Sunday, June 10, 2012

Suffer the Little Children (Why We Don't Have a Church Home)

I'm really bummed today.  We tried a new church after some enthusiastic recommendations from friends, and were once again left with the feeling that our children have no place in the body of Christ, at least not in the churches that meet around here.  The great irony is that the biggest draw to this church is supposed to be their children's program, and that is what convinced us not to come back.

It isn't the challenge of getting four little ones ready for church.  After all, we get ready and go lots of places throughout the week.  No, our quandry is one that would baffle my friends in other parts of the world.  We just want a place where the phrase "suffer the little children" doesn't mean suffering in the modern sense.

I've written about this a bit in my posts Wanted: A Shepherd that Welcomes Bleating Lambs and Confessions of a Spanking Abolitionist.  I've also posted two different letters to pastors.  I know how deeply entrenched the whole culture of religious spanking is in my part of the world.  But it still disappoints me so deeply when we get smacked with it.

The church we went to today is huge, and has a gorgeous facility set up for the kids, including multiple indoor playgrounds that would put a park to shame.  The computerized check in system is smooth and well executed.  All of the volunteers were vigilant when it comes to making sure that our ID tags matched the numbers on the children's stickers.  Also, I was very favorably impressed with the food allergy protocols.  Not only did each child's sticker list any allergies, but rooms had large signs marking some dairy/peanut free and reminding any children who would enter that room to wash up first to avoid any residue.

It looked good.  Our oldest happily went off to her class, our son decided he would rather sit with us, the middle was immediately engrossed in the activities in the preschool room and the baby cheerfully waved goodbye and started munching a cracker as we left the nursery.  We had written on the special instructions area that we were to be paged immediately if our children asked for us, and I told the volunteers personally that if our children asked for us at all to immediately page us.

Dh and I have spent enough time in the children's area of churches to have a lot of misgivings.  We get it that there are some parents who want a break from their kids and don't mind if they cry as long as an adult is trying to comfort them.  I understand that it can place the workers in a sticky position of having to gauge how much crying is acceptable.  That is why I spelled it out: NONE.  We wanted them to get us at the first request, not after they started crying, not after a certain number of minutes.

The sermon emphasized first time obedience, which made me squirmy.  We were sitting in their attractive cafe area, which was right next to their open bookstore.  A quick glance at the parenting section as we passed showed the complete works of Dobson.  That confirmed my squirmy feelings, but wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.  Seeing Roy Lessin's book was.  At that point, my instincts were shrieking, and dh seemed uncomfortable, too.  He suggested that I go take a peek on the baby, even though our number hadn't flashed.

I could hear the sobs well before getting into the hallway for the classroom.  I dashed inside and saw our toddler, blotchy-faced and sobbing those long, gasping, hiccuping sobs that come after several minutes of intense crying.  "Oh, she just started fussing," the volunteer smiled blithely.  "Really, it hasn't even been two minutes."  Bullshit.  And no, I don't typically curse on this blog, but when you flat out lie to my face about my baby, I'll call it.  I've seen some intense tantrums out of this little one, and I know how long it takes her to get to that state.  My little one squeezed my neck in a death grip, and a full fifteen minutes later was still shaking and whimpering.

Hours later, and my heart is still shaking and sobbing, too.  So far, every church that we have attended here promotes grace for everyone except children.  Even those who seem to have a focus on ministering to kids include such a pervasive punitive mindset that they joke about spanking from the pulpit or flat out preach that God commands parents to hit their children.  Every parenting resource is either Ezzo, Tripp, Dobson or their spiritual cousins.  The idea of children being enemy combatants who must be vanquished is so much a part of their make up that even after explicit instructions from a parent (who should be in authority over the child, no?), they would let her cry to prevent her from being spoiled.  (I realize that there is a bit of speculation on my part regarding the motives of the workers.  However, having heard that sentiment expressed many times by others, I think it is pretty accurate.  There was no indication that she had any intention of paging me from her response when I arrived.)

