I feel adrift.
It’s 10.30 on a Sunday morning and, as a Christian, I would like to be at church. Building relationships. Supporting and being supported. Worshipping Jesus. Learning more about the Bible. Applying it to my life. That kind of thing.
So would my husband. So would our children (mostly).
But – and I say this without wanting it to sound as though I approach it as a consumer – church just isn’t working for us at the moment. And to say we are upset about that really doesn’t properly express the deep sense of disconnect we feel from the community that is supposed to be where we belong and can feel that we are fully ourselves.
Pete and I both grew up attending church – he with his family from birth, me as a teenager with Christian friends who let me tag along with their families. He and I met when we both worked for a Christian charity. So our faith is both a part of our individual identities, and something we want to be a huge part of the foundation of our family.
It’s not just Sundays
We miss being part of a community of Christians who look out for each other, see each other during the week, support each other when things are hard, celebrate together… all the stuff that ‘community’ implies. We haven’t really had that in a meaningful way since very soon after the children arrived.
Pete and I were previously in a lively Anglican church, with whom we had been very engaged – playing in the worship band (Pete), writing Bible studies (me), and even spending more than a year overseas as missionaries. We left that church before the children arrived. This was because (a) they seemed to forget about us when we were overseas and didn’t handle our early return (long story) very well, and (b) we told a few people in confidence about our plans to adopt and found ourselves asked about it by a different member of the congregation every week. But we still kept hosting our small group which comprised other people of our age who attended the church with varying degrees of regularity.
Once the first couple of weeks of placement had passed – and with them some excellent lasagnes and shepherd’s pies from our friends – the dynamic changed and we had to stop our weekly Bible study gatherings due to a combination of our exhaustion and a lack of commitment from the others which meant some weeks no-one would turn up.
We’ve tried different churches. We went to a Baptist church in the next town for 18 months, but ultimately left because (a) we weren’t getting to know anyone on a meaningful level and (b) they voted to change the constitution so that the leader of the church couldn’t be a woman. In combination, this was a dealbreaker for us. Our last service there was Christmas Day 2015. Although we’d written to the leadership to resign our membership, no-one else noticed we’d left until the following March.
Lately we’ve been going to an independent church which is an offshoot of the one I attended as a teenager. I know some of the people there from 20 years ago, but most of my generation have moved away, and those who might recognise me are a generation older and never really knew me well. We’ve spent six months trying to settle there, and it’s hard going. I’ll explain why.
A typical Sunday morning
7.30 The girls go downstairs to watch TV or play on their Kindles.
8.30 Pete and I go downstairs to make breakfast. At least one of the girls will usually find something to complain about and may refuse to eat breakfast. There may be a tantrum at this point.
9.15 We try to cajole them upstairs and into clothes. There will usually be an argument about whether they wish to get dressed and/or what they propose wearing, e.g. a summer dress in midwinter. Often I try to preempt this by putting out clothes on their beds, with varying degrees of success.
9.45 Teeth-brushing is suggested. This is a prime source of wailing and flailing. We offer help. It is rejected, then wanted, then rejected again. Loudly. There is often a meltdown like this one.
10.10 Time to leave. Putting on shoes and coats and the endless refrain of ‘Can I bring something?’ (I already have a bag full of somethings – colouring, sensory toys – to keep them entertained). There is almost always a strop at this point. Sometimes it is so intense we give up trying to leave.
Leaving the house
10.20 If we make it to the car, and manage to get them into seats and seatbelts, we have ‘I’m bored’ within two minutes. And then ‘Can we have the music on?’ Pete usually has a splitting headache from all the screaming by this point and is understandably reluctant to have music playing while driving. I usually try to persuade him to put it on, just for a quiet life in terms of whining from the back seats. Failing that, I play I-Spy for 20 minutes.
Arriving at church
10.40 We arrive at church with 10 minutes to spare before the service starts. There are drinks and snacks available so we have to negotiate that with the girls which normally means I forego coffee so I have enough hands available to steer them and all the accoutrements to a suitable seat. Obviously Pete and I have neither time nor capacity to hold a conversation beyond ‘hello’ with anyone else.
10.50 The service begins. Joanna settles reasonably well, reading her Bible or colouring. She might join in some of the songs. Charlotte struggles to stay still or quiet and changes between activities every few minutes – colouring, writing, stickers, showing me things and wanting conversations about colours and spellings and Things She Needs Right Now. I am unable to concentrate on the service, sing a song uninterrupted, or focus on the prayers. I give her cuddles and back scratches and whatever other sensory input she seems to need.
11.20 The children go to the front for ten minutes of singing and Bible story. Sometimes they are happy to go with the crowd, other times I need to go with her. Both girls fidget throughout.
11.30 The girls go out to Children’s Church (Sunday school). If I haven’t already been in tears of exhaustion they tend to kick in now, as the sermon starts. I am unable to take much in. I feel rubbish.
12.15 The service ends. Others make bee-lines for each other to catch up and plan social engagements. We troop to collect the girls, who are reluctant to leave the room where they have been making little craft projects and deal with another transition. Once the girls are with us, conversation with others is impossible again.
12.25 We get in the car: the girls are hyper and teetering on the brink of strop; Pete and I are deflated after hoping again that this might be the week we have a conversation that helps us start to build Actual Relationships with someone. We brace for the journey home.
Two weeks ago, it was at this point that we looked at each other and said that we couldn’t face doing this any more. We have told the one couple we know well enough to explain to (adopters with children who are now in their 20s). They told one of the leaders, who left us a voicemail, and we’ve invited him for a coffee. We are trying, we really are. But we are feeling… adrift.
If you’re involved with a church – or would like to be – you might find this leaflet for churches about supporting adoptive and foster families helpful (it’s also available in PDF form here). You might also like to contact Home for Good who can put you in touch with other adoptive parents and foster carers near you.