Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Spoilage of Children

I have never had children, so I have been informed that my opinions on the subject of children screaming and carrying on and otherwise behaving badly in public places don't count.  From this you can probably guess what my overall opinion is: if I were in favor of children imitating air raid sirens in church or at the movies, no doubt my views would be considered perfectly legitimate.

Now I know that there are kids with special problems -- mental retardation, autism, various infirmities -- that need a little understanding.  I'm not talking about them or their parents here.  What I'm talking about here are blameworthy failures of parental authority, and their ramifications in the world at large.  And I speak as a person whose views have been -- to use a popular liberal/pop psychology buzzword -- marginalized because my childlessness has given rise to "insensitivity" and "narrow-mindedness."

So concerning children in public places, a few of my insensitive, narrow-minded and otherwise illegitimate opinions:

-- When I was a kid, I was taught to distinguish between my stuff and someone else's stuff; between my space and someone else's space; between a private place, like my own home, and a public place.  I was taught that what I can do with my own things I cannot do with someone else's (at least not without their permission); I was taught that behavior that is acceptable at home may not be acceptable outside the home.  Nowadays, though, the out-of-control behavior of too many children in public seems to indicate that they are no longer being taught these distinctions.   What ends up happening to kids who grow up thinking they can do exactly as they please at all times and in all places?  What happens to those who happen to cross their paths?  Ten years from now, are these children more likely to be thoughtful and considerate toward their neighbors? or are they more likely to wander in packs through the neighborhood, taking out mailboxes and car windshields with baseball bats, harassing passers-by, and generally making nuisances of themselves?

-- Some parents don't seem to see a need to check the behavior of small children in church.   Perhaps they are so used to tuning out rambunctiousness at home that they just carry on the habit at church.  Perhaps they don't view it as misbehavior, even in church.   Perhaps they are afraid to exercise their parental authority.  Or perhaps they want their children to think of Jesus as their Friend and a member of the family, and conclude that this requires them to let their kids run amok in church or in the perpetual adoration chapel, strewing toys and books and crayons everywhere and making noise as if they were in their own rooms or back yards.

Now, once again, I am talking here, not about parents of children with special problems, but about a parental state of mind that amounts to culpability in the matter of failing to discipline kids.  To the parents who are guilty of not teaching their children reverence, I say: okay.  So you don't believe in reverence.  I guess you can't pass on what you yourself don't have.   If you  had it, I don't see how you could bear to look upon anyone, especially your children, behaving in a manner inconsistent with it.  But what about other people who are trying to pray and pay attention, but can't because your kids are such a distraction?  The rest of us are told we need to be charitable and understanding toward you, but where do your duties to your neighbors begin?  Why does the whole world have to be at the mercy of your kids?  And if you won't rein them in, what is to become of them?  And if your kids are too little to be reverent, then why not take turns going to Mass or adoration, while one parent stays home with the kids?  Sure, it's not ideal for the family not to be able to worship together; but is this a permanent state of affairs?  Besides: why put a little child through the ordeal of being in a place where he is not old enough to observe necessary standards of behavior?  

 -- And now we come to a huge personal pet peeve of mine.  There are some places that children -- particularly little children -- should, frankly, never be taken to at all.  Part of the reason that little kids should never be taken to these places is because they are not old enough to behave with the  decorum that is demanded in them.  But then there are some places that children should simply be protected from.  Two of them are courthouses and penal institutions.  To parents who bring their kids into these places, I ask: why aren't you willing to move heaven and earth to spare them things they should not have to experience?  If you are in jail or prison, why in heaven's name would you ever want your child to see you in an orange jumpsuit or black and white stripes, caged and surrounded by armed guards?  I'm sorry, but, difficult as it may be, you ought to bite the bullet and forego the visits, so that the child need not be exposed to the sights and sounds and smells  of where you're incarcerated -- particularly, the sight of you, his parent, being locked up.  Maybe it's just not possible to hide the fact that you are where you are.  But even if there is no way to keep it from the kid, is there ever a really compelling reason to put it in his face?

As for bringing the kid to court, why would you want your kid to see you in trouble with the law?  I know why some of you bring your small children to court, and it's reprehensible: because you figure that way, you won't have to go to jail.  Not only are you using your own flesh and blood as a human shield; but you are also risking landing your kid in the system, too.  There are judges out there who will take the parent into custody and put the kid into foster care; I've seen it done.  But even if this does not happen, it pays to ask yourselves the following questions.  What will be the long-term results of allowing my child to form the impression that brushes with the law are normal?  If I expose my child to my legal embarrassments, what effects will that have on my authority over him, and his respect for me?  By forcing my child to confront these matters at an early age, am I building up or tearing down his innocence?  his sense of well-being? his sense of security?

Unfortunately, we live in an age when sentimentality has overtaken our common sense.  What is lurking underneath that sentimentality?  It's about time we gave that some serious thought.


  1. Grteat post, Anita, especially the part about boundaries. Thank you!

  2. Bob, I see that you too are insensitive, narrow-minded and uncharitable. Welcome to the club!

  3. This post would apply to some adults. Strange statement? Not at my parish. As I commented at the St. Paul Athens Saturday Schola blog... a few weeks ago, minutes prior to Mass, I had to ask two ushers and two ladies (near the fountain) to keep their voices down as they were loud, distracting etc. Well, the usher came up to me, after I returned to the pew, and was ready to start a fight with me. I had to direct him to go outside, otherwise he would have made a scene. I apparently hurt his feelings - he told me off.

  4. Not unbelievable. In my experience, ushers are some of the worst offenders. I've had to ask the ushers to put a lid on it at my parish. It's one of the reasons I don't sit at the back of the church.

  5. So you, too, have had experiences like that with ushers. Interesting. Is it correct to assume that, like me, you ain't the most popular person at the parish?

  6. Put it this way: ever notice the Victory Endorsements in my sidebar? The second two are from members of my parish.

  7. LOL. Yes, I do remember reading those. I see them right now as I write this comment.

    Keep fighting, Anita. V for Victory!

  8. WOW!!! And I thought that I was the only one who felt this way!!! (and yes, Geoff and I are also childless, and NOT by choice- God has other plans for us)

  9. Agnes, welcome to the margins! Somehow, I get the feeling that if you did have a child, that would be one less child driving me crazy in a public place!

  10. Anita,

    Regular reader, here. Belatedly adding to this thread. I agree, absolutely, about most everything (as usual), except the idea of taking turns to avoid having young children in church.

    As someone who has to drive an hour and a half to assist at mass at a chapel that until recently had only one Sunday mass, no, taking turns is often not an option. And as one half of a married couple who live according to God's laws and are blessed by Him, thus far, with fertility, I would not consider it a temporary inconvenience even now that there are two masses.

    No misbehavior is tolerated. Toddler and above /will/ sit still and pay attention to the mass, and they do. I've never had one single instance that I had to punish. Babies are kept calm or removed. But the momentary disruption of a few cries as the baby is taken out is just something that people will have to live with. If I am able to pray over people shouting hellos during the Epistle or angrily asking my kneeling family to move out of the pew immediately after mass so that the old women in the same pew could get in the line for the bbq faster, they can pray over my baby crying out or cooing, once in a while.

    From observing even the less-well-behaved children I sometimes see in church, I'd say many adults are more of a distraction than even the crayon throwers.

  11. No,

    I could do a feature-length post on the bad behavior of adults in church. (I actually did do a short on it Easter of last year.)

    Thank you for not letting your kids run amok. I can assure you that I am not railing against the occasional slippage under the tutelage of attentive parents.