When Church Becomes A Negative Experience For Adoptive Families.

One of the biggest places we’ve felt the least amount of support and understanding is the church. But this needs to change. It begins by honestly communicating the reality of our “church” experience…

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I hate going to church. I’m not one to beat around the bush. So yes, I hate it! It sounds shocking, I know. Especially since my husband’s a pastor. Not just the Sunday morning kind of church either. I hate all church functions. Bible studies. Small groups. That kind of church.

So I don’t do it. It’s too much. Too much for them, and therefore, too much for me. Although not all of my kids have a diagnosis, I’ve come to learn that all adopted children have “special” needs. And this has made me very aware of other families who have children with special needs. I’ve had lots of negative experiences at school and Target. Costco. Restaurants. You name the place. If I took my kids there, it was bad at some point with one of them or all of them. And I got looks and offers of help and advice. Chances are, I probably won’t see these people again who judged us.

But I’m going to see my church people again. THEY are MY people. And that is why I hate it. It hurts more to have negative experiences with MY kids at MY church with MY people.

One time I was visiting a church with my two newly adopted kids who were both 2 at the time. I hadn’t put them in childcare yet because it’s best to keep them close to their new mommy and not let others care for them until they know the difference. Childcare is like putting them right back into an orphanage setting. I know it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same. But they don’t know it’s not the same. So I always found a cry room and kept them with me for a long time after they came home. YAY for cry rooms!

I found a cry room at this church too. I was amazed at this cry room! Unlike most church cry rooms, it was huge. And had a sink. A sink! Lots and lots of chairs. Did I mention it had a sink? They thought of everything to make momma and baby’s church experience blessed. The guest services lady even opened the door for me, struggling to push my big, bulky double stroller through. And then another momma followed me. So 2 of us mommas were in a great big room with a sink and lots of chairs. And then that nice guest services lady opened her mouth.

The cry room is for nursing mothers and their infants. If another mother comes in, they get priority. We have good childcare for children if you’d like me to show you where to go.

That lady didn’t know who I was. If she knew I was a PW, she probably would not have said that out of politeness to a pastor and his family and would let me sit wherever I pleased. I’m building a case for the title so bear with my bragger-esque tone.

A title should never matter.

But neither should this have been her response to a mother who wants to attend church and is trying to find a place so her toddlers don’t disrupt the service. I walked out knowing my toddlers were not welcome in that church’s cry room. I’m a seasoned church-goer. But there are a lot of moms out there that if THAT was their first church experience, they would NEVER go back. We’ve been hurried along in the hustle and bustle at “fun,” spiritual, NORMAL family-friendly church events. Seriously. Hurried along by the volunteers. Rudely hurried along. Again, they didn’t know who we were. Probably would not have hurried us along if they knew this family belonged to one of their new pastors.

I’ve been snapped at because I went to the wrong door when I dropped my kids off. Snapped at because I tried to put my 3 and 4 year olds in the same room to keep them together once I did finally put them into childcare at church. Keeping them together lessens the trauma. Certainly can’t break the rules. 3s go on THIS side. 4s on THAT side. And I’ve watched as a volunteer in an adjoining room eyed my son who I admit was having a super hard time with his self control. Going to church stresses him out and he struggles because of it. This man didn’t know I was Mom because…well our eyes don’t match…and neither does our skin.

I watched. He eyed. And then I talked to my son. And then he was eyeing me. Like a long time eyed us to let me know of his disapproval.

And then I heard Bible verses coming from his side of the room.

I wanted to vomit.

I know a kid with Asperger’s who has been kicked out of church every single Sunday. The “normal” kids know it and pester him. And this kid can’t take it. So who gets in trouble? What may seem like poor parenting…or if only his parents would just give him medicine to calm him down…is NOT the case of some, and they should never be turned away because our churches can’t handle their behaviors. So if this pastor’s wife hates going to church, how much more do non-pastor wife kind of moms of kids with special needs hate it?

