Earlier this week, Kendra at Catholic All Year summed up her thoughts on "cry rooms" with the rather unsubtle line: I think all cry rooms should be filled with cement. Then she asked: What do you think? Twist my arm...
I think, on the whole, that I strongly agree with the points in her post. As a general principle and dreamy ideal, I try to stay as far away from those rooms as possible. But as the mother of a frequently nursing newborns and fussy toddlers, I would love to have a baby room at my parish for quiet and discreet nursing (and new crawler/walker watching) while still being able to participate in the liturgy. So, I have to modify my support of concrete-filling somewhat.
To sum up my thoughts: I can't really blame an inanimate thing, a room, for disciplinary breakdowns in families. It's somewhat like saying that owning a closet causes me to buy too many pairs of shoes. It's just a bit of space. Having the space is not the root of the problem. Getting rid of it doesn't necessarily solve the problem.
The argument actually reminds me of the objection of a former pastor to installing a changing table in the church ladies room. My options for changing my newborn were a pew, the floor, or our car. After suffering through all three multiple times during a frigid January, we offered to purchase a brand new changing table for the parish. Father said NO. Because, he reasoned, if there is a changing table, babies will poop and the diapers will smell up the bathrooms. AS IF not having a changing table somehow discourages infants from pooping.
Kids will still fill their diapers if there is no changing table. Kids will still throw fits if there is no cry room. So, here's my alternative solution to the "cry room" problem:
Bouncers. Like the ones they have at bars but maybe nicer with smiles and mantillas and no physical coercion.
No, seriously... just hear me out. They would be charitable bouncers, of course, and would simply help parents with cry room discernment. For example:
"Hello! I see that you are about to bring your very naughty 4-year old into our baby room. Were you aware that there are two infants currently peacefully nursing with their mothers in there? You weren't? Well there are. And what affect do you think your screaming preschooler will have on the other families in that room?"
All with gentleness and love oozing from every pore. Or how about this...
"Good morning! I see that you are an able-bodied young adult about to enter our very small baby room and take up space that a nursing mother will inevitably need to sit in during the next hour. I know you are late to mass and hate it when people stare at you as you walk into an already seated church... but our nursing mothers are quite equally opposed to having to nurse their babies while seated on a public toilet for lack of space in the baby room. (Since our parish community has not quite evolved to the point of embracing mothers who discreetly feed their babies in church... although they will buy People Magazine and go to the beach and not even flinch at the flesh exposed...) What are your thoughts? Would you like me to help you find a seat in the church?"
And perhaps we could stop calling it the "CRY" room since the point really isn't to provide a place for badly behaved children to cry uncontrollably. Let's call it the "baby" room and use it appropriately, sparingly, and respectfully. I have no objection to parents using such a room with antsy toddlers (I have done this many times myself) but parents should consider this room as a part of the church and continue to parent and discipline appropriately. In other words, if you have a screaming, fit-throwing 4-year old, don't take him to the baby room... take him out of church until he regains control.
Please don't misunderstand... parenting during mass time is not easy. It is a heavy cross at times. There are rarely black-and-whites with discipline in public places. I have been a new mama seven times now and I will continue to have plenty of moments where I have no clue what to do in a certain circumstance.
When do I use the baby room?
*I admit that I have used a baby room without a baby... to sit in while extremely sick with pregnancy but still determined to attend mass with my family. There was room and I thought it would be distracting to others in church if I were to drink water, eat apples, and occasionally spit into a cup. Just fyi, I would certainly not have done this had there not been ample space.
*I have used a baby room to nurse babies.
*I have used a baby room for the "under two" kids who need to get their crawls and fidgets out.
*I have never used the baby room for a child who is throwing a fit, crying, or misbehaving in a defiant and disruptive way.
In reading other responses around the internet, I keep stumbling across moms who admit to keeping their little ones home from mass to avoid difficult behavior. I decided to dig out a few articles I've written in the past on this topic for their consideration. Whether there is a cry room or not, I'm of the general opinion that families belong at mass together as often as possible regardless of these young family challenges. It can be a terrifically tough hour... but you know what? It's our vocation. This is what we are called to. We got this. Lord, have mercy!
Bringing the Whole Family to Mass: Don't Forget Your Sense of Humor (A challenge to go to Mass as a family)
The Family of God is Messy (Response to reader comments on the above article)
A Story of Two Masses (On discovering the "Mass of our vocation")
We Went to Sunday Mass in Sweats (approaching Sunday Mass with humility)
Endurance, Grace, Openness to Life (An account of one of the more difficult masses of my motherhood)