Adoption and the church thing

 

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.

Adrift

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

Getting ready

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.

After church

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.

What next?

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.

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32 Comments

  1. 12 March 2017 / 1:38 pm

    Oh, bless you guys! I have no wisdom to share. We are in similar position; church leadership’s lack of understanding and fear resulted in us not being allowed to attend that church anymore- i sense a theme… it’s particularly hard to ‘just go church shopping’ with children who don’t do change. 🙁 so we are home today, at least it’s sunny so kids can play in the garden. Hope things improve for you soon! Xoxo

    • 12 March 2017 / 1:51 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment – on one hand it’s good to know it’s not just us, though on the other I’m sorry you’re dealing with it too. Not being allowed to go(!) shows a shocking lack of understanding and compassion. How very rubbish for you all. 🙁 x

  2. 12 March 2017 / 2:12 pm

    Ah Hannah, I know where you’re coming from. Like you, I was heavily involved in church activities for many years before I was a parent, leading worship every week, involved in youth work for 20 years, attending all the prayer meetings and Bible studies, spent two years in Romania working with a Christian charity. The crash when all that is lost is enormous, and underestimated I think. I was speaking to a young mum (at a different church) yesterday. Her husband often works weekends and she goes to church alone with her 2 and 4-year-old, struggles through 20 minutes of worship trying to entertain and contain them, and then sits in creche for the rest of the morning because at their church, one parent has to stay in creche with their child. She said she felt as though she might as well be at home – at least it would be easier for her and she could make a cup of tea! I think it’s a problem that all parents of young children can encounter, and for us, it is exacerbated by our particular challenges, and for me, also because I am single.

    After six years working out how to handle it, here’s what I’ve found has helped me:

    Lower my expectations of church people – everywhere I go I encounter people who don’t get it. Although my church family is very loving, and very supportive in a general sense (they help me with DIY, babysitting, all sorts – I’ve been there for 26 years!) many don’t ‘get it’. I’ve tried to support just three people to ‘get it’, and let the others off the hook completely.

    Lower my expectations of what I am going to get out of it all – I’ve listened to a thousand sermons and sung a thousand songs and one day, when the kids are grown, I’ll be able to listen to a thousand more. If all of that listening and singing has not provided me with a strong foundation against this storm, then what was it all for? So, after over 20 years of attending services with nothing to distract me from it all, I grit my teeth and accept that today, as with many other Sundays, I may come away from the morning with very little. Hopefully my kids will have got something out of it.

    I try to make the most of child-free opportunities. Does your church organise any mid-week meetings, or anything in the day? I struggle to get out at night to mid-week meetings because of childcare, but perhaps if there is something, you could take it in turns to go when things at home are stable enough? Our pastor’s wife, a mum of 5, says that for her, mid-week meetings are her church, as Sunday mornings are a total write-off.

    Are there any others at the church who face similar difficulties, albeit for different reasons? Our church is quite diverse, with many single parents, asylum-seeking families, and children living in kinship care etc. Some of the single mums got together and organised a coffee morning/Bible study on a Wednesday morning while their children were mostly at school or nursery – it’s the only time most of us can go to that sort of thing and it’s a good opportunity to have the sort of conversations that are basically impossible on a Sunday morning!

    I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs, and I know that every church is different, and every family has different needs, but you are not alone in finding church difficult. I’m holding on to the hope that this is a ‘season’, albeit a very long and challenging one!!

    • 12 March 2017 / 3:28 pm

      Thanks. I can’t really answer your questions without having the conversations we haven’t managed to have!

      As far as I know, all the groups are in the evenings, about a half-hour drive away. We’ve filled out a form saying we’re interested, but just had an automated response. And we haven’t even been able to find out who to ask about the groups. There is a name printed in the notice sheet but we have no idea who that is…

      I think we are a fair way off from DIY and babysitting! Just making some friends would be nice.

  3. Frustrated Dad
    12 March 2017 / 2:14 pm

    We too struggle with the church thing – with the Children’s part of Services being a bit like school but less interesting and less tolerant of anything other than perfect behaviour. Then hunger kicks in as an 11am service rolls into lunchtime.
    We’ve found a supportive home group from another church but no-one from our own church has really noticed that we’ve gone missing.
    When a family has a baby in church meal rotas are planned (we’ve even been asked to participate) but I’m not aware that they’ve ever done it for when an adopted Child is placed. The Home for Good leaflet is excellent and if the suggestions were followed it would help all adoptive families feel more part of the church family where all members are adoptive rather than birth members of the family of God

    • 12 March 2017 / 3:19 pm

      Yes. Exactly. I find the no one noticing when you’re not there one of the hardest and most telling aspects.