I WILL go to church again. I just might even enjoy it at some point. But will others? Church leaders, empower your volunteers by training them to care for kids like mine. Kids with special needs. Kid’s who have FASD, RAD, or behaviors that stem from major trauma. They shouldn’t have to stay home or be sequestered to “the special needs room.” I hope someday I’ll hear my kids say they love going to their church. Not because of Daddy’s title. Not because of favoring from volunteers because of Daddy’s title. But because their pastor and volunteers showed them, as kids with “special” needs, the kind of grace and love that Jesus would.

Question: Have you faced rejection or judgement from your church because of your children? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • sheluvskids

    It’s heartbreaking to me as a Christian to have Churches treat adoptive & special needs families like this.
    Our kids were always treated differently, and asked to leave. We were even sat down & told to give them back by a Church elder.
    It’s amazing that a group that exists because of their adoption into God’s family truly misses the mark with adoptive families!

    • No, no, no! Tell me this isn’t true. Unbelievable. I am so sorry this happened to you guys. Breaks my heart. 🙁

      • sheluvskids

        Unfortunately, it did happen. We promptly changed churches. Our new church has been pretty good.
        Our churches have been promoting adoption, which is good. Now they need adoption training to minister to adoptive & special needs families.

        • Yes! It’s both! You can’t have one without the other. We need a community that gets it.

    • So, so sorry! We hope you find healing from this. I’ve found that most of my hurts just make me a better mom or friend or advocate. We hope that’s true for you too.

  • Jennifer Dufault

    Thank you, Thank you for writing this!!! It is HARD! People who are not living this life have no idea. It feels so good to have someone else understand.

  • Aurora Bolier

    Our son arrived at our home as a teenager with his own beliefs as a Messianic Jew. We are not missionary adopting and have no intention of trying to convert him or force him to attend religious services that WE are comfortable with. When I tried taking him to a church function at the church I used to attend to meet some other teenagers, just a family fun night, they kept trying to convince him to come to church. When he told them he was of a different religion, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Luckily, the kid just thought they were being nice, but I saw it as thoughtless and rude. Nevermind that I heard some comments about Jews that bordered on anti-Semetic. I didn’t leave this church because I disliked the people, but because I knew we were going to have to find somewhere where our kid would be comfortable. They made it clear that evening that there was no respect for his own religious traditions or beliefs. And it hurt me to know that I did make the right decision in leaving.

    • I am so sorry this happened to your son. This angers me.

    • So sorry this happened. We miss the mark so often on what Jesus teaches. Hope you both found peace with it.

  • Dollface Borrowat

    Amen, Amen, Amen!

  • S.Swartz+4

    As an adoptive parent of four, I can totally identify with so much of this article. I too kept my kids by my side for the first year I received them so they would bond with only me. I, of course, offended many who wanted to hold my new baby during church. I wanted every waking moment with her.
    After I adopted my first, I became the preschool director at the church. Instead of being irritated each week, I took the bull by the horns, so to speak. I can’t speak for all churches, but with my experience, we were in no way capable of handling a special needs child. I worked full time and only had a limited amount of time to dedicate to this ministry. I had to plan snacks, curriculum, worship, crafts, and volunteer staff. Every week there were volunteers that just decided to not show up, so I spent the praise and worship part of the service quietly moving through the people trying to find fill-ins for the classes.
    All that to say, less than 10% of the church body volunteers for anything. And those 10% volunteer for everything. I feel the pain and stress of the parents of children with special needs but I honestly don’t know the answer. “Volunteers” in the children’s ministry tend to be the parents of the kids in that ministry. They have their full-time jobs/careers, parent their own 3,4,5…. children, and volunteer on Sundays during the service. I know it was like pulling teeth to get my volunteers to attend a one hour meeting twice a year. So I think with special needs for someone of any age, it requires a passionate person to lead the team of those with the same heart to make the change.
    I never kicked a kid with special needs out of a children’s ministry, but we would have to call one of the parents to come in and help with the child from time to time. And we did bend the rules for visitors that wanted siblings of different ages to be in the same class together.
    I no longer have little ones and am not part of the children’s ministry, but I would love to hear any ideas from parents of special needs kids on what exactly could be available to make their church experience comfortable and helpful.

