Editor’s note: While writing a book chapter on the struggles families experience attending church when a child has struggles with self-control, I came across this wonderful article from five years ago from our friend and former colleague Barb Dittrich. I’m not sure how many people read this post three months after we launched our blog, but it is absolutely spot-on in describing the experience of a family attending church when a child has ADHD. Here’s Barb…
It starts before anyone in church even sees us. In fact, it starts before the clock rolls over to announce the arrival of Sunday. We’ve spent yet another night struggling to keep our child with ADHD in her own bed asleep for more than an hour or two at a time. If others knew that we’re still fighting with an 8-year-old on this issue, they’d probably shake their heads in disdain or report us to Nanny 911.
Once we’re awake for the day, the non-structure of the weekend always proves challenging. Despite it coming every week at this time, there’s always a struggle to get Li’l Miss ADHD, as she’s fondly known in certain circles, to cooperate with the notion of church. You see, for her church implies overstimulation with the presence of crowds and loud music, being required to sit still and be quiet for long stretches of time, and the expectations of certain dress and behavior. Whew! That’s no small task for a child with her diagnosis! And when there’s no “Children’s Church” in the summer months, the demand on her is even greater. No wonder she digs her heels in when we announce that it’s time to get ready for church.
Our Li’l Miss ADHD also happens to have some serious sensory issues, not uncommon in kids with this diagnosis. This proves to be yet another challenge as we finally get her to buy into the fact that she needs to prepare for our worship service. In need of soft clothing that doesn’t restrict her or cause her discomfort in any way, she may make three or four clothing changes before finally dressed. And my husband will lose his cool at least one time in frustration over the fact that she’s not dressed in a manner that’s considered appropriate for church. Being more selective about my battles, I consider myself victorious to just have her out of last night’s pajamas. But then it’s on to the battle of the hair. Getting the snarls out of her fine locks brings greater pain than the average child because of her high sensitivity, so it can’t be done in a hurry. It is a process that requires barely touching the brush to her head, so forget all the beautiful little primping her peers enjoy.
The crush comes when we see it’s time to depart. How many times will we have to announce to her that it’s time to go and ask her to put on her shoes? The tension is palpable. Now she begins asking what she can or can’t bring with her to church to keep her attention, which of course includes much debate. Crying commences as we urge her to focus on the shoes and worry about the take-alongs later.
My husband is always thankful that the car ride there is no more than a mile long. You see, in her impulsivity, Li’l Miss always has to agitate one of her siblings en route. Nothing says, “I love you, Jesus,” like the bantering, poking, slapping, and general mayhem that needs parental discipline in the car. Getting these little sinners, who have little tolerance for one another’s behavior regardless of diagnosis, from the car to the church without killing one another is nothing short of a miracle. Heck, getting them from the house to the church without my husband killing them is nothing short of a miracle! Is it any wonder we arrive at our house of worship gritting our teeth and forcing a smile?
Once greeted by kind souls at the door, we are submerged in a crowd of chatting people coming and going. Keeping track of Li’l Miss ADHD is a heroic measure during this transition. Lord help us if someone wants to speak to us at that time because she will either be dashing off, lost in the crowds or be engaging in some sort of inappropriate form of attention-getting behavior. It’s so very hard for her to stand still and wait in such a grotesquely stimulating environment. Since my husband is the physically stronger of the two of us, he manages to push through the crowds with her hanging off of one of his arms as they get her nametag for Sunday School.
Making it in to the worship service in the sanctuary itself is no small accomplishment. But as we enter, the question assaults us, Do we sit down front where she is more engaged or sit in the back where fewer people see and judge our parenting skills? Wherever we are seated, she must be sandwiched between her father and I so that no physