Saturday, May 05, 2007

Those evil people who do not want children in church services.

FWIW, I'm the one who started the big discussion of babies and small children at church. I started it with a comment that essentially said that infants and toddlers in church should be discouraged.

Honestly, I still think that's true. Lizard Eater made the point that mothers of infants don't like to leave their kid in nursuries. If so, there's a lot of places the mother shouldn't go.

It is ultimately the mother's choice?

Of course.

But a lot of mothers make poor choices. CC and theCSO very much enjoy going to midnight openings of brand new movies, and almost every time there's a baby or a young child there who really ought to be at home in bed, even when the movie is obviously inappropriate. As I've written before, I am constantly tempted to print up some paper signs and put them in every stall of the ladies room: "If the midnight showing of King Kong is constantly interrupted by the cries of your traumatized three-year-old, you are a bad mother."

This next opinion is absolutely going to get me in trouble, but I am a skeptic on the argument "My baby would rather be in a noisy confusing environment that has no toys and where she must be quiet with me, than a crib in the nursury where she can move around and play without me. I know, because I'm the mother."

We have four cats in our house. Three of them, Boris, Cool Disco Dan and Esperanto, belong to theCSO and me. One of them, Ursus, belongs to the housemates. Tina's position is that Boris, Cool Disco Dan and Esperanto should be kept away from her baby whenever possible. Ursus can get in the baby's face all Ursus wants.


"Because Victoria WOVES her wittle Ursus-kitty!"

Can't argue with that, I suppose. But I honestly don't think Victoria can tell the difference between the cats at all. I think it is very easy for mothers to assume their babies agree with them in the abscence of evidence. Most kids are going to fuss when the mother leaves them with someone else, but my observation is that five minutes later, the kid is over it and paying attention to something else.

Maybe I'm wrong about your specific kid, but my experience of church nursuries is that I'm not wrong about most kids.

I've been pretty open about the fact that my opinons on this come from the fact that my parents assumed that since I was smart, I would get something out of church. I was forced to attend church as a small child and I despised it. Sunday was my least favorite day of the week. I hate sitting still, I hated being quiet, I really hated getting punished when I failed to meet my parents' standards for both. I lobbied to be allowed to take books into church. When I won that one, the situation improved somewhat, but I was still pretty unhappy. Finally, when I was seven years old, I started sneaking notes into the collection plate that read "The Sermon was too long."

At that point, somebody talked to my parents and I was finally allowed to hang out on the playground on Sunday mornings instead.

My position is absolutely not that kids who make noise in church and distract other people are bad, it is that they are uncomfortable. My church follows the "Kids are in the service for the first fifteen minutes, and for that fifteen minutes, the content is geared toward them" model. That's just fine with me.

I get that lots of parents put their kid's comfort over their own interest in the sermon and take noisy kids out. I appreciate that. To be honest, I often hang out just outside the church where one can hear what is going on but doesn't have to remain still myself.



juffie said...

There is a difference between your hating to be in church as a child, and assuming every child today hates to be in church. There is a difference between resentment and anger and demands that children not ever be in service, whatever age or condition (a demand I've frequently heard in UU congregations), and the sensible removal of any child who is continually and noisily disturbing the service for everyone else.

I stress everyone else because there are those UUs who will be mentally disturbed by the presence of a child regardless of the child's own comfort at being there! Our antipathy, or at best ignoring of children ... our assumption that services are only for intellectually elite adults can be seen in how few of our buildings (unlike those of most other denominations) ever bothered with "crying rooms", ie glass walled spaces at the rear of the sanctuary where mothers and noisy babes might be, and hear the service.

Anonymous said...

The lack of children in services, and the fact that a lot of ministers I've met don't know how to cater to children leads us to a lack of intergenerational services and activities that are decent.

Anonymous said...

CC, you really continue to be off-base with this discussion, I think, and the problem seems to be how you're conflating your experience of being a child with the desire to keep "infants and toddlers" out of the sanctuary. These are utterly apples and oranges. If you can remember your experiences, we're already talking about a child who is (was) significantly older than an infant.

Children who are old enough to be apart from their parents and participate in structured activities with strangers--as you were as a school-aged child in the scenario you have been describing--probably shouldn't come to services for more than 15 minutes (that's how my church ran things too). Such children are too young to enjoy adult services and are better off in Sunday School (of course, I am speaking generally here).

But babies need to be with their parents and are unable to participate meaningfully in Sunday School activities. You can't put them in a crib with toys until they're getting pretty big, because they will sense the separation from their parents and freak out. They are not self-directed, at least not for any substantial period of time (like an hour-long service).

Young parents of babies are precisely what we need if we wish to keep UUism. They are also people who desperately need the community and support of a friendly church. Services may be the only social outing they get in a whole week, and with the life changes they are experiencing--which are frankly incomprehensible to childless adults, even sympathetic ones who are around babies a lot--they need the emotional and spiritual contact with God (or whatever) on Sunday morning. In many cases young parents of babies already live their whole week in virtual exile, unable to go out to movies, hang with their friends, or do most of the things that have defined their lives up to that point. When they come to church, be with their fellow seekers and rest in God for a few precious moments, it is awful to be sent into exile in some other part of the building, apart from the sanctuary. At the exact place where they come for solace from the ordinary, they are excluded for not being a proper fit. Your desire to remain "comfortable" comes off as cold-hearted.

You're also not taking into account the emotional needs of the parent toward the baby. Although part of them may crave a few minutes of time away from the baby, at the same time they are often anxious when the child is away and need to hold the baby in order to be sure she is safe. It can be very difficult to relax and connect during services if the constant thought "how is the baby doing" is nagging at someone. In some cases it is better to dandle a baby and give the service half-attention and the baby half-attention, than to sit in the pew but be totally absorbed in worrying about the baby elsewhere.

Comparing a midnight movie and church shows that you don't have a good perspective on this. Is church entertainment? Not for me, at least. Parents shouldn't bring disruptive children to a late-night movie: it is rude to the other people who paid to attend a purely entertainment activity. But nobody made you buy a ticket to church on Sunday morning, and hopefully you're not approaching it with the same mindset as seeing Revenge of the Sith. It's sort of insulting to equate the two.

This has to be one of the harder-edged blog posts I've ever written, and may come off harsher than I intend. But I'm just trying to get it through that your attitude is hurtful to people who are already at their wit's ends, and is hostile toward people who deeply need welcome and community. I'm not being rhetorical here: I mean it actually hurts.

Maybe we're so welcoming to gay people because they tend not to have children and are on the whole more affluent than the average. This never occurred to me before. They are a safe minority who don't disrupt our staid Sunday services.

Chalicechick said...

I certainly didn't mean to compare church and the late movie, just point out that we cannot assume parents will always use the best judgement.

Jeff, I know I am coming off as clueless here, but what you're saying is so fundamentally different from my experience. My mom went back to work two months after I was born, a lawyer in my firm is about to go out on leave and will be back in three months.

Maybe we are messing with some fundamental bond, but that's the way a huge majority of women do it where I live in Washington DC. I'm pretty certain that's what I would do were I do have kids.

So the idea that it is a huge strain for either parents or baby to be apart from one another on Sundays seems bizarre in light of the fact that most parents are apart from them 40 hours a week where I come from.


Jamie Goodwin said...

I wish there were some type of numbers to the amount of Young Adults who never came back to a UU service because the first time they were there a 3 year old talked through the entire service.

Especially when talking about it you are told "Young parents of babies are precisely what we need if we wish to keep UUism."

I think... and this out on the limb here I know, that to keep UUism we need all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.

If you want your 6 month old with you in service, hey cool, but if that 6 month old will not quit crying than the responsible thing is to step out with them until they do.

I do not believe it is unfair, or wrong, or unwelcoming to tell a mother "hey your 3 year old's constant speaking during the service really takes away from my worship experience, have you considered using the nursery?"

And Jeff.. if that were true, that welcoming gay people is just about their childless state, why is that there are so few non-parent gay men and lesbians in our congregations?

PeaceBang said...

I think the worship culture of the church has to promote good boundaries and fair expectations if children (and parents) are going to do well in the whole service. In one of those typical Anything Goes, UU-SVU congregations, yea, I can see that a toddler would be allowed by his or her doting parents to disrupt the entire service. Bad news.But I'm betting that that any congregation that tolerates that has a lot of other serious issues around boundaries as well.

As a minister, I have to say that I love the babies of our church. The Christmas Eve crowd of strange wailing ones is another story (but they're like little Jesuses, so they get a pass that night-- just barely). We want to get our babies into church right away, frankly because we love having them at coffee hour! They are so much FUN! We like to pass them around and smell their heads.
I talk to new parents and say, BRING THE BABY! My God! If she starts to scream, take her out! No probl! Especially if we dedicated that baby (which involves welcoming her into our covenant), we want our baby in church!

We do offer baby care, but when everyone's ready for it. My experience is that baby care programs at churches are understaffed and not the most hygeinic (sp?) of environments. If I was a Mom I would be lothe to drop my tiny baby off at babycare in church.

I can't envision a church without children. What is the point of a church without children? Just a bunch of people dying, if you're missing the other side of the equation.

BTW, I grew up UU and HATED Sunday School. I sneaked into the service with my parents and thought it was kind of cool. It felt like Secret Grown-Up Club. It was good for me.

Anonymous said...

I brought my own sheets, but I made full use of the cribs in the church nursery. I also tried to go out with my husband once a month or so and still see my friends. I don't think the exiled feeling is healthy for the mother and a stressed-out mother isn't good for the baby. Parents, even parents of babies, who have lives are better parents. Having a life means learning to leave the baby with someone else. Your baby does not have to be with you constantly. It will be fine. I chose to set boundaries early and I've never regretted it.

