*In a question and answer session with the former General Relief Society President of the LDS Church, Julie B. Beck, someone asked how to encourage reverence in their children. Sister Beck responded that we had to do the best we could, but not to worry about it. “Reverent children are weird,” she said. I love her for that remark.
Three weeks ago, I had an experience at church that was terrible in every sense of the word. It wasn’t life changing or earth shattering or linked to any major consequences, but in the moment, it hurt a great deal. I hesitated to write about it because I didn’t want to speak negatively of another person, but I think it might spark a discussion that could remind us all to think about how we treat people, as well as how we react when people treat us.
I’ll set the stage for you. Our chapel is small – about six rows deep, with three sections in each row, moving across the room. If packed full, it would probably seat about 100 people comfortably, though we never have that many in attendance. I expect some people think I’m crazy for it, but I sit in the front row. I do this because the front row is closest to the door and inevitably I will need to escape with one or more of my children during the course of our Sacrament meeting. And also, my husband currently serves in the Branch Presidency (the lay leadership of our congregation) which means he sits up front, on the stand. When I am in the front row, I am close enough to my husband that one of the boys can go and sit beside him if need be. And he is close enough that he can parent the children, JUST BY LOOKING into their eyes. We don’t need to mention the fact that I also generally arrive at church 2 to 5 minutes late every single Sunday. Since there are seven of us, it would be difficult to squeeze in anywhere else besides the front row which is generally empty until we get there.
So. Front row. One mom. Six children, one of which is three weeks old. Another of which is a 2 year old. Another of which is a 5 year old. Am I sounding desperate yet? Now, I think Ivy is a pretty delightful 2 year old. She’s funny and spunky and generally a pretty happy kid. Like most two year olds, she doesn’t like to sit still and she is absolutely incapable of remembering to whisper for longer than 45 seconds. These things make church challenging on the best of days, down right impossible on others. But we go and we manage the best we can and we pray that all those around us will be forgiving and tolerant, perhaps especially so in the weeks just after a baby is born when our entire family is trying to adjust to the extra responsibility and activity that comes from another addition.
For all these reasons I was completely bowled over when just after the meeting closed my first Sunday back at church, a woman that I didn’t know approached me with a not so nice look upon her elderly face.
“I hate to be so bold,” she said. “But someone has to be bold with you…”
She then went on to tell me how absolutely disruptive Ivy was for all of Sacrament meeting. She was loud and distracting and made it so that she and her husband weren’t able to hear for the entire meeting. She told me that she had children that were young once, and you have to discipline them, you have to tell them to be quiet. You have to be firm, and she didn’t see me one single time tell “that little girl” to be quiet. It was so terrible, she didn’t think her husband (who wasn’t a member of our church and was visiting) wasn’t ever going to come back.
As I stood there with my three week old baby in my arms, I was absolutely speechless. I’ve come up with quite a few things I could have said since then, each thick with the same “boldness” that she used when addressing me. But in the moment, all I wanted to do was cry. So I did. I escaped to the nursing mother’s room and cried while Jack nursed. I was embarrassed, I was angry, but more than anything else, my feelings were hurt. I have less of an issue with the fact that this woman told me my kid was loud. I know she’s loud. I sit with her every single Sunday. But to tell me that the reason she is loud is because I wasn’t parenting her as I should have? That was hard to hear.
By the time Jack finished nursing, I was feeling a little better. I vented to my husband and to my friend Valerie, both of whom were firmly in my corner. Had this woman ever attended church in a place where there are 25 nursery age children and 65 primary children? In our branch, the two youngest children in our congregation both belong to me. Ivy is usually in nursery by herself. I know she’s loud, but she’s not near as loud as 25 two year olds. And let’s not even begin to talk about the fact that this was my first Sunday back after having a baby–my first Sunday trying to juggle six children through an hour of reverence. I could go on, but I expect those of you that are mothers are feeling enough indignation that I can stop.
Three weeks later, I can look at the situation with a little more kindness. Kindness doesn’t change the fact that I feel this woman was wrong. But I can, at the very least, acknowledge that I understand where she might have been coming from. A few years ago, I frequently visited a woman that was hard of hearing. She explained to me that many Sundays she sat in the congregation and for an entire hour, wasn’t able to hear a single word of the meeting. She would leave frustrated and disappointed that what she expected to be an uplifting experience fell far short. She also explained that when you wear a hearing aid, the device picks up the sounds that are closest to you. If a noisy child is in between you and the speaker, your hearing aid will pick up the child, leaving you to wonder if the speaker is talking about the fried chicken he wants to have for lunch. Both the woman who confronted me and her husband were, for lack of a more delicate way to put it, OLD. I don’t know that they were wearing hearing aids, but it’s a very logical possibility. Couple that with the fact that this woman, who IS a Mormon, had brought her husband to church, who is NOT a Mormon, and it’s easy to see how she could have been frustrated if he wasn’t able to gain any spiritual insight because of the distracting two year old in the front row. Especially if he usually attends a different church where children are kept in childcare and are not in attendance with their parents. I also have to admit that my filter for how much noise requires the removal of an offending child is probably a little thicker because if I leave the meeting with one child, I am leaving my remaining children in the meeting to be attended by those sitting around me.
All this to say, church with six children is hard. Though, my run in with this woman, who isn’t someone that regularly attends in our area, is most definitely an isolated incident. Generally, I’m surrounded by fellow branch members who understand that with my husband sitting on the stand, I may need an extra measure of tolerance, or a willing set of extra hands or arms to hold a baby or help an older child. There are so many that love and support my family. We feel lucky to live where we live. But because I love these people, I would hate for their Sunday experience to be diminished because my family is noisy. There has to be a balance, I think. If my experience with this woman has taught me anything, it’s to make sure I strive for that balance and not take advantage of the kindness and tolerance of others.
How do YOU find a balance and what would you have done in my situation?