Kids Are Raised by the Community
Mass has become a bit of a struggle. For whatever reason, I didn't anticipate that Benedict would reach an age where he can't be entertained enough to be able to stay in Church for an entire Mass. For weeks now, Alison and I have had to take turns taking him to the back of Church and play with him there.
I now have a much greater appreciation for parents of large families... and the role that older siblings play in helping parents raise younger siblings.
Our culture is fairly "anti-family." Young people and young married couples are often taking steps to prevent starting a family or are delaying starting a family to focus on their careers.
Children are seen as an impediment, an inconvenience, and even an obstacle to goals and even happiness. Paradoxically, even though our society collectively avoids bringing new children into the world, we can't get enough of babies.
Benedict is extremely social. If there are people around, he just won't sleep. He wants to giggle, laugh, play, wave and talk to almost everyone he sees. His engaged personality usually ends up with people trying to interact with him at some level.
As a parent, I find this type of engagement from the community quite welcome. I'm entertaining, but even I don't have the energy or stamina, or even the array of good ideas to keep Benedict fully engaged and entertained for all of his waking hours. So when he gets a little antsy in the shopping cart, there's usually someone around who tries to get him to wave. A moment's relief for me so I don't grab the damaged box of whatever.
I'm sure things will change when he gets older. People seem to like the newness of babies but are less enthused with kids as they enter school age. But for now, I'll just enjoy it.
All of this has really reinforced in my mind the fact that children are not simply raised by their parents. They are, in fact, raised by the community around them. Parents have a vast support network that, while maybe not very deep, lends a hand from time to time. It may be as simple as stranger at Mass distracting the baby, or as profound as IKEA's Family Parking featuring extra wide spaces, close to the door location, and sometimes even a family section set off from the main parking lot, reducing traffic flow and keeping wandering little ones a bit safer.
Even though many proclaim to not want to bring kids into this "messed up
world," I believe that's nothing more than a front. Deep down, we can't deny that our love for children is an innate part of who we are. We understand in our nature the paradox that while children bring a degree of stress and disorder to our world, they also bring a source of true joy and happiness that we can't find anywhere else.
So the next time that you're at Mass and see young parents struggling to keep their child entertained, do them a favor and make a face at the kid.