Religion & Beliefs

Are Kids Wreaking Havoc on Your Spirituality?

The other day I read this post over at Visualize Possibilities called Congratulations! It’s A God! about how believing in God can be like giving birth. It sounds kinds of silly, and the post is somewhat irreverent and cute, but … Read More

By / July 11, 2007

The other day I read this post over at Visualize Possibilities called Congratulations! It’s A God! about how believing in God can be like giving birth. It sounds kinds of silly, and the post is somewhat irreverent and cute, but definitely worth a read. And I’ve been thinking a lot about giving birth and having babies because I know a lot of people who’ve recently become parents for the first time. People always talk about how amazing and miraculous it is to have a baby, and how shocking it is to realize how much you can love someone you’ve never met before. I buy that, but I wonder how the ill effects of child-rearing can influence one’s connection to God and the Jewish community. It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone talk about in a serious way. In fact, the only source I’ve ever seen on this concept comes from a particular rabbi’s ruling that says the primary caregiver for young children isn’t obligated to pray because he or she could be rightfully too distracted by his or her obligations to give the appropriate intentions to prayer (send me a message if you’d like the source). But what about when the kids have grown up considerably, and are still a major distraction for a parents who wants to daven? Sitting in shul the other day I noticed that the children present were getting pretty rowdy, screaming and giggling and generally behaving like kids, while the adults in their midst pretty much tried to ignore them. It occurs to me that this is the norm in many shuls, and that ignoring kids in shul doesn’t really leave them with the idea that they’re valuable members of the community. On the other hand, finding a space with a room for children isn’t east, and then occupying the kids for a few hours while their parents daven without the aid of television, arts and crafts or musical instruments can certainly be a challenge, too—especially when most of the adults really want to be in services davening. So what’s a responsible and serious synagogue to do? I poked around online and found a few responses. Not surprisingly, the CRC has a particularly offensive take on children in the synagogue, basically holding that they should be left at home until they’re older and can be quiet. Then it goes into a kind of weird thing about not kissing anyone at shul so God knows you like God best. I wasn’t able to find much more about the behavior of young children, but there are a bunch of articles from Jewish newspapers about teaching kids to act appropriately at bar and bat mitzvahs. Some shuls require the family of the bar or bat mitzvah to provide chaperons who will sit with the rowdy preteens and shush them. The Jewish Journal reports on rabbis asking kids to stop text messaging during davening, and on inappropriate dress for synagogue. And j. is especially harsh on preteens:

These days, with my son on the b’nai mitzvah circuit, I’ve been privy to many horrific tales of disrespectful and out-of-control behavior at these meaningful celebrations. While some of the more extreme stories may be suburban legend, there’s no doubt that disorderly conduct is a recurring problem. And these troubled waters run deeper than the offending parties could ever imagine; the potential ripples far surpass that puddle surrounding the ice sculpture of the bat mitzvah girl doing a pirouette.

This unruly behavior is hurtful, if not heartbreaking, to the families who have invested many months — not to mention lots of money — anticipating and preparing for this all-important day.

These deeds negatively impact the synagogue’s visitors and regular congregants, as well as rabbis forced to add policing to their list of Shabbat morning duties.

I’ve been to some pretty raucous bar mitzvahs, and to some incredibly gurgly Shabbat mornings, and it’s true that they’re distracting and not conducive to an incredibly close relationship with God or prayer, but I’m not sure that throwing the kids out or telling them to sit down, shut up and cover up is really the best response. How is it that none of these resources say anything along the lines of, “Kids should bring quiet books and toys—like puzzles—to occupy themselves during services. Older kids should be encouraged to bring Harry Potter, or some other reading material"? I know that my plan won’t work for every kids at every point, but it seems like those are the most obvious suggestions. Am I missing something?