    • You bring up a great point about the struggle churches have. Having been to a few and having had this discussion with my husband many times, we do get both sides of it. But what we’ve experienced has really just boiled down to the non-flexibility of some. They can’t see the need because they’re so focused on the rules. And it really is about guest services in the end, not the children’s ministry exactly. Be our guest. We treat guests differently. Even if they’re a long time guest. I think most cases could be summed up here. But there are some that really just need more help. And that is a problem we will always have when we have churches full of consumers unfortunately.

  • thandeka

    We’ve had challenges too (during school break there’s no childcare, and once I was sitting with my three in the empty toddler room which has audio feed of the service, so that I could hear the service, and my kids would be together with me, not disrupting anyone. We were asked to leave the toddler room as my kids were too big. So we simply went home) but I have to say, our current church has been wonderful. They’ve allowed my three children (6yrs and 4yr old twins) to attend the same Sunday school class, to keep them together, despite the “rule” of which ages belong in which classes. I’ve had a harder time in church as a single mom than as an adoptive one, to be honest

    • You single moms are rock stars!! Love you all! So glad you found a church that is supporting you as an adoptive mom. There are churches who are doing a marvelous job and it is refreshing for us all.

  • Barbi

    I’m thinking this lady thought you just didn’t know where the kids could go — that you had another option. And I guess she thought a nursing mother needed more privacy? I don’t get that when your kids were so young….

    • Well the first part could be right. But the second part, I’m thinking not. I know there’s a big push to get kids to “children’s church,” and for good reason. That is where they will learn and grow best and it helps the parents learn and grow not having to deal with the kids. Our most recent church had a very large cry room and a common complaint from church staff was that it was becoming an overflow room for those who don’t even have kids or have much older kids sometimes because they just don’t want to socialize. They really frown upon this. Which again, I get. So it really does come back to educating them on the various needs. But they do have to be willing to listen.

  • David Stauffer

    I know this kind of thing happens but it has nothing to do with being an adoptive parent. It happens in many areas of the church because not every volunteer has the level of training or understanding of what young parents go through. We put a lot of pressure and tough expectations on churches these days. And because our generation is so sensitive to everything, we are easily offended. So, blogging about it may help things get better but who knows. My beef with your blog is your title. Once again, we have Christians beating up on the bride of Christ in a public setting. Your intentions are no doubt good but your desire to publicly humiliate the Lords Church for selfish affirmation is sad. To me, this is worse than getting the kind of treatment you received because a lot of immature Christians and many more nonbeblievers will see this blog title, will not read the article and will have another reason to criticize and hate the Church. Why not name it “How Church can be a positive place for adoptive families” or simply “Doing Church as an adoptive parent”? You could have written most of the same material, but with a helpful instead of a hurtful approach. Having said all that, thank you for raising awareness on this issue.

    • You have brought up a very valid point and I take it on fully. It could have been phrased differently. Most of our readers are Christians as you can see from the comments. And what you can also hear in the comments is the pain. The title and the comments come from pain. And we want nothing more than to be validated in our struggles which is what Confession’s main focus is. That is all. So thank you for validating the struggle and advocating for Jesus.

    • David, thanks for your words and your perspective here. However, I disagree with you. This post isn’t an attack on the Bride of Christ, nor is it Michelle’s desire to publicly humiliate the Lord’s church for selfish affirmation. No one on our team has this desire. To toss that accusation freely is a mean-spirited attack. This post is an honest admission of a very real problem happening in the church today. Read through the comments here, as well as those on our Facebook page, and you will see outpourings from brokenhearted people who have been crushed by the very place they were certain their family would find acceptance. Furthermore, the post is not a how-to for foster and adoptive parents who attend church, as you suggest with your suggested titles. As Michelle explains in her response, it’s validation for others and to let others know they’re not alone in this struggle.

