I Have Something to Say About That…

Thoughts from Author Jenny Proctor

Reverent Children are Weird*

17 Comments

*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?

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17 thoughts on “Reverent Children are Weird*

  1. I'm so sorry that this happened to you. It's hard to understand why someone would be that rude and insensitive. I hope you can just ignore her.Now I have a question–as a single sister, I sit alone in sacrament meeting every week. I would love to offer to help the women in my ward with their kids, especially when their husbands are either on the stand or absent. But I never offer because I'm afraid that they will think I'm criticizing them indirectly. How would you feel if someone like me offered to help? I can't decide if I need to get out of my comfort zone and just do it, or if I should just leave well enough alone.

  2. I have meet your kids, I have seen you parent your kids, my only thoughts are "wow, her kids are great, she must be a really good mom" i'm sorry she was rude…. Maybe she should sit by me and my kids, that way Ivy will seem tame 🙂

  3. Thursday, As a mom of four, most would be happy for your help, especially if they are by themselves. I hardly think any would be offended.

  4. Thursday, that is a great question. 🙂 My first response is to absolutely not hesitate, to run, (run quickly) to any Mom that might need help. I would never be offended by someone's desire to help. Having said that, I have gotten annoyed in the past when people have "helped" in ways that undoes all that I do to try and teach my kids reverence. Like giving my kids food that I didn't bring, or toys that they really don't need to be entertained by. (For my older kids anyway. If people want to give toys to my two year old, as long as they are quiet, I don't really care.) Still, I couldn't make it through Sacrament meeting without a handful of people that are aware when I need them to come to my rescue. If I have to take the baby out, there are two different women who have come to me and said, "All you have to do is look at me, and I'll move up to sit with your other kids." And I take them up on it whenever necessary. I would say, absolutely offer to help. Even just letting them know you're available to help in whatever way they need… let them know you'll sit close by, close enough to help if they need it. And also, if you see that desperate look in a tired mother's eyes… maybe don't just offer, go ahead and do. I know I'm not always the best at recognizing when I really could use some help… I'm so used to having to just plow through and get stuff done, but helpful hands have often been tender mercies, even when I didn't know I needed one until after the fact.

  5. When I used to go to church, there was a young girl that was in a wheelchair and couldn't talk or walk. But she was always so happy when the hymns were being sung that she would shout out. It always touched my soul that she was showing joy. But there were a lot of older people in our ward that would get really bent out of shape, and ask her parents to keep her quiet. I can't even tell you how mad that made me. Her only way to communicate, and people were telling her parents to shut her up. Kids will be kids. Church is hard to sit through for them, and when a young mother like yourself has many kids and a husband in the bishopric or branch presidency, its hard. It would be better if some of those that are mean to you would just sit with your family and help out. Sorry, rant over.

  6. For some reason, anywhere you go, you will encounter people that judge. It is rude. Just keep going, keep doing your best, and your children will one day be grateful that you took all of the judging. (At least I'm glad that my Mom kept going.)

  7. My mom would send me outside during sacrament meetings with my younger brother, whenever he started acting up. They’re young, innocent children and can’t be expected to sit still for any length of time. It’s perfectly normal. Yes, the senior citizen was rude, and should have never spoken to you that way. Next time, tell her she’s welcome to sit right up on stage, next to your husband, that way she won’t miss anything. 🙂

  8. I read this post yesterday and have been stewing over it ever since. I'm always amazed at some older people who don't really remember what it's like to have small children. I would bet that this lady's children weren't as perfect as she remembers. We always had strict rules for our kids during sacrament meeting, and they STILL acted up. Frequently. Especially #3 who felt it his job in life to test us. Our rules were, if you behave, you can stay in the meeting where you can have snacks, crayons, books and quiet toys. Misbehave, and you get to go into the foyer and sit on mom or dad's lap until you are ready to behave. One time, I was sitting in the foyer with #3 sitting on my lap, still making quite a racket. A guy came out of the chapel with his screaming daughter. He sat on the couch across from me and put his daughter on the floor where she immediately stopped screaming and ran around the foyer laughing. He watched me struggle with my son for a while, then reached out his arms to him and said "Will he come to me?" I told him "No, when our kids are noisy enough to be taken out of the meeting, they have to sit still on my lap, we want it to me more enjoyable for them to be inside the chapel than it is to be out in the hallway."He looked kind of shocked (remember, his kid is still running around laughing) and single man from our ward (came in late, was sitting in the foyer) looked at the little girl, then back at me and said "Good job! More parents should be that way!"I wish I old say this worked all the time, but we were still taking #3 out of sacrament meeting when he was 7 (now almost 12, and can finally sit still through the meeting:)Your post also reminded me of the time when our neighbor came to church for the first time in many years. She was bringing their newly adopted baby (a baby they had waited a very long time for) and he was fussing during the sacrament. A lady sitting a few rows behind her whispered loudly that she needed to take him out, so she did, took him out to the car and went straight home. It was a long time before she came again.I spoke with her about it a while later, and she said that she just wasn't sure if it was OK for her to leave the chapel while the sacrament was being passed. I've spoken with people who say they don't take their kids to church because they don't know how to behave, but how else are they supposed to learn how to behave if we don't take them?Honestly, when someone has a noisy kid in church, instead of wondering why the parents can't make them quiet, we silently high five each other, because "at least it's not our kid!" ;0)Our youngest is 7 now (yes, I know, Max is seven!) and the biggest problem we sometimes have with our kids is trying to keep them awake.Jenny, you are a good mom, this is a busy time in your life, and things will get easier. Someday (you won't believe how soon this will be) (seriously, it seems like a long way off now, but it goes by fast) you too will have a bench full of sleeping teenagers during sacrament meeting.Hang in there!

