Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Grumpy Church Lady Mystery: SOLVED!

Of course this is a research trip, why do you ask?

So, whilst gathering information for the Maminou series (which involves spending a while in the south of France - totally taking one for the team here -) I have come across the answer to the Church Lady Mystery. So I had to share straight away.

Had to.

If you are unfamiliar with the Church Lady Mystery, here it is in a nutshell: 

Why is it that some old ladies at church are so incensed by babies and toddlers making noise? Surely they have had their own, how come they don't remember it being hard? Did children use to miraculously behave because "back in the day, we weren't afraid of discipline, my dear"? Did children and babies not squirm, scream and cry? 

How did they do it? 

Well, I asked Maminou, so now I know. 

They didn't. 

Maminou doesn't remember seeing children younger than six or seven at mass when she was younger. She didn't take hers until they were preparing for their First Holy Communion. People would leave the younger children with a neighbour, a friend, the father if he didn't go to Mass, the nanny if they had a bit of money. 

So, they have no patience for you and your toddlers, because, chances are, they have never been in your shoes ( of course I can't vouch for all the Grumpy Church Ladies everywhere, but it is something to consider).


Now you are allowed to nod and smile whilst your personal GCL admonishes you and makes you feel like a failed mother after Mass: she, officially, doesn't know what she is talking about. 

Big sigh of relief. We are doing alright, folks! 

This is related to two things I want to write more about, when I have access to a computer rather than my phone for post-writing: the importance of help, and general skin-deep catholicism. 

PS: If you already knew the answer to this mystery, you could have told me! 

PPS: let it also be said that, although we boast a good few GCLs at our parish, the overwhelming majority of people are lovely and helpful, and mostly think J is hilarious for trying to sing at all the wrong times (yes, he does that). 

PPPS: this may also have solved the Grumpy Priest Mystery, some have also encountered. 


  1. I have encountered a few references to "the first time I took my children to Mass...[at some older age]" and wondered if that, perhaps, used to be the norm. I have a hard time believing that. How did an entire culture avoid children in church?! (Not doubting you, just shaking my head in wonder.) How could parents afford help? Or stand not attending church together, ever, for ten or more years, until all the babies were old enough to behave?

    When my children watch the old Disney 101 Dalmations I always shake my head at how society has changed, that at one point it was perfectly normal for a pair of impoverished newleyweds to have a cook/housekeeper, just for the two of them. WHY can't we do this anymore?? Do you KNOW how much easier my life would be if I had a cook?! And of course if I had help at home I could leave my youngest children there and always be able to focus in Mass. That would be lovely. But it's awfully unfair of the GCLs to be critical of mothers whose only other option, realistically, is to not attend Mass at all.

    1. I know! Bring back available help! I could use a gardener/cleaner SO happily!
      For Maminou it was really easy whilst in Algeria because she could afford a nanny who would typically be Muslim, but she said she missed Mass a lot once they had to leave for France. I think we may have to challenge our ideas of religion being more faithfully followed in the olden days!

  2. I didn't know it was a mystery or I would have told you, sorry!

    My nana didn't take her children to mass because little ones just didn't go. She stayed home with the babies and when my mum and her siblings were older they were sent across the road to church on their own to sit in the children's pews right at the front (under the watchful eye of a teacher!), and other families did the same. When all the children were old enough my nana was able to go back to church herself. It seems like it was a common practice, here at least.

    1. Very interesting! And I suppose it answers Elizabeth's questions above! You're giving me more food for thought for the caholicism in the olden days post. :-)

    2. I love how you always bring historical information into your posts, whatever they're about. More history is always good!

  3. I was born in the 1940's, and we were brought to Mass from birth. This was in the United States. We behaved or else. I remember being at Mass at aged two and three.

    However, I have read references to St Therese ( the Little Flower) being left at home with servants while the elders went to Mass. So staying home did not do HER any harm!

    1. Hi Laura! Interesting point about Ste Thérèse! I can well imagine it didn't do much harm to the faith of children who were brought up in a devout household to miss Mass in their early years. Elizabeth's point is true though, now it is simply not an option for parents, regardless of whether they would want to or not.
      But your perspective is really interesting, was it common around you then? What was it like for babies crying etc? What is your rection to little children qt Mass these days?

    2. Yes, babies were commonly brought to Mass, and taken our when they cried, as they did. I believe that in my childhood years misbehaving children were taken out and slapped or at least threatened. I remember being afraid to turn around and stare at the people in the pews behind me or my parents would punish. I think my own one and two year-olds were abnormal. As long as they could nurse throughout Mass they were pretty quiet. I never spanked them. (This was in the 1960's, 70's and 80's). I DID allow them to turn around, sit on the kneelers, lie on the pew, etc., as long as they were quiet. My parish at the time had a "cry room", and I did use it at times. I also bribed with doughnuts after Mass, and they were a big deal, as I normally did not allow sugar. I know some families who had particularly difficult children would leave them at home, split up, and go to different Masses. But note that I never laid eyes on a single mother until the year 1973 (and she was not Catholic) , so there were husbands available.

      I invited a non-Catholic to the EF Mass recently, and he remarked on all the babies' crying. I had never even noticed. But I joked and said, "Well, of course, we're Catholic - we love babies." When I sit behind badly behaved children (beyond babyhood), I imagine they must be special needs children and my heart goes out to their poor patient mothers. Laura