Worrying about my own parenting made Mass
with my daughter a distracting experience
By Laura Kellerman
Our three-year-old daughter is quite spirited, and taking her to Mass is a weekly struggle; but it’s something we decided was important for our family. She much prefers to be in the nursery, and trust me, we’d rather attend Mass without the constant distraction!
But we realized it would be better in the long run to expose her to the Mass as much as possible at this age, instead of waiting until she’s a little older. It’s not necessarily the talking, wiggling, climbing and havoc-wreaking that keeps me from focusing on the Mass; it’s the fact that I’m keenly aware of the people around me who may be judging my parenting.
Should we let her color all over the offertory envelopes, as long as she’s quiet? Should we take her out to discipline her or do it right here in the pew? Or do it at all? Snacks keep her occupied, but what if the people behind us think it’s inappropriate for a child this old to be eating in church? And does the fact that the snack has high fructose corn syrup just solidify me as a Bad Mom?
St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22). He is basically telling us to make ourselves one with the people around us. Focolare founder Chiara Lubich called it “divine diplomacy,” when our love has many expressions, depending upon the needs of each neighbor. So out of love for Jesus in each one, “It does not say all that it could say, for this would displease others and would be disagreeable to God. It knows how to wait, how to speak, how to reach its goal,” she said. In my case, I’ve discovered that this “divine diplomacy” helps me with my parenting — in public and in private. When I’m truly making myself one with my daughter, I know how to love her better, when to correct her, and when to diplomatically guide her to a different decision.
That leaves all of us freer to experience what is happening at Mass, and in a more loving atmosphere, to experience “who” we are trying to encounter there: Jesus. We can’t just teach her who Jesus is through words and prayers and visuals; we must demonstrate the patient and unconditional love he has for us. It’s also important to extend this charity toward the others around me by doing what I can to allow them to focus on the Mass, not by viewing them as a big parenting jury.
Recently we went to a different parish where all the children gather at the front to collect children’s bulletins at the end of Mass. We had a little power struggle in our pew, and it ended in tears and my husband taking our child out to the car. I was frustrated and embarrassed, but the elderly woman in front of us lovingly turned around after Mass and offered to walk all the way behind the altar to retrieve a copy for us.
“My kid doesn’t deserve one after that scene,” I came close to telling her. But making myself one with this neighbor meant accepting this act of love, which was far more important than sticking to my stubborn guns. I was very grateful as we walked together.
This mutual act of charity also helped me hit the reset button, and when I met my family in the car, we were able to happily thumb through the children’s bulletin and learn all about the Good Shepherd together. He truly left the other 99 in his flock and came to find me that morning.