There seems to be two groups of people shouting loudly across the internet about children and Mass these days. One group says things like this (although this may be slightly dramatized): kids shouldn't bother adults during Mass because it is sacred so they should essentially "sit down and shut up" so the adults can pray and not be inconvenienced or disturbed in any way whatsoever. The other group of people seems to say: I'm an overwhelmed parent and can't handle my kids whatsoever so I'm going to let them run rampant while I ignore them to pray.
Obviously, neither of these outlooks have got it right and it's frustrating really. It seems like the best mindset, as in most situations, is quite in the middle: we must teach our children about the sacredness of the Mass by gently encouraging their quiet participation (which includes teaching them about what's actually happening in the liturgy), and people sitting nearby families with children should do their best to focus on the Mass themselves, either ignoring crying children altogether or perhaps even offering to help. Doesn't that seem like such a simple solution, friends?
There are several things more distracting than a crying child in Mass, and two of those things are: parents being crazy harsh to their children in the pews around us (which happens so much and makes me sad), and worrying about & receiving mean comments and glares from other parishioners.
So, today, I have a simple suggestion for all of us (including myself, because I'm not perfect). First of all, everyone calm down. The whole world doesn't revolve around you, or me, or my kids, or your kids. Second, remember that the way children are treated at Church will most likely be the way they feel about Church when they are grown up. Sunday mornings spent in arguments, anxiety, and tears will most likely not help a child grow to love going to Mass. We're trying to bring up Christians here, not ex-Christians. Are we all on the same page here?
At Augustine's baptism our deacon, friends, and entire family welcomed him into the Church, so why do people feel entitled to make children feel un-welcome in the very buildings they were baptized? (Side note: we love our parish and have actually never had an issue with this, though we did have a few unhappy experiences at different parishes in different states. Also, anyone should feel welcome anyways, even if they weren't baptized.)
Parents, do your best to teach your children about how Mass is sacred, to teach them about what is happening, how to participate, and why it's important; to encourage them with gentleness and your good example, and to show them that Mass is something to look forward to with joy instead of anxiety. And know that it's okay to look at the older couple a few rows ahead of you as they sit quietly with their adult children -- and look forward to the hope that someday, by the grace of God, that will be your family.
And to non-parents, or parents of grown children, try to imagine what it's like to try to focus on the Mass with a baby in your arms and a three-year-old crawling all over you and instead of judgement, meet your fellow Christian with grace and love; do your best to focus on the Mass instead of on the people around you, and if you absolutely have to say something -- say something kind and helpful. Almost all moms already know about the cry room and telling us about it isn't going to come across as helpful, it will probably be pretty hurtful. And if being around children (remembering the fact that you were also once a child) is so annoying that you can't stand it, offer up your suffering and take to heart the words of Tolkien:
"Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them)."
I'll go to Mass with you if you'll go to Mass with me, and we can both pray for each other.