  9. I read this post yesterday and have been stewing over it ever since. I'm always amazed at some older people who don't really remember what it's like to have small children. I would bet that this lady's children weren't as perfect as she remembers. We always had strict rules for our kids during sacrament meeting, and they STILL acted up. Frequently. Especially #3 who felt it his job in life to test us. Our rules were, if you behave, you can stay in the meeting where you can have snacks, crayons, books and quiet toys. Misbehave, and you get to go into the foyer and sit on mom or dad's lap until you are ready to behave. One time, I was sitting in the foyer with #3 sitting on my lap, still making quite a racket. A guy came out of the chapel with his screaming daughter. He sat on the couch across from me and put his daughter on the floor where she immediately stopped screaming and ran around the foyer laughing. He watched me struggle with my son for a while, then reached out his arms to him and said "Will he come to me?" I told him "No, when our kids are noisy enough to be taken out of the meeting, they have to sit still on my lap, we want it to me more enjoyable for them to be inside the chapel than it is to be out in the hallway."He looked kind of shocked (remember, his kid is still running around laughing) and single man from our ward (came in late, was sitting in the foyer) looked at the little girl, then back at me and said "Good job! More parents should be that way!"I wish I old say this worked all the time, but we were still taking #3 out of sacrament meeting when he was 7 (now almost 12, and can finally sit still through the meeting:)Your post also reminded me of the time when our neighbor came to church for the first time in many years. She was bringing their newly adopted baby (a baby they had waited a very long time for) and he was fussing during the sacrament. A lady sitting a few rows behind her whispered loudly that she needed to take him out, so she did, took him out to the car and went straight home. It was a long time before she came again.I spoke with her about it a while later, and she said that she just wasn't sure if it was OK for her to leave the chapel while the sacrament was being passed. I've spoken with people who say they don't take their kids to church because they don't know how to behave, but how else are they supposed to learn how to behave if we don't take them?Honestly, when someone has a noisy kid in church, instead of wondering why the parents can't make them quiet, we silently high five each other, because "at least it's not our kid!" ;0)Our youngest is 7 now (yes, I know, Max is seven!) and the biggest problem we sometimes have with our kids is trying to keep them awake.Jenny, you are a good mom, this is a busy time in your life, and things will get easier. Someday (you won't believe how soon this will be) (seriously, it seems like a long way off now, but it goes by fast) you too will have a bench full of sleeping teenagers during sacrament meeting.Hang in there!

  10. I wish I could say that I was astounded at that woman's behavior, but sadly I'm not. The fact that you an even utter some kind and understanding words about her even now amaze me. I'm seething for you.When I was alone with my 3 young boys at church, I had to divide and conquer. Corbin and Luke are only 18 months apart and Splenda was working and inactive. So Corbin went to the right side of the chapel with the young men attending the doors. Luke went to the others. The boys would keep them occupied with drawing or playing a word game. The young men loved it! It kept them awake and even though they were playing quietly with my sons, they still "addicentally" heard some of the talks.My boys loved it because they felt big and important. And funny thing, when they turned 14 and had "door duty" they were the first ones to look around and find a small one that needed some attention. Usually a crook of a finger and a whispered "come here" is all that it took and then another mom or set of frazzled parents would get a break.Sheesh, we are all in this together!

