At Mass for Ash Wednesday this year, I saw far more children than I normally would see for Sunday liturgy, and adults attending liturgy at our central Florida parish I’ve never seen.
What a blessing to celebrate: A full church with many people new to the Church, all beginning their Lenten journey.
But I also noticed discomfort within those pews, and not associated with the recent changes in the Mass. Children – especially the toddlers and those four and five years old – getting and being fidgety throughout the shorter than usual service for Ash Wednesday, and parents giving stern glances and talking in loud whispers to and physically “readjusting” their children.
Well, at least until I read a book. No, it wasn’t from Franciscan Media or any other Catholic or other religious publisher. It was what was already a pop classic – Future Shock.
In the multi-million international bestseller, futurist Alvin Toffler argued that society is undergoing enormous structural change. The ongoing increasingly rapid technological change leaves people disconnected and facing “shattering stress and disorientation” – that is, future shocked.
Interesting, but what does that have to do with children at Mass?
Toffler noted that the rushing to which all – or at least some – of us find ourselves slaves make us less aware of how time works on each of us differently. We think of time as an objective reality. An hour, after all, is an hour, isn’t it?
No, Toffler said, suggesting that the older you are the faster time seems to pass (maybe because more has been used, maybe because less is remaining). In fact, he relates that there is an inverse relationship between the perception of time’s length and age (the younger you are, the slower time passes).
Upon reading this, I had what may have been the most profound “ah ha” moment of my parenting life! For as I thought of my three-year-old son in Mass for, say, one hour – the same hour I was in Mass – the consequences were staggering. That one hour felt to me, well, like an hour. But, this is key, to him that hour felt like 10 hours as I was 10 times as old as he.
I began to think about how I would feel being in Mass for 10 hours straight and I all of a sudden found empathy for all of the squirmy children at Mass, all of young people who were told through their lives to “Wait just 5 more minutes” (read: “Wait just 50 more minutes!”).
My parenting at Mass, in the car to church, in the house, at a restaurant, everywhere changed dramatically, with much more patience and developing of strategies to deal with the reality in his and his brother’s lives of how long an hour can be.
In an interview with the author of St. Anthony Messenger Press Books Celebrating Saints and Seasons: Hundreds of Activities for Catholic Children, catechist Jeanne Hunt said parents need to do more than rush out of the house at the last minute and assume all will be well sitting at church. Come prepared and know your child’s needs, she said, urging parents:
Other resources parents might be interested in from Franciscan Media include Dr. Ray Guarendi’s audio “Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids” and his Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: Dr. Ray Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, and Kimberley Hahn’s Beloved and Blessed: Biblical Wisdom for Family Life.
Today, this parent is so proud that his son, who was scolded by an unprepared parent in those first years, has learned with his wife how to include their son – my two-year-old grandson, Ethan – in weekly attendance as a family at Sunday services, something not seen as a chore but part of their weekly lives and healthy family home.
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Photo top: CHILD LOOKS UP DURING CHILDREN’S MASS – Jasmine Hinton looks up while sitting on the lap of her father, John, during a 2007 children’s Mass atSt. JohnVianneyChurch in Prince Frederick, Md. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Photo middle: PARENT, CHILDREN AT PRAYER SERVICE – Sunshine Tuma sings with her sons Keegan, 3, and Chase, 5, during a 2008 prayer service designed to introduce young children to parts of the Mass at St. Mary Church in East Islip, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Photo bottom: MOTHER HOLDS RESTLESS SON – Christy Fitzpatrick holds her restless son, Matthew, in a room set off from the rest of the congregation at St. Mary Church inWilliamstown,N.J., Jan. 11, 2009. (CNS photo/Craig Pittelli)