  4. AdDad
    12 March 2017 / 8:41 pm

    That struck a chord. We’ve been having discussions about leaving church of 20+ years because it just isn’t working out. Many contemporaries had their kids earlier and issues such as the ones we are facing seem few and far between. To their credit, Sunday school seem to cope with our child pretty well, but the hassle of getting everything together and dealing with multiple transitions means that it just isn’t something to look forward to. I struggle to sit through sermon without wondering what they are getting up to at Sunday school. Many apparently successful churches must have problems with people leaving when things get difficult – precisely the times they need support. Main reason at the moment for not leaving is not sure it would be better anywhere else.

    • 13 March 2017 / 1:35 pm

      Yes, absolutely to all the above! The multiple transitions are definitely a factor for us too.

  5. 13 March 2017 / 6:51 am

    I am so saddened as this has not been my experience. I have stepped back from a number of things at church, childrens liturgy, flowers, reading and catechist for First Holy Communion but still make it most weeks with some of my children in tow. At first child 4 was very noisy, very active and I suspect a huge distraction, I spent much of the service out in the lobby. it was difficult to talk to people at coffee after the service as he would be off all over the place. The majority of people accepted the situation, I think it even made them more tolerant of young children. Three years in I go with him to childrens liturgy so miss the readings and the sermon but I get quite a lot from being the children and I have accepted that this is where I have to be for now. The community helps me and at coffee now, I can stop and chat all be it briefly as child 4 has a drink and biscuit, helps tidy up with the sacrosanct his favourite bit is putting out the candles or plays with another child. It is always noticed when we are not there, I guess that makes me feel like we belong.I really hope that you find a haven Like mine, keep persevering. Will say a prayer for you xxx

  6. 13 March 2017 / 1:25 pm

    It takes a strong person to be able to say, “This isn’t working, we have to change,” even tough the changing may bring criticism. Hugs, I have no advice, other than to keep on keeping on.

  7. 13 March 2017 / 2:48 pm

    My wife and I have also found ourselves in a place lately where we don’t feel like we’re able to be connected with our church community like we used to be, and I very much appreciate your candidness. Thank you for sharing, and while I may not have anything wise to offer at the time being, you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers!

    • 13 March 2017 / 5:27 pm

      I’m sorry you’re having a similar experience, and thanks for your prayers – they are appreciated!

  8. 13 March 2017 / 6:15 pm

    So sad you feel unable to go, especially when the church is so important to you, integral to you, and your foundation. It’s also sad, that something so special to you is not felt the same way by others. Sending hugs. Xxx

  9. Nikki
    13 March 2017 / 7:38 pm

    Hi Hannah, this is such a hard situation. I asked 2 friends who are more experienced than me (1 training to be a vicar, they have 5 kids, 2 adopted with additional needs). They suggested:

    To try a church where they’re known to support other children who are adopted/have additional needs and who have a strong pastoral history of looking after people well when needed. Church going can be so hard but it’s easy to quickly feel isolated and disconnected if you stop going.

    Having people make friends with your children is really helpful as they may then support you whilst at church too. We did this by inviting people over quite a bit so they could get to know our kids.

    It’s very tricky. The church i go to keeps the kids in the same room all the time, they just pop to different parts of the church for crafts etc. This is ideal for me as no pressure for them or me.

    I hope you find somewhere you feel at home, supported and understood

    Xxxxx

    • 13 March 2017 / 7:45 pm

      Thanks Nikki. I appreciate your comment. However, if we knew of a church like your friends suggest in our area, we’d be there! It’s really not for want of trying. We have visited lots but live in a fairly rural area and don’t want to be travelling more than half an hour to church as the community aspect becomes a bit crazy. And to be honest I have sat in too many services feeling isolated and disconnected. Although it’s far from ideal, it’s less painful to stay at home.

