Wandering through our new ward building today as I took my shift on the cleaning crew, I found it hard not be impressed by how well the new building caters to the needs of families. The cutest part of the building is in the nursery–there is a tot-sized bathroom, filled with a miniature toilet and sink. There are diaper changing tables in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms (a change, my husband tells me, from the old days), a beautiful mother’s room, storage areas for toys, and a slew of energy saving devices. In many ways, this building gives physical expression to the desirability of incorporating family life into our public interactions.
Most days, I’m a strong supporter of highlighting and catering to family needs. But recently I have found myself wondering if our success in making the family such a central part of our public gatherings has not also come with costs. The ward building where I grew up had a cry room attached to the chapel. Parents were expected to remove disruptive children from meetings and to listen behind the cry room glass. But in my experience, cry rooms are now rare, and letting children remain in the chapel is far more common. I had the chance to speak at a church function recently–and I couldn’t hear myself talk due to the noise.
As a feminist, I want to see a society where children and family needs are made central. But as an adult, I also know that children–with all their joy, energy, and grumpiness–can be an exhausting distraction from worship. Is there a way that we can fulfill our desires to incorporate children and families while also not losing sight of the need to create environments conducive for adult fellowship and worship? To what extent can a Mormon ward, given our focus on the family and the child-rearing assistance we expect from church, cater more to adults?