I'm mad and hurting and discouraged.  Why even bother going to a church at all at this season in our lives?  At our old church, parents were not allowed to stay in the room with children.  It seems rather pointless to go if all I am going to be doing is walking the hallways and waiting for it to be over.  Going just so we can say we did isn't my thing.  And for what it is worth, Ariana and Elena both told us that they didn't want to go back, although there was no trauma in their classes.

I don't want to start our own church.  I have spent most of my life in tiny home churches and am still a bit burnt out on that kind of thing.  I have checked websites of a lot of other denominations in our city, and they still use punitive parenting programs.  I am not sure just how far I want to go in terms of seeking out other churches, but I am beginning to suspect that it is a regional thing rather than a denominational one.  I JUST WANT TO GO TO A CHURCH THAT WON'T TELL ME TO HIT MY KIDS AND LEAVE THEM TO CRY!  IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?!  REALLY?! 


Vanessa said...

Oh Dulce, how I can relate with this post. We are still at the same church that from the pulpit told us to spank. :( We are still there because we can't find a church that doesn't. I have never before thought about how the chuch extends grace to everyone but childen. Oh how true that is. And I really wish it wasn't! :( I pray almost daily that God would lead us to a church that loves our children and doesn't judge us for choosing to not spank. We do watch our children ultra carefully at our church and many days they don't go to nursery. So we are walking the halls "just to go to church". It is highly disappointing. Just know that you are not alone. ((hugs))

Anna Leigh said...

I am so so very sorry mama! We had a similarly horrible experience with our DS when we left him at a nursery in a new church we were trying. I was devastated when I went to pick him up and he was wailing! We also go the standard "Oh, he just started fussing!" No. His eyes were puffy, his face a red and white splotchy mess! I'd NEVER seen him that upset before! Needless to say, we never went back.

Have you checked into a Methodist church in your area? My DS goes to a Methodist Play School a couple of times a week, and their discipline policy could have been written by the admins on GCM. It's great!

Leslie said...

I'm so sorry about your Sunday. I'm glad you could vent it out here in this safe, loving space you've created. Sending love and hugs your way for you and your sweet family. Trusting God to minister to your spirit even without the fellowship you long for. It's so sad and so confusing the way things are. I don't understand it. It doesn't make any sense. I feel your pain.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

I'm so sorry. :( We've had different reasons for it but have been in the same where-to-go limbo around here. I guess now I'm glad we have different reasons, because being told every week to hit your kids really must stink. Ugh. Our biggest concerns are that we've wanted Sunday to be more of a family connection, where children are welcomed into what the adults are doing instead of segregated. It's so, so hard to find (at least within the denominations we're comfortable with, which I fully understand can vary from person to person). We gave up at one point and tried a home church, which then fell apart, and that was pretty devastating. We're now at another church that doesn't want children in the service (well, at least, not noisy ones, which is to say, any children), so we're walking the tightrope of trying to get our kids to tolerate being separated from us (especially the older one) and navigating the shame of being "that mother" who won't just let her kid be miserable. :-/

From having sat in in a church nursery, trying to get my son used to it, I've seen firsthand some of the volunteers waffling on paging the parents. It does make me sad, and I wish the guidelines were more clear and/or followed. At our old church, the rule was "crying for more than five minutes." For me, that's way too much crying, but then I know for some parents, they'd be annoyed to be paged for just that. I saw one little girl (one year old or so) fussing for probably half an hour, but the volunteers kept bouncing her around and walking and trying to distract her with toys, so they'd sort of reset their timing of how long she'd been fussing every time she took a tiny break. If I were the mother, I'd much rather they'd have just paged me at the start!

arwen_tiw said...

Oh mama. It's just so hard. How can you find a church family if their hand of friendship isn't extended to the children you bring to the family? :( We are still staying with our kids every week in a very-much-less-than-ideal children's program. We are still being encouraged *not* to stay with them, and being treated as if we were silly hovering over-involved helicopter parents for ignoring that pressure.

