When you love church but your child hates it

The Christian Church is far from perfect.

I, and my family, are so lucky to have found in St Anne’s a small branch that is growing, thriving, outward-focused, community-centred, accepting, caring and inclusive. We are fortunate that Benjamin, although ‘complex,’ is not ‘challenging.’ Yet I am confident that, even if he were noisy, disruptive, violent, or anxious, our church community would do everything in their power to welcome us; that they would see this as a shared problem to solve, not a personal problem to ignore.

This isn’t always the case. It’s not easy being a SEND parent, and the Church can be a great support – but it can also be a challenge or even a hindrance. I’ve been asked this week to share an anonymous post written by a fellow SEND parent and a fellow Christian (if I am honest, a more committed Christian than I, who lives and breathes the Spirit in her life and in her writing). I am both saddened and excited to share this post.

Saddened that not everyone is treated they way we have been – with gentleness and compassion.

Excited that through sharing these words I may be able to help encourage and promote change in the church and elsewhere. Every group – perhaps especially every church – can always do more to avoid becoming complacent, cliquey, and to foster inclusion for all members, especially those who no longer show their face or raise their voice.

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“My faith means everything to me. Church has always been a huge part of my life but now I wonder if I should continue going.

I went faithfully every week before I had children. When my daughter was born I continued to take her from the first Sunday she was born. She remained with me in the service until she was toddling and then she attended the crèche where I took turns helping out.

Everything was going well until it came time for her to leave crèche and start going to Sunday school instead. I went with her for the first few weeks but she really wasn’t enjoying it and I reasoned with myself she was perhaps still too young or just struggling with the change.

I spoke to the person who was running the crèche and they agreed my daughter could stay in crèche a few months longer. We tried again but she still hated Sunday school so I would bring toys with me and keep her in the service with me. In the beginning it wasn’t too bad. She would look at books, play with her happyland figures or sit on my knee for a cuddle.

Then she started getting bored and disturbing the service so I would stay in for the worship and slip out to the foyer with her and her brother for the rest of the service. If I am deeply honest I hated it. I hated the fact I was no longer included or could listen to the sermon. I was upset my children did not like Sunday school and that all of a sudden I seemed invisible.

I have had church in the foyer for six years now. My daughter is now 9 and still hates Sunday school. But something has changed: not only does she hate Sunday school she now hates church completely.

At 5 she was diagnosed with autism. I used to be able to stay in the service for the worship but now that stresses my daughter so much she screams. The music is so loud, the church is so busy and the lights are so bright. I rarely manage through the first song before I find myself back out in the foyer with my children because my daughter is crying and screaming.

I loved church for years but now my daughter hates it and I am heartbroken.

My eyes have been open to things I never noticed before. It seems churches want children who will take part in nativity plays, sing choruses with actions at Easter and fully engage in summer holiday clubs. They want children who can fit in with the programme, who require no additional support and who respect the volunteers. They want the children who run enthusiastically into the hall when it is time to go and bring out lovely crafts to show their parents when the sermon is finished.

What about the children having church in the foyer like mine? Children who find church difficult, who find social situations a huge challenge, who get overwhelmed by noise and crowds and change.

The very mention of going to church now makes my daughter anxious. She recently told me she doesn’t feel welcome there at all.

That broke my heart.

No amount of toys or technology or books can convince my daughter to come to church with me any more. Bribery has lost its appeal now and I fear I am damaging her spirit by forcing her to come against her will.

Yet my faith means everything to me still and I want to be in church.

I am broken hearted that church is not the place of love and acceptance to my child with autism that it should be.

Until that changes I have to put her first. So from now on I won’t be at the place I love on a Sunday anymore.

My daughter will be happy. I am heartbroken.”

12 thoughts on “When you love church but your child hates it

  1. I was so I was so sad to read about your friend’s experience. The church, as you say, is far from perfect, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I am very sorry that this family has been failed. I know that if this was my flock I would want to help, and would hope that the people concerned would talk to me about it so we could try to support them. Please let your friend know that if they ever wanted to talk, or if I might be able to be of any help, I’d be very happy to be in touch.

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    • Thanks Diana. It reminded me of when you were talking the other night about the difference between groups that notice when someone is missing, and those that don’t (or something like that, terrible misquote I’m sure). I know the author will read your comment and I hope be heartened by it xx

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  2. It’s so sad that you can feel ignored and forgotten in one place where everyone should be more caring and inclusive. I too stopped attending church as it wasn’t a place our autistic girl was comfortable. I hope others can help you find a way to rejoin soon xx

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  3. So understand.. we have three additional needs children and we feel isolated in our church community .. not many people show interest and inclusion is lacking .. what to do where to go… there is no easy answer..

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  4. I remember before my son was diagonsed a friend trying to welcome me into the church, It was such a lovely supportive place and they too had such a lovely creche. Again though it was all too much for my son. God knows you are there whether you come to his home or not, and maybe one day she will gain the skills to help her cope in church and want to go.

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  5. How utterly heartbreaking … my sons (who have autism) have struggled at times with being in church but we are blessed to be part of a fellowship where the boys are loved, and, whilst not always understood, accepted. My husband & I do feel isolated there at times … folks don’t always “get” what it’s like to be a SEND parent but they do love us and care. I love the words of Psalm 91:1 … whilst our fellow parent feels unable to attend church for now because they are putting their daughter’s needs first may they know that as they dwell in the presence of the Most High they will rest in the shadow of the Almighty … may God hold them close and provide the fellowship that they need at this time in whatever way works best.

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  6. This is so sad. I tried with my children also when they were little. I tell them that God is all around us, he is in our hearts, he is in our homes and out with us when we are out in the world. I tell them, if you don’t have anger or hate in your hearts you will always see his signs, they are there. My father taught me this when I was little, look for the signs, he is all around.

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