I have often wondered who gets to decide propriety, especially with regards to children.  I suppose it is a societal consensus, where the majority makes the rules, but even still, is it the US as a whole, or smaller societies of where one lives, or who one interacts with on a regular basis?  There’s the ‘children should be seen but not heard’ philosophy of yesteryear, which surely has gone by the wayside with today’s youth.  Who decides?

Two areas in particular have caused me to ask these questions: children in church and children in stores.  I’ll tackle these in two separate posts.

Partly related to Friday’s post about learning to let my children be children, who decides what is acceptable childlike behavior and what is disruptive, rude or inappropriate.

I’ll start with children in church.  My girls began sitting with me during the church service (as opposed to playing in the nursery) when they were each about 18 months old, and I am now slowly getting Alexander acclimated to do the same.  I am very much the minority in my church on this.  Most parents send their youngsters to the nursery, or to ‘children’s church,’ when they reach that age.  It started with my oldest asking to come with me to church, and has grown into a strong conviction on my part that children belong in church with the parents, worshiping as a family, not separated from the family in some other activity.

So the question becomes, how much wiggling is acceptable?  How much squeaking or noise is acceptable?  Is any?  Is it right and good to expect a child to sit up straight and be still in the same way such behavior is expected from an adult?  How much leeway should be given?

Initially, being the only parent to have my young children with me in church, I was hyper sensitive about how ‘bothersome’ my children were to others around me.  Now, I think it is right and proper to NOT cause a disturbance, which would hinder others from worshiping, but how far is too far?  How much is too much to expect from a child.

In a church culture where it is expected that your child go in the nursery, it often seemed like not much leeway was being offered.  “Why don’t you put X in the nursery?” was a comment I received more than once…and it was hard to gauge whether it was an honest question, since having them with me was against the culture, or if it was a passive aggressive way to say, ‘hey, your kid is noisy, get ’em out of here.’

I did (and do) have standards for my girls.  I limited how much fidgeting was allowed, taught them to ask me questions in a whisper, and tried to teach them what was an emergency (ask me now) versus what needed to wait (mommy, why is that lady wearing blue?).  And I would remove them for discipline when necessary, but the question still remains, how much is too much, and who decides?

For a while I would inquire of those around me if we were too loud that day.  The answer was always no.  Most often, the folks who sat in front or behind us loved watching the girls sway as they held their hymnals, or as they furiously ‘wrote’ in their little church notebooks.  My girls are now 3 & 4 and I rarely have a problem with them these days.  I am starting with Alexander (20 months), who thinks he’s supposed to talk during the entire service (we’re working on that!).

I know there are churches where children IN church is the norm, and I suspect that the background noise of such churches contain babies cooing, little ones fidgeting, and turning pages.  Such sounds are normal, expected and accepted.

So does each church determine acceptable behavior for its congregation?

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