One can hardly think of anything more important to church-going parents than the responsibility of spiritually instructing their children. And yet, at a church as diverse in age and faith upbringing as the one I attend, it is a challenge for me to determine how to balance the primacy of that responsibility with other, equally important considerations.
For example, my children have been known to be a little, shall we say, squirmy during morning service. And I have had to learn to be a little bit shorter on my leash with them. Because their behavior isn’t just a private matter between them and me, but affects others’ ability to be worshipful. So I have to subsume my individual responsibility (to be a good parent to my kids in that situation) within an overall context that includes the needs and preferences of others around me. For those parents whose leashes on their kids’ behavior are usually tighter than mine, it is easier for them than it is for me; and for those parents whose leashes on their kids’ behavior are usually looser than mine, I imagine it is harder for them than it is for me. But how our kids behave is no longer just a matter of them and us, or even them and God, but also them and how others near them may be affected by them.
Thankfully, most of my fellow congregants are generously patient with me and my rug rats. And those who have corrected me have done so with a kind and wise tone. Such is the necessary balancing act we diverse congregations face, as we manage the worshipping needs of lots of different kinds of folks. It is my hope that my kids grow up in the church with the understanding that they are important members of the congregation but not inherently ahead of others: neither to be shushed into a straitjacket, but neither again to be allowed to do whatever they want with no regard for the ways in which they may be distracting to others. Easier said than done, but worth working towards.