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Looking past cry rooms and to Christ’s prayer for unity, AnneMarie Miller discusses ways that we can all encourage young families at Mass.

Small children can be joyful, energetic, and noisy. Even if we try to heed Christ’s command to “let the children come to me” (Matthew 19:14), we may wonder: What do we do when small kids come to Mass? Do we try to ignore them? Do we sit as far away from them as possible? Do we patiently direct them to the cry room?

The cry room—a place set apart where unruly toddlers and crying babies can decompress—is often a focus when we consider how to welcome families at Mass. The cry room can be a huge blessing for some, but other people—for a variety of reasons—prefer to avoid it altogether.

Unfortunately, we can focus so much attention on the cry room that we may think this room is the only way we can support young families at Mass.

What if we move beyond the cry room and take a different approach?


grandmother holding baby in church


The Gospel of John captures a moment when, prior to His Crucifixion and death, Christ prays for unity among His people: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.” (John 17:11) We can pray with this single verse endlessly as we reflect on each aspect of our lives, and I wonder if we can let it challenge us when we attend Mass.

How often do we truly strive to “be one” with those we see in the pews? How are we building unity with others—even with the young children who squirm and squeal during the liturgy?

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How are we building unity with others—even with the young children who squirm and squeal during the liturgy? #catholicmom

I’ve learned a tremendous amount from other people about how we can reach out in love at Mass. As we look for ways to support families with small children, here are a few ideas to get us started:


Speak a word of encouragement

Countless times after a difficult Mass experience, someone I’ve never seen before will approach our pew and thank me for bringing my children to Mass. “I know how it is,” they’ll assure me. Hearing that encouragement and solidarity from someone who has already walked the path of young parenthood is incredibly powerful. It only takes a few moments, but offering a word of kindness can truly do wonders.


Offer to help

At one time, our family regularly attended a Mass each week before my husband headed into the office. As we’d enter our pew, a friend sitting behind us would hold out her arms towards our baby. I would get a break from baby-holding and she could soak up infant cuddles before or during Mass. This woman’s outreach was a huge gift to us and to her.

A couple of years later, I began taking my children to a different daily Mass. Each week, as soon as Mass ended, a friend of ours would dart to our pew with one question: “How can I help?” This simple offer was tremendous, especially since at the time I was juggling a newborn, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old. Offering to help someone (especially if it’s someone you barely even know) may seem awkward at first, but it can be a huge gift to them.


grandmother holding baby in church, singing from a hymnal


Pray for them

When one of my friends sees a family at Mass whose child is making noise, she likes to send up a prayer for them. Speaking from my own experience, it can feel stressful and overwhelming as a parent when our young children act up during Mass. Saying a quick prayer for those of us with little ones is an easy way to offer loving support—and we greatly appreciate it.


Create a time and space for prayer apart from the Mass

If we walk into Mass expecting to “check off” our daily silent prayer time, it can feel frustrating to see our plans thwarted when the toddler in the front row throws himself on the floor. I’ve learned (especially since sometimes I have the flailing toddler) that it’s important to carve out other moments for silent prayer. We may think that, by participating in the Mass, we are “done” with our daily prayer—after all, the liturgy surpasses any other devotion (see Sacrosanctum Concilium #13). However, Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) points out that we need both the public prayer of liturgy and personal prayer:

The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret; yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing. (#12)


little boy playing with cars in church


As we support and uplift each other, let’s keep Christ’s prayer for unity in our minds and hearts. Let’s truly seek to “be one” as we offer our prayers to God. Yes, we may cringe when we hear a baby spontaneously screech during the Consecration, but perhaps we can try to extend patience and understanding as we grow in love.

Next month, I’ll be discussing the fruits I’ve noticed from taking my young children to Mass. For now, let’s ask ourselves: How can we—in our words, actions, and demeanor—grow in loving unity as a Church and support young families?

Copyright 2022 AnneMarie Miller
Images: Canva Pro