Amy Sey said...

what a heartbreaking time you all had :'(

regarding finding a new church, might i suggest looking for one without a children's program of Abby kind? a church that honors the original gathering together of people, of a family?

i really hope you find what you need

Amy said...

Praying that you find a church where you AND your children are truly welcomed!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so, so much! Yesterday I felt pretty lonesome, and having all of your virtual hugs has been immeasurably comforting! <3 <3 <3 I did want to clarify (since in my ranting it might not have shown) that my anger isn't directed to the volunteer in the nursery. I was ticked that on top of disregarding our instructions that she lied to me about it, but I do believe that she thought she was doing the best thing for our family in allowing us to remain in the service. I am just furiously angry at the pervasive mindset that it is more important for adults to be in a church service, even at the expense of suffering from our little ones.

We are definitely drawn to the idea of having children welcome in the service. That seems to be the Biblical pattern, and we want our family to worship together. The difficulty is exactly as Hobomama described. It is tough with the ages of our children right now when they get wiggly or forget to whisper. :(

Angela said...

Oh, that sounds awful. I'm so sorry! I think it is regional - I'm in the Pacific Northwest. We left our little guy in nursery for the first time a couple weeks ago. I was really apprehensive, but knew he would probably be happier crawling around in there since he is 9 months old. Poor guy had a complete meltdown halfway through the service. I was so pleased when the nursery volunteers paged me right away so I could comfort, nurse and calm him down. I hope you can find a church that works for you, I know it's really hard to do!

GrammyK said...

We are without a church home as well. Our circumstances are a bit different. For many years we didn't attend church because of the cold response we got for our beliefs: allowing the Lord to plan our family, home schooling, courtship, etc... I cannot describe the comedy of the situation when people would actually physically back away from us when discovering (and they always dig for the information!!) that we don't use birth control, keep our kids at home with us and aren't shoving them out into the world as soon as they are old enough to hook up with the opposite sex. Like by standing too close they could catch our "madness"!! It's funny and yet it hurts.

We've always kept our children with us during service and you wouldn't believe how irritating it would become after the 30th person interrupted our attention to the teaching to point out that they DO have a children's church, Sunday school, nursery, etc... Far more distracting than having the children sitting beside us!!! Anyway nowadays we don't attend church simply because we do not have a vehicle that seats all of us. And frankly I'm still scarred from all the previous rejection. Even our older married children don't get it and treat us like "heathens" because we don't go to church. It's just that we don't feel like we belong in their "system" anymore. :-( Part of me longs for the fellowship and the other part is passionately protective. Sigh. I will always choose my family's well being rather than enduring "suffering" to do what is "right". I think you know what I'm trying to say.

Big hugs to you!!! I understand your pain. <3

Hannah said...

Would you mind if I ask you a really hard question? Why do you need to go to church?

Hannah Joy said...

I can so relate. My husband (I will not attend until baby drops her morning nap- just
not worth the stress) just recently found a church that embraces our children and believe in peaceful parenting. If my kids make too much noise and my husband takes them out he gets a bunch of peopleat theend asking why he took them out "we are so happy they are here" (it is mostly older and people with grown children). It is a mennonite church and really just so different than any church we have gone to. I am still also wary of churches after the last one we attended. I hope you can find a home for your family.

Cindy Fisher said...

This makes me so sad. I love my small First Christian Church and am so grateful for it after reading your post. We have a small nursery but the children are welcome in the service. They add so much to it with their laughter and their too loud whispers. They dance and clap their hands during praise music and we are all blessed by their presence. I pray that you can find a church that embraces children, they are our greatest teachers.

ashley said...

I'm so sorry. :-( I wish you could visit our church!! It's not perfect - they are big fans of Tripp - but the church is so small (and I run the nursery ;-)) that it's not as pervasive as you find in bigger/more established churches with fancy programs.

I think Georgia would be an excellent place to take a family vacation. ;-)

In the meantime, I hope you find a church you love that will meet your spiritual needs without causing the little ones to suffer!