  10. Charlotte
    13 March 2017 / 9:43 pm

    It feels like there are two issues here: 1) Church service on a Sunday; and 2) Church family/community throughout the week – and both are problematic, but I outline below how I handle them both (with varying degrees of success/failure).
    My perspective: My boys are not adopted, but my eldest is ASD and therefore the Sunday morning timeline you describe is very familiar (esp transitions). Neither child is willing to be left in children’s church, so I stay with them (but not as an official leader). My husband doesn’t come to church as he finds it all too stressful and uses the time to get on with all the jobs you cannot do at home with ‘special’ children around.
    1) Things that helped for Sunday mornings: my son wears ear defenders during the service and sits there doing whatever activity he brought with him (sticker books, sudoku puzzles) and doesn’t engage with the kids stuff at the front. He also has lots of accessible snacks he can eat anytime he likes (I ignore stares from other grown-ups – the ear defenders help here because they single him out as ‘special’). Once we’re in children’s church, he stays there until all activities are finished even if that means we’re the last ones in the room! I don’t expect to have any adult conversations on a Sunday morning – once you abandon that expectation the feeling of isolation is gone. If you get a chance to look around, you might find that any other parents of special needs children, or even just the parents of a toddler, are also unable to have any adult conversations. We also NEVER go to the ‘all-age’ services as my son cannot handle the change in routine.
    2) How I found a ‘community’ at church – I started with just one person. I basically watched her in church struggling with three young kids, she looked close to tears every single week (and I thought this was my kind of person), so I asked her if she would like to come over for one hour a week – we swopped numbers/addresses and set a time. I didn’t know her, but we met every week and chatted, we prayed together while our children climbed on us/screamed at us. We used to put a DVD on for them, which gave us about 4 mins of silence before a child would start screaming, but it was something! That seed of a friendship was really important, and over time, I now know other parents at church who I can text in the week just to have some contact outside our closed family unit.
    It’s not perfect and lots of this might not work for you – but just putting it out there as one way of coping with church when your children are a little ‘different’ to others. This is not meant as ‘I know-it-all’ but merely as ‘this-worked-for-me’. I hope that makes sense.

  11. 13 March 2017 / 9:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing this insightful post. To be perfectly honest, we probably would have quit church several times over due to our special needs children and our foster children (heck, maybe even our typical, bio children), but my husband is the pastor so it’s not an option! 🙂 I’m so glad we have stayed for the ride. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. My family needs the community of believers and the community of believers need us there too, troubles and all. This is real faith in action and sometimes it’s messy and people need to see it. I totally get that there are times when you need to step back, though. Love and hugs.

  12. 15 March 2017 / 1:48 pm

    We found an understanding church that knows our situation. Their members will come to pick up one child or both if needed. They participate in the service as “acolytes.” Our reverend visited our daughter at the psychiatric hospital during her last 2 stays. I think it takes the right church family to understand. You’ll find yours. Hugs.

    • 15 March 2017 / 2:14 pm

      Wow – that’s great. So glad you have good support. 🙂

  13. s1nglemum
    20 March 2017 / 2:13 pm

    I read this and thought “yep, me too” We left our church before Christmas, I’d been there many, many years, used to be on all the rotas, in the choir etc. So far, no-one has noticed or made contact since we’ve gone. It was just a constant battle. If I ever mentioned things were a bit hard at the moment in response to “how are you?”, I’d quickly get a “ah, all kids do that” type response and then tumbleweed. I put a huge amount of effort into trying to share home for good leaflets or other info, with just one or two people – no response, flatline. We hit a crisis point where they refused to listen to my safeguarding worries (they were posting child pictures on their public facebook site…) and dismissed my fears, basically.

    So we left. I licked my wounds for a bit, tried to mentally drop my standards about what would be OK – I’d just like us to feel and be safe – and tried a very small, community-based church. It meets in a community room, it’s not pretty, it’s not formal, it’s not worship I’m familiar with. But the people – the very 1st time, they gave me time to get my daughter settled and then brought me over a cup of coffee, “because it can be hard getting out the door in the morning, can’t it?”; at least two or three families came over to chat gradually, one at a time; all the other children were doing their own thing and no-one was bothered at all. It’s very early days but I could have wept with gratitude that first week. They sent a text the second week to check I knew what time the service was, and let me know the music might be loud so I could prep my child… I noticed, looking around after a few weeks, that of the children there, there are around 50-60% who need a bit extra in one way or another, ranging right up to severe physical disability. And each one of them is genuinely included. I don’t think I ever saw a child who wasn’t mainstream/NT in our old church – now I know where they all come. And this just might be our unexpected tribe…

    • 20 March 2017 / 2:18 pm

      I’m so sorry about your experience with your previous church. That sounds really painful. But wow – the one you’re in now sounds so inclusive and welcoming, which is exactly as it should be. I’m so pleased for you it made me cry a little bit! I really hope they continue to support your family and you feel increasingly settled and happy there.