  11. Oh my, what bad timing on that lady's part! I'm amazed you held it together long enough to make it to the mother's room (HUGS). I agree, Sacrament meeting is hard with lots of little ones (my seven kiddos are 10, 7, 6, 4, 3, 1, and 4 months old). There have been many months when I don't feel a bit of the Spirit while trying to encourage reverence among the ranks. However, like you, I persist because I know that what we do now matters. These weekly forays into the chapel are adventures, to say the least.

  12. Kids can only learn to be reverent if they are there to learn it. Everything we do in church is centered around families. I can't count how many times I have been embarrassed by my children making noise or talking out loud (Addie has no volume control) but I know that I am doing the right thing by having my children there, whether it is an annoyance to others or not. The Savior did say "Suffer the little children to come unto me." I do understand the lady's plight, but the spirit is what teaches not the speaker. If she had decided to focus on the spirit instead of your children, I am sure she and her husband could have come away with something more than noisy children. Keep hanging in there Jenny. You are doing amazing work!

  13. I have three kids 4 and under and when my youngest was 4 months old my husband was called to be the Sacrament Music Director and Ward Chorister. I freaked. I'm glad he is talented and try to support him in his calling, but as much as I love my kids I am terrified to be left sitting alone with them in sacrament meeting. So many people volunteered to look after me as soon as they found out as they know how rambunctious my children can be (my kids try to crawl under the rows to escape). We've worked out a plan that I get to church early enough that I can get a row where one friend sits with her family in front of me and another friend sits behind me. That way, if a child tries to escape under or around a bench they are covered. Then if I have to take my 2 year old needs to be taken out I can hand the baby to the friend in front and her daughter (who is my babysitter) will come sit with my 4 year old. Or if the kids start getting too loud my friend in back leans over the bench and starts distracting the kids as needed. If it weren't for the support of my ward, I honestly wouldn't make it to church even though I know how important it is. I'm sorry that you had the experience that you did and I totally would have reacted the same. Though, after the fact would probably suggest (if the sister ever returned) that her and her husband sit with your family. That way, they can sit up front and have an easier time hearing the talks and maybe, in turn, help distract your daughter if needed.

  14. I'm sorry, my friend! I wish I could have been there beside you. She was totally in the wrong, but most older people feel that their age gives them the right to be rude. Obviously, that's a false outlook, but that's their game. My 94 year old grandmother often believes her rudeness is instruction to us younger folk. I'm glad you didn't lash out at her because you probably would have felt badly for it because you have a kind heart. I think you and your children are a blessing. Ivy's "volume" may have been a hinderance to this lady, but I'm sure it gives as much if not more joy to every other member of your congregation to hear her sweet giggles.

  15. When my husband was in a bishopric for the first time, it was crazy. We had four kids ages 5 to 6 months. Boy! We were we a sight when the baby needed to nurse. I would walk out the chapel followed by my little entourage. Luckily, I one of the very kind teenage girls noticed what was going on after a few weeks and she offered to sit with me (with her parents permission). She was a lifesaver! Even after the baby was no longer nursing, she still sat with us and helped me with bathroom trips and drinking fountain needs.A few years later, my husband was the bishop of our new ward. During that time we added child #5 and #6 to the game. We were in a ward with a lot of young kids so the noise and the occasional flying toy didn't phase many people. Everyone always smiled and laughed when my little guys would yell out "hi dad!" or stand up and wave to him on the stand.My only suggestion is hang in there! I was always grateful when we made it through sacrament alive. You are doing a wonderful job by just getting your children to church. You are a great example to them!My kids are now ages 16 to 3 and somehow we manage to stay in the chapel. I can't always hear the speaker, but at least we're in the chapel. 🙂

  16. I to have 6 kids and most weeks I wonder why I even bother. Luckily no ones been so "bold"/(down right rude) to me but that's probably because I try to avoid eye contact at all cost so I don't see the inevitable annoyed looks. It's definitely a challenge but I know we'll all benefit in the end and if my mom could take the six kids in my family every week by herself and play the organ as well then I have no room to complain. You're a better woman then me because I probably would have let that lady have it. You're amazing and inspiring and don't give up the battle each Sunday you'll win in the end:-)

  17. Wow you have tiny branch! Our ward has over 140 primary and nursery children. Usually half of the men in the ward are deployed. So most of the women are used to wrangling their children by themselves. Not that it's easy or fun. Not that there aren't Sundays where you wonder if it's even worth to attend church. Have you ever heard the saying, "hanging all my unhappiness on someone else"? Because it sounds like that OLD woman is unhappy and she's taking it out on you. Sorry that you had to encounter that.

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