Pope Francis greets children as he leads a special audience for patients and workers of Rome’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital. The audience was in Paul VI hall at the Vatican in this Nov. 16, 2019 file photo. (CNS, courtesy of Vatican Media)

On a recent Sunday, my 4-year-old and 2-year-old were “having a moment” during Mass. Either they both wanted me to pick them up at the same time or they were fighting over one of their Church-approved books. Whatever the cause, I’d taken them outside to sit on a bench in the Church courtyard until they calmed down.

They were still fussing when I saw a fellow parishioner turn and look at us from inside the church’s open doors with a half-irritated look.

“Man,” I thought, “I’ve even taken my kids outside and we’re still getting looks!”

I seem to miss half of every Sunday Mass these days between taking my kids to Children’s Liturgy of the Word or trying to keep them in line, and my husband would probably say the same thing. But we keep going. Partly because our parents did the same thing to us all throughout childhood. And partly because we hold onto the hope that something, anything, about our Catholic faith is getting through to our little ones as they fidget in the pew.

Parents walk a delicate tightrope as we work to bring our children up as Catholics, both in and out of Mass. We can use all the support we can get to keep coming back. Just look at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate statistic that shows weekly Mass attendance has dropped from an estimated 55 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 2018.

So here are a few suggestions for those of you watching us parents with young kids in the pews:

Be friendly before and after Mass

Our family of four loves greeting fellow Massgoers as we come in and out of church. So please say “Hi” to the young families you see sitting by you or offer a warm smile.

After Mass, maybe give a compliment to the parents (“Joey has such a joyful singing voice!”) and chitchat a little to show they are welcome. Just avoid these phrases: “My kids used to be that loud too.” “Boy, you have your hands full!” and “When are you having your next one?”

Ignore the noise

During Mass, ignore the sounds coming from the children around you. That’s right, your (hopefully) well-intentioned glance over or back at the sounds coming from the kids near you won’t instantly turn them into quiet angels or make their parents feel any better about themselves.

Example: Our 4-year-old is mildly autistic and tends to make vocalizations at the end of songs or speak in too loud of a voice during the silent parts of Mass. Sometimes he can control it, and sometimes he can’t. We’ve been working with him a lot on proper Mass behavior despite his noises. I cringe inside every time someone near me turns to look at us, even when they are giving us friendly smiles because my preschooler really loves singing the “Glory to God.”

If you hear a young child at Mass acting out, crying, or being extra loud, please don’t turn around and look. I know it’s sometimes a knee-jerk reaction or perhaps a Catholic version of rubbernecking. But chances are those kids’ parents are struggling mightily to get them to behave.

More often than not, parents will take a child out that has reached the “beyond church decibels” level. But if a child is giggling, making a few cries, etc., it’ll pass. And if you missed part of a reading due to noise interference, the USCCB has all the daily Scripture readings online at usccb.org/bible/readings.

Help create a family-friendly culture at your parish

There are so many ways parishes can and are doing this!

Sunday doughnut and coffee social hours are a great reason to gather after Mass. No better way to get kids and parents to stick around and get to know one another than with doughnuts for the kids and strong coffee for the parents.

Don’t hold events you want young families to come to during naptime, which is usually a few hours right after lunch, or much past dinnertime, when kids are melting down as bedtime approaches.

Have Children’s Liturgy of the Word during at least one weekend service. It’s a break for the adults and an interactive experience aimed at kids.

Look into developing your child and family faith formation programs with offerings like “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.” Your diocesan faith formation office is likely more than happy to give you ideas!

— Anna Weaver, Catholic News Service. Weaver is associate editor of the HAWAII CATHOLIC HERALD, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu. This column first appeared in the March 4 issue. The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.