  14. 20 March 2017 / 10:42 pm

    Oh, Hannah! I get this. I can’t even go into our church nightmares. The honest truth is this: There was no church that could/would become safe enough for our children to attend regularly- for years!!! I think a lot of the problem has to do with our city being unusually transient and our children need a consistency that seemed impossible to find.

    Also this: I desperately need Sabbath rest. Sabbath is commanded of us. Church is not (outside of gathering with Christian community and that has also looked much different for me during this LONG season). In order to get any Sabbath rest, I’ve spent time at home while part of the family attended church. Our child/ren who couldn’t attend would have quiet time at home while I had quiet time at home. Now all of the children go to church. I TRY to attend, but since I homeschool two of our children (out of necessity), and because we don’t have any flexible community/babysitters I end up crashing. My health fails when I don’t get consistent breaks. Staying home while the rest of the family goes to church is the only Sabbath I can think of at the moment.

    And I really hope that changes soon because I love and miss church. It just can’t come at the expense of my mental, emotional, and physical health.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    You are not alone.

    • 21 March 2017 / 9:59 am

      YES. Absolutely. Your point about needing Sabbath rest is such a vital one. And when Sunday church attendance with the children is about as far from a rest as I can imagine, we need to get creative with how we meet all those different needs over the course of any given week. And that’s where we need the church community to help us work it all out.

      Thanks so much for your comment. I love your blog. 🙂

  15. 20 March 2017 / 10:49 pm

    Finding so much that resonates here, although in a different context as I am not a church goer or christian. But the whole experience is just like ours in other settings. We found a community garden that has volunteers on Sunday mornings, so that become our sunday service of sorts, but we haven’t been able to go in a while now. I wonder why we used to be able to go, and now leaving the house together seems much harder. Building a support network has been hard for the same reasons. Some parents have reached out who have similar experiences with their children, but smallest one is very frightened of their children’s behaviour.

    • 24 March 2017 / 7:48 pm

      Thanks. Yes, we had a really encouraging talk with one of our church leaders this week about alternative ways we can do church and how they can make a few adjustments that will help our girls, especially reducing the number of transitions involved on a typical Sunday morning.

  16. Southerner
    17 April 2017 / 8:05 am

    We have changed church since having our 3 home. We also were highly active members of it, doing all the youth work etc. And found it doesn’t work for us or for our kids. Similar issues, we gave up going quite quickly. We both know that our faith isn’t reliant on a church, and for me it’s often stronger without, sadly. All I can say is maybe you will find some of the things you got from church from other groups in life. For me, our ‘adoption group’ has been an essential lifeline. I’ve also met people (reluctantly) on the school playground and it is these people who provide me with the fellowship we need.
    One of these people happen to go to a different church which is more structured (but less wishy washy) and although I am wary to do anything other than sit on the sidelines it is our oldest who wants to go. So like you we occasionally (once or twice a month) traipse along with the massive teddies they choose to take (yes we look odd but keep smiling) and all three seem to cope and actually enjoy it.
    So my advice is take the pressure off and think of this time in your life as a time to relax and enjoy your Sundays as a family.
    My son has been with us a year and already declares himself a Christian because he believes! This is with minimal input from us, prayers yes, bible occasionally, some church attendance yes but really it’s all come from him. The irony is we got asked at panel what would we do if he didn’t want to go to church! We of course gave the answer they wanted to hear and yet it’s him who wants to go!

  17. 18 April 2017 / 7:31 pm

    Would you and your husband consider perhaps taking it in turns to go to church each week? At least you would be able to worship properly fortnightly and have a chance to talk to other adults. Then perhaps as you get to know people better you could re introduce the girls to the service?

    • Hannah Meadows
      18 April 2017 / 7:41 pm

      Yes, that’s an option we’re considering. 🙂

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