  • Kelly Anne

    I am in tears reading this. We stopped going to church over a year ago because on my youngest who would scream as soon as we stepped foot in church. Yep it got that bad she hated it and she would throw a fit every time we walked in she would beg me to stay with me (at 2 years old) so I would have to sit in the foyer (we had mo cry room but the foyer had a live stream) so she could toddle around and then I would get looks for sitting there with her and not putting her in childcare or men would take up the seats that were meant for mommas and not get up to let me sit to nurse (yes I nursed her to two, she couldn’t wean) yes I would get looks for that too. My oldest has special needs too and she did fine at church but we get looks for all of her “behaviors” at all the other places we go. Sorry I am rambling but man you spoke my heart. I hate church (and target and the bookstore and….)

    • Yeah. I’d add museums to that list too. Ropes were meant to climb over not keep kids out. Ha! Hang in there. Don’t stop trying. There is a church for you. Now or someday soon. Online church is not the same for community but it does help some. I hope someone soon will be Jesus to you and your family.

  • Sarah Bellinger Denney

    We’ve had some “bad apples” in regards to acceptance of my 4 adopted, 6 fosters. My youngest adopted daughter, 17, has FAS and loves church, IF she can sit in the pew and color. I know she absorbs some of the sermon as she will ask questions about it later. Despite her near perfectly quiet attendance (Yay for that!!), there are a few elderly congregants who have no problem chastising her for not paying attention or going to the children’s room. I turn my head away from them but it hurts that the church, the one place I feel peace (it’s me and NINE kiddos at home, so REALLY ), is so out of touch with the gift that my children are…not to mention they WILL BE the future of the church.

    • Hang in there! So glad your daughter loves going! This is a huge thing!

  • Jenn Buell

    Well spoken. I’m a pastor’s widow and one of my kids has autism. Church should be a welcoming place but over the years I have heard the stories of other special needs families who gave up on trying to take their different kids to church long ago. It’s just one more place for their kids to not fit in. Great article. Praying it opens eyes. My late-husband was a staff pastor at one church and was told my request to create a special needs ministry was denied. It would drain volunteers with high-maintenance families if it was advertised we had something like that. So sad.

    • So sorry for your loss and hurts too, Jenn. Thanks for advocating with us.

  • Danja Hall

    We’ve had a wonderful experience with our church so far. Our children’s ministry director asked her husband’s step mom from Taiwan to be our son’s interpreter. He’s 10 newly adopted from China. Apparently this gal is thrilled to help as she’s not super confident serving elsewhere as her English isn’t as strong. What an amazing God we serve to fulfill both of their needs. Our church has a special needs ministry and has many foster kids attending as well as many special needs adults with their staff.

  • Tracy Davis

    Thanks for your honesty. I haven’t been to church in over a year because of a similar situation. I was told my foster/now adopted son could never come back to kids church. They had no compassion or understanding on how to work with children who have had toxic stress since birth. I wanted to say to this man WWJD, would he give up on him or pray for him and love him. But I was frustrated and just gave up on going to church.

    • So, so sorry! Hang in there. Keep trying. I know the hurt makes it so hard. You are not alone.

  • Yes a thousand times yes! When one of our daughters was newly home from China she SCREAMED every time we went into our church. Something about going into the sanctuary terrified her like nothing else we did. We kept trying but this lasted for weeks. While there is a closed circuit broadcast of the service on a tv in the foyer of the church, it is also where people stand around and visit. I couldn’t hear. And at this point I desperately NEEDED to hear the sermons cause I was a hot mess. I finally tracked down someone and begged them for a solution. There WAS a nursing room with a tv broadcast. It was a teeny, tiny room but they let me take my 6 year old in and the people were so gracious to me.

    Let’s go ahead several years and we now have five children adopted from China with various and assorted physical and cognitive needs. Our church has stepped up with an impressive ministry where the kids feel a part of what is happening. Our youngest loves it so much that she squeals and claps her hands (she is nonverbal) when we enter the parking lot. It means so much to me and my family that they have embraced our kids. Really hoping more churches awaken to this huge need.

