I grew up going to a Church that had a crying room. I have more than a few memories of my parents sneaking us to the little side room that was supposed to be sound proof, but really only dulled our screams a little. With the large glass window separating us from the congregation, anyone who was so inclined could still see my two older brothers brawling (because I was clearly perfect, the trip to the crying room rarely had anything to do with me) while my Mother's face did a fairly good impersonation of a teapot coming to a boil. Looking back, I'm pretty impressed my parents kept bringing us to Church. The crying room at my Church also had a little box of toys, which seemed a helpful tool to distract the toddler crowd, but when you had more than one little kid in the room, caused Mass to become the scene of an impromptu playdate, arguing over toys included.
When we got married and had our first child, one of the things we looked for in a Church was somewhere with a crying room, because I didn't like the idea of our baby disturbing anyone else's prayerful experience of Mass. So we tucked ourselves into the crying room every time she so much as squawked, making the awkward and I'm sure disruptive trek to the back with our overstuffed diaper bag, stroller and big carseat. (I laugh at all the gear I brought to Mass in retrospect. Nowadays I bring my diminutive purse with one solitary cloth prefold and a facecloth). I was still fighting my way through breastfeeding, so I liked the added protection of a separate room while I struggled with getting her to latch under a big heavy blanket (I had yet to discover nursing covers). The crying room was my own security blanket that I held on to, even later one when she was bottle fed and was very calm through the hour or so of Mass. I remember so clearly that one day as my husband and I left Mass, we realized that neither of us had heard the readings or the homily, and had only been a part of the congregation itself when we lined up to receive the Eucharist. The crying room had made it easy to let our attention wander, to get distracted by the goings on of all the other families (for better or for worse) and I for one had taken to chatting with the other frazzled mothers finding refuge in the crying room with us. We had created our own little community in the crying room, but it was nothing more than a playgroup. We had lost the point of why we were at Mass in the first place.
As we wandered from Church to Church after that, we found ourselves gradually edging our way into the community. If a Church didn't have a crying room, we'd sit at the very back so we could make a quick escape if one of the kids started acting wild. As our kids started getting used to the rhythm of Mass, which by the way got easier when the newest babies were right in the community from day one (well, day two, we had to be released from the hospital first), we starting slowly picking our pew further towards the front. When we joined our new parish community, we spent a few Masses at the back before we took the bold move to sit in one of the front pews (still conveniently located by the door to the hallway where the bathrooms are, because potty training waits for no one). At first it was hair raising for my husband and I. I couldn't help but feel like everyone was watching, and was very aware of the echo each little squeal from our kids made. Turns out, those watching eyes weren't judging. They were smiling with joy. Who doesn't love seeing a young family at Mass? And as for the noise, it turns out that even if everyone could hear the random things my kids would shout, the worst we'd get would be a chuckle from a parent who had graduated from this stage of parenthood.
As the months have passed, other families have started to sit around us, with their toddlers and babies. To some extent I think there's safety in numbers. When a kid loses their cool, there are so many of them in our part of the Church that no one besides us can tell who it is. Unlike the little community we made in the crying room almost 5 years ago, we are all sitting together trying to enjoy Mass, singing our hearts out, pointing our children to the action on the altar, and growing in faith together. Sure, there are times when the kids are goofing at each other or all the babies (and a few toddlers) start crying all at once, but instead of running away from the community of the Mass, we have solidarity as our kids become their own choir. We exchange our desperate looks, soothe them, soothe each other, and get back to the business of loving Jesus and giving that witness of love and devotion to our kids. Our kids are part of the community as much as we are, and while they may never remember when they joined the community, I pray they'll always feel safe and secure that they belong and that they are wanted. I know as a parent I've come a long way to realize that the kids weren't bothering anyone, and that we don't need to separate ourselves from the community, and that doing that was a disservice to us as parents, our children, and the great community who love seeing kids at Mass too. After all, Jesus said "let the little children come", He didn't say they had to be quiet once they got there, or that if they cried they should be put to the side in a little windowed room. He just say, let them come. The great commandment for us as parents is to bring them to Jesus and then teach them to love Him.