Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mean Church Lady

That was me today. I hate being that person. I totally feel crappy about it. As Chair of the RE Committee, I constantly hear complaints about the lack of supervision of the kids during coffee hour: Kids being where they aren't supposed to be or running around creating havoc. Part of this is true and a lot of it is exaggeration. But, there is that perception we are dealing with. So much so, that we are having trouble finding teachers because of the "behavior" issues. Gah!!! This is such a sensitive subject. Today, I had to ask a sibling pair three times to stop running around. Part of me was "just let it go", a second part was "there are lots of elderly folk who could get knocked over", a third part was "you are being mean and crabby about it", a fifth part was "somebody needs to say something" and a sixth part was "kids are kids and we don't have a good place for them to hang out at church; so get over yourself." In the end, I said something. It was just getting out of hand. Their mother was nowhere in sight. I also said something to her - which I feel even more crappy about. I hate telling parents that I said something to their kids. I told her that I had asked her kids to stop running around because I was getting worried somebody was going to get hurt. I told her they might think I was the mean church lady, but I really wasn't trying to be. Of course, she now probably thinks that of me. She was nice, but who wants to hear something like that about their kids? Now I wish I would have just said something to the kids and not her. I feel like I was calling her out and that is super uncomfortable and probably not fair. I don't know. What would you have done? How do you handle situations where parents just let their kids have free pass to the church? How do you set up expectations?

9 comments:

uumomma said...

I actually did this recently. One kid was running around and I told him, perhaps a bit sharply, to watch out and slow down. I then had an opportunity to say to him "I didn't mean to be harsh, but you were rushing by X and she's really old and we need to be careful around her, okay."
He shrugged and said, yeah, okay--not in a rude way but in a way that made me understand he got it. No need to involve the mom because this stopped it. Don't be so hard on all of those parts of yourself. Sometimes it takes a mean church lady to make kids understand there ARE limits.

Amy Peterson Derrick said...

This has been a hot topic in our congregation as well... and I believe that it is a fairly common issue.
This is a great teachable moment: have a "coffee hour chat" about this issue. Ask everyone to contribute their expectations for this time together and create a covenant. Involve the kids and the parents and then ask everyone to take a part in reminding each other to stay in covenant with one another. This is also great practice for when other issues arise!
At the end of the day, we all need limits and we all occasionally need to be reminded in love that our actions can have a deep impact on the others in our community!

Lizard Eater said...

Oh, ew. I hate this one. Once witnessed the BFF-DRE being called a Nazi because she told some pre-teens they needed to go to class, not just hang out. (And the name-caller was the Mom.)

Ditto what Amy said -- having the kids responsible as a group for upholding covenant is a good thing.

Amy said...

As a parent, one of the things I really want from my church is for everyone to help teach my daughter the norms of the community. (We may not get this, as the picture will always be complicated by her PK status.) I think it is very good for children to learn manners from multiple (friendly!) adults.

We don't have a major problem with this at church, but of course the kids crowd around the drinks table and little things like that. I see it as a teaching moment and tell them nicely what the etiquette around these things is (go to the table, get your drink quickly, take it away, don't clog up the table with your stirring activities). The "don't run wildly around octogenarians" teaching seems similar to me, and welcome. How else are they supposed to learn? We aren't born knowing this stuff.

I like Amy's suggestions--keeping in mind that the adults, as well as the kids, need to agree to polite behavior. We are supposed to assume goodwill--let's assume that a 10-year-old who's running too fast is being a little thoughtless and overexcited, not a bad kid of bad parents. I wonder how many parents would say along with me that they want others to respectfully instruct their kids.

Bridgett said...

Oh I'm waaaaay meaner than that. I think it's because I used to teach middle school.

Sara said...

As a DRE, I have to step in and tell kids to stop running, or be quiet, or whatever. In my church, that's my job. But I really appreciate it when other parents, or other congregants - in a friendly way - also step in and help the kids realize when they have overstepped the boundaries of community expectations. I like to emphasize that in community, they are OUR kids, not just the parents kids. So in that way, every adult there has a responsibility to work with the kids, even if that means they have to be the "mean church lady". I'm sure you weren't really that mean. :)

plaidshoes said...

Thank you all for your support! I know I don't have a lot of patience for running around kids and know it is something I have to just calm down about. I am always worried that I over react. I really like the covenant idea and think I will bring that up to the DRE as something to do during one of the Children's Chapel. That way it is a group effort and has the input of all the kids. Thanks!

Amy Peterson Derrick said...

I would definitely say that the covenant process should also happen with the adults as well, even if it happens at a different time... it IS true that adults have to learn that they have a role to play as a part of a multigenerational community as well.
Also, situations such as these cannot and should not be handled by the DRE alone; so many times we expect our DREs to shoulder the burden of making our congregations safe (I am a DRE as well and have experienced this). But this cannot happen unless the WHOLE congregation has a conversation. It may totally sound like an overreaction, but I would actually bring it to the DRE and minister in hopes that as staff they will recognize that it IS such a wonderful teachable moment and a great excuse for the board to launch a safe congregation task force (especially if you would be willing to sit on such a task force). Really, this isn't just an issue of physical safety, but also one of emotional well-being as a congregation learns to develop and stay in covenant with one another. :) I am glad that you wrote this, as we are in the midst of forming our own safety task force and are addressing these very issues. Good Luck!

Elizabeth said...

I think this is completely reasonable. It is so hard to find a balance between "we all need to be respectful of each other" and "someone needs to get those kids under control," and it sounds like you are careful to respect that kids are kids and not adults and but that at the same time we need to balance everyone's needs, especially safety needs. For me, that is the concern. If people get annoyed at kids because they are, you know, not being grownups and standing and talking quietly, I have little patience for that. But when kids are being extremely loud or extremely disruptive (beyond normal play) or running the risk of someone falling or getting hurt, that is the time to talk about shared space and mutual respect. Sounds like you balance those well! :)