The next sound you hear will be the wail of a single man with no kids.
Who's really to blame for toddlers behaving badly? The toddler who is committing the unsocial behavior, or its parents who appear to be complicit in the toddlers actions by being complacent in their parenting?
I'm not talking about an "oops" moment - when as a kid, you did something before really thinking about it, and then got an instantaneous correction from your parent. I'm talking about when a kid perpetuates a bad behavior while the parent sits by and makes no effort to correct it.
On Saturday, I had lunch with a friend at a Dallas La Madeleine's, and a young couple let their toddler run around the dining area, about 60% of which was outside their line of sight. Not that the parents were even watching their child - they were busy reading the newspaper. Customers carrying food had to watch for this little brat as he bobbed and weaved, having a grand time on his own. The father finally scooped him up, the mother bundled up their newspaper and they trudged outside, moving on to the next venue where their child would be unleashed on a bunch of unsuspecting citizenry.
On Sunday night, the annual Christmas concert was held at my church. (By way of full disclosure: I am a member of the Chancel Choir, and I've been working hard since September to learn all of the music, so I have a personal stake in this event).
This isn't just a church musical. This is a worship service, but at a much higher level than a regular Sunday morning service, which some would consider almost "high church". For Christmas, our music department hires about 50 professional musicians to form an orchestra, we have an adult choir of about 80 people, plus children's choirs of about half that. We have special decorations, professional lighting, guest soloists, and real candles (to the consternation of the facilities staff). The sanctuary is bursting at the seams with poinsettias, musicians, and concert-goers anticipating a beautiful evening of worship.
So while the orchestra glides through a newly-commissioned score of "In the Bleak Midwinter," who should decide to join them but a couple of toddlers who think it's the perfect soundtrack for babble noises. Only it's not. A soft harp is not ideal accompaniment for babble noises.
Now, to the extent that these kids are making sounds toddlers make, it can be understandable and even excusable. For all I know, the toddler may be telling his parents that the music is the most beautiful thing he's ever heard. The problem comes when parents allow (and by allowing, encourage) their young offspring to continue its disturbance without admonishment, correction, or being taken outside. It's as if the parents either cannot hear their own child's fussing and shrieking, or they think everyone has come to church just to hear their child. The orchestra and choir are just there in case their own kid is quiet, to fill up the dead air between their child's performance.
For those parents, I hate to break it to you, but we really don't want to hear your kid. Your kid isn't listed in the program. It doesn't really matter if people paid money for tickets, or if this event is free. It doesn't really matter how cute your kid may look (when it's asleep). It's not about you, it's not about your kid, it's not about having fun. By your abdication of your responsibility to train and nurture your child, they're acting like the brats you didn't like when you were single. You're going to be the only ones who could possibly laugh about this tomorrow.
My beef here is with parents who sit there while their kid babbles and shrieks. We all know that virtually any child will whisper loudly, drop something, wiggle and squirm, want to be held, and otherwise cause momentary disturbances. The key here is "momentary." When the toddler creates a distraction, shouldn't its parents quietly provide corrective action (assuming discipline already plays its rightful place in the daily running of the household)? However, the repetition of bad behavior that is never countered by parental discipline is what I just can't abide.
Particularly when I'm in the choir and I know the effort that has been expended to craft a beautiful service!
Shouldn't courtesy be paid to people who are trying to lead the overall congregation in worship? What's supposed to be the objective here: letting your family carry on like they're in your living room, or worshipping the Person we believe to be the Creator of the world?
For those parents who didn't take advantage of the available nursery, haven't cultivated a family rubric of social etiquette, or didn't put their toddlers to bed and hire a sitter, then I feel they're responsible for compromising the quality of worship for the entire congregation. It is a church worship service, and I'm not shy in my opinion that keeping it "set apart" is important.
As far as the parents in La Madeleine's are concerned, I suppose they figured the amount they paid for their quiches and coffees also included baby sitting by everybody else. Funny... I didn't see that on the menu.
Having said all that, I'm compelled to add this caveat: To the extent I extend graciousness and forgiveness to people who frustrate me, I demonstrate aspects of God's holiness that benefit all of us. I suppose this is a lesson that applies not just to parents of brats, but to everyone about whom I write in this blog.