Anonymous said...

CC said, "So the idea that it is a huge strain for either parents or baby to be apart from one another on Sundays seems bizarre in light of the fact that most parents are apart from them 40 hours a week where I come from."

It may be that being apart from them 40 hours a week is also a big strain, but they see it as necessary and unavoidable. That 40 hours away may also be why they are loathe to add any hours to the 40.
I think the idea of a "crying room" with a window into the sanctuary is a great idea -- there is a slim possibility that we may build a new church someday, and I will try to get it included.
Perhaps when people become new members, in that same meeting that we tell them other things they need to know (like that we expect a pledge), we should tell them that if the baby cries or talks for more than a few minutes, you should take them out.

PG said...

To put in my useless 2 cents (being neither UU nor a young parent), I agree with CC, as long as the church that asks parents to leave their kids in the nursery has a good, clean, safe environment staffed by people who know what they're doing. The "just leave the kid in a crib" scenario doesn't work, but c'mon jeff, people use babysitters! Who are these moms that have to be with their babies every single second? Even if you're not a full-time outside working mom, surely you occasionally get your mother-in-law or a neighbor's responsible teenager to watch your baby for a night so you *can* go out. Why not make church that time: once a week, your kid copes with being with someone else.

PeaceBang said...

I can't believe that this is coming from child-free moi, but one of our very newborns came to church this morning, and when I thought of asking her mom to leave her in a nursery, I got sick to my stomach.
She's so brand-new and snorgly! She's still like an extension of her mother's body! Her head is all wobbly!

Our three almost-newborns were in the whole service and nobody made a peep until a tiny little cooing at the benediction. And then I got to hold the tiniest one through a lot of the receiving line and secretly smell her head.

I can't believe that I'm so strongly disagreeing with CC and PG about this! Shocking myself!

Anonymous said...

Is it really in the best long-term interests of a developing child to be with its mother 24/7 or nearly 24/7? How else is the child supposed to learn to cope with separation?

It took my nephew a long time before he stopped banshee-screaming whenever he was away from Mom for more than 2 minutes. Mom never knew he did this since she was never around for it, and she thought he was a Li'l Saint who never screamed. I hope he doesn't grow up to be a momma's boy or a constant attention seeker.

PeaceBang said...

But not a babe-in-arms, right? I mean, when they're a little older?

Chalicechick said...

How old is a babe in arms? My housemates' baby is nine months old. She's teething so she cries a lot in general, but she seems used to Mommy going to work and doesn't usually fuss much about it.


Anonymous said...

My two cents (and I know I'm coming into this late, as usual) is that the worship service is a good time to see a snapshot of what we're aiming for, in terms of society and UU community. Excluding children from that (for children's church or what have you) doesn't seem right.

But of course, I'm still assuming that there is an element of Christian modeling for the service (meeting on Sunday, other elements) which I may be totally and 100% incorrect on.

If we want our movement to remind us of an academic lecture, and encourage all of us to be highly intellectual, then yes, let's exclude children. But I think that kids can get more than we give them credit for (even if they may hate it, like CC, well, tough, they're kids, right?). And so I'd want mine in the service with me from an early age.

As they get older, they can decide whether to continue participating or not.

This from a childless lesbian, so take it for what it's worth (though I do want to have kids).

UUpdater said...

My question for you is this. If a parent wants to be with an infant, for whatever reason, and the infant is not making any unacceptable fuss in the service, then what exactly would you be hoping to accomplish by discouraging the parent from bringing their infant into the service?

How exactly would this discouragement manifest? Snide comments? Kind suggestions? Evil glares? Quite festering? No real manifestation just a preference of yours?

Chalicechick said...

If the baby is not making any noise, then it's safe to assume the baby is comfortable and I don't care.

My ideal method would be to encourage other plans rather than discouraging the kids in church.


UUpdater said...

CC - makes sense, and when said that way it would probably rile less parental feathers. As a parent who has received the "evil glare" method of discouragement it's nice to know that would not be your methodology.

Thanks for clarifying.

Anonymous said...

One of the strangest things about so many UU churches I've been to is the segregation of children from their parents during the service. This is completely contrary to what I grew up with.

I don't have a problem with children in the church. Yes, if a baby or child is absolutely miserable and screaming their head off, then take them out. That's just common sense. But a little babbling, or cooing, or even a "mommy, look!" is not disruptive in my mind.

I think part of the reason UU churches can seem so cold is because of the lack of children, and intergenerational activity.

I also know a lot of UU young adults who have ZERO tolerance for young children in "their" spaces. Unless the child is under their particular "charge" (e.g. in child care, sunday school, a program), it's like they don't know how to interact with them. I find that odd, and wonder if the age segregation in UU churches have something to do with it (they are all people who grew up UU).

I would be interested in seeing some models of UU churches where there is a great deal of successful intergenerational activity; where worship services include all members of the congregation.