  • Marta Joy

    What I keep reading here is “they didn’t know” she says this over and over again. That is no fault of their own. “Forgive them for they know not what they do” People simply don’t know. It is our job to care enough to go to church and tell them. I have learned something huge in my year of wallowing in hurts. I can either have a negative attitude because of how I previewed things (often wrong) or I can TELL THEM. Not everyone will be able to accommodate the needs we have with our kiddos. I’m not even saying everyone will even care. But if we tell them with sincerity in our hearts. And try to work together I am sure SOMEONE will care to help. It’s our calling – for our children – to search for the one who will care! To find a solution. I think it is US who need to change. There is so much complaining and negativity about church in this area. I know because I was the one who was hurt and complained for a year! And I was miserable. I see so much of this in the adoption world. I know because I was a huge part of it. But when we step into the world of adoption, we choose to step into pain, suffering, loss, misunderstandings from the world … then we turn around and are surprised these things come at us? It’s not fair and WE need to change. I remember when I was naive. Uncaring for those with special needs. And now I am in the middle of that world. I was also one of those who “didn’t know” now I know. And I will choose to SEEK JOY in it. I will seek to spread JOY through it. I will choose to only speak positively about my church and seek those who care – even if it’s one person! I will voice my needs until they are heard. Inside the church and out. I will love those who hate me or misunderstand me. Because Jesus never asked us to do anything less than.

    • saversavvy

      Awesome!! I feel like we are so quick to automatically judge how others treat us but don’t stand up for our children by respectfully explaining our situation. Finding just a few people in our church or just one as you said goes a long way in helping your situation, because now you have someone in your corner so to speak. I so encourage parents to keep seeking that one person that can then turn into two etc, etc, that can help champion with you to change things in your church. If this doesn’t work move on to somewhere else that has those kind of people. You will be glad you did and your children will be too. God bless you Marta Joy for educating people in your church and refusing to keep letting other peoples ignorance get you down.

  • Lynn Owens-Hill

    I am a foster/ adoptive mom. At the time we had our adoptive kids ages 13~11~9. Then we had our foster kids 3~2~ 10 months and 8 months. I never put them in the nursery because of their special needs at the time. I was told I could not sit in the nursery so I sat in the foyer and was asked to leave. So I did not go to church for a couple of months because I thought it was best that they was with me at all times.

  • Hisgurl

    We have been a 25 plus yr family that has gone to church. We stopped going about a year ago. Our “new” family of two adopted older kids just did not fit the status quo. When our son was newly adopted at 6 he would not leave my side. He has trauma and anxiety and for 3 yrs we would sit in the back of the church together but often ended up leaving the main service half way through and sit in the lobby that had two chairs, often occupied by others, until the service over despite the fact that we always sat at the back of the church to start . We asked if they could put more chairs out for us but were pretty much ignored because of the looks that said our children should be in children’s church. We tried many churches and kept our children with us in service but always were approached to take our children to “their” classes. Most of the time I would not try to explain but occasionally I would only to be met with looks that conveyed I was overprotective. In the end, we did not fit anywhere. I have prayed and prayed about this for a long time and waiting on the Lord to direct our path. So far, we have not been directed. I keep praying and waiting….alone. We are a couple that loves the Lord with all our hearts and our relationship with Him is sustaining but we get awfully lonely and I worry about not having our kids in church. I never thought we would find ourselves here. But I feel no church has been understanding, accommodating, or even that they care. I feel that if people don’t conform of fit into their well laid out programs then there is no place for us. Our home church was supportive before our adoptions but when we brought home children who had “different needs” we became marginalized. We also homeschool them (school is another challenge) and our world has become small.

    ps. I met you and your hubby in Walnut Creek, CA a few months ago when you came to talk at an adoption conference. You guys are great! I have your book but have yet to read it (no time). my biggest hope that I had for that conference was to connect with other adoptive families who might want to pray together. I filled out the card at the end with my info and my thoughts about that but have not heard a peep. Blessings, Dody

    • Really sorry it’s been so tough. I hurt so much for families like yours. Don’t quit trying. God wants us in community. Praying that community happens for you. Sometimes I ask God the “why” question. Of course there’s not always a reason but one thing I do think I have learned is that my hard has helped me empathize big for other families who have done even harder than I’ve had. Hang in there.