Ah, the Cry Room. That sound-proof(ish) area in the back of most churches where parents are expected to take their children during service if they cannot "behave." In some churches, it's the choir loft, in some it's a room with a window and a speaker, in others it's an area divided by a thick glass wall. Regardless of design, the effect is the same: The parents and children are separated from the rest of the members of the congregation, who are free to enjoy church in peace.
Naughtiness begets naughtiness
I have two main issues with Cry Rooms: First, they seem to encourage the very worst behavior in kids. I have fairly well-behaved children, but put them in the Cry Room and by the end of opening prayer, they are running around like crazed honey badgers. Put a group of kids in a Cry Room together and it's like a Friday night frat party, only without the booze and debauchery. No thanks, I'll pass.
Have you ever looked at the faces of parents in the Cry Room? They look defeated, and rightfully so. Most probably go to church for the experience of communal prayer, not to watch their child run around like Speedy Gonzalez on crack. They look tired, and rightfully so. It is exhausting to be in a space where your very presence there apologizes for your children being childlike. They look dismissed, and rightfully so. Cry Rooms, which should be for the temporary refuge of parents with upset children, often times are considered to be for the benefit of parishioners who think the only good child is a quiet child.
Hard to absorb grace through a wall
My second beef with the Cry Room is it segregates you from the rest of the parish. I realize this is the whole point of the room, but it does a horrible disservice to children. By being in the Cry Room, you no longer experience Mass — you watch it. It's like the difference between being at a sporting event and watching it on television. That same invisible yet tangible connection that exists between the fans exists between the members of the congregation. It is extremely important to allow children to fully participate in that togetherness, to help them understand the importance of attending church.
A child doesn't begin learning the day you send them to school — they start learning from the moment they are born. They experience the world with all of their senses, learning routines and language, and they assimilate their place within it. Why should church be any different? Why should their relationship with God, arguably the most important relationship they will ever form, begin when they are able to sit quietly for an hour? Catholic Canon Law 226-2 says, "Because they gave life to their children, parents have the most serious obligation and the right to educate them." I feel as though I would be failing my children if I didn't allow them to sit in the pews with me during Mass and experience with all five senses the grace and glory of the service.
Father knows best
The former pastor at my church, Fr. Ken Malley, always handled fussy children well. He would smile big and say, "I love the sound of a crying baby in church; it's the sound of life. Without it our church cannot continue." He would then remind everyone that the baby as a baptized Christian had just as much right to be in the church as everyone else. Finally, he would thank the parents for staying out of the Cry Room, saying "We would have never heard him (or her) if you were in there, and would have never been so perfectly reminded of the completeness of God's love. For God loves us even when we are at our worst... and by worst I mean thinking mean thoughts about a parent with a crying baby during Mass."
- Don't start off in the Cry Room. Just use it if needed and then return to your seat.
- Sit in the front. More to see = less likelihood of boredom.
- Bring entertainment — special toys or books only used during church.
- Don't let your kids run around. Teach them church isn't playtime.
- Quietly explain what is happening in a way they can understand.
- Help them learn the songs. They will be more interested if they can join in the praise.