious children's books, and some stuffed animals). There is a soft speaker, which enables the occupants to hear the priest etc, and the room is directly under the choir loft, so the music can be heard.

I can put a changing mat on the floor, and change a baby, while my toddler plays with a doll, and still be able to listen to the homily. I can let my overtired toddler lie on the floor behind me while I kneel watching the consecration and pray for strength. I can breastfeed in a chair that, frankly, is way more comfortable than doing so in the pew. These are the things that make the cry room a good option for me, at least some of the time. If you don't think these are good excuses, you should thank God that you are stronger than me, and pray that I may become as strong as you.

But in the meantime, please don't take away my cry room!


  1. We don't have a cry room at our church, so I haven't had experience with them. I tend towards the "do your best to teach the kids how to behave while staying in the pew" approach. But obviously, there are times when we just need to take them out. People at our church use the narthex as a place to bring noisy children. There *used* to be some folding chairs back there, which was great when I needed to nurse, or just sit down with the kid. But they were removed, supposedly for insurance reasons, and I'm really upset about it. I even wrote a letter trying to convince the pastor to change the new policy, but it didn't work. So right now, the situation kinda sucks. You have to stand the whole time, or sit on the stone floor...which I've never seen anyone do.

    I still tend to see full-out cry rooms (with a big glass window, and a separate entrance) as new-fangled things which would be potentially too tempting for me and the kids to use the whole Mass....sorta the way I don't want a smartphone because I know I'd use it all the time.

    On a related note, one time Tom and I were at a Ukrainian Catholic church that had a fancy cryroom. Tom took Sly there while I stayed in the pew with Stella. Before he started his homily, the priest pointed them out in the cryroom, and jokingly referred to them as "Protestants" for being there. I guess the regular parishioners tend to avoid it?

  2. Our new geographical parish (we haven't been to Mass there yet or officially joined) has a cry room. On the one hand, I am glad, because I can only imagine that with one toddler and two babies we will need to make use of it at some point. On the other hand, I fear there being *pressure* to use it because it's there. (This fear of course is based only in my own imagination; I have no idea what the "culture" will be like at this church.)

    At the Oratory people simply take their kids out of the chapel when necessary. It's not ideal because there are no chairs (although massively pregnant ladies get to steal one from the meeting room ;) ) and you are standing up with the people who arrived to late to get a pew, but for that reason you still feel like a participant in the Mass. (More importantly to me I think the child can tell they are still "at" Mass; I've never used a cry room so I don't have a good sense of what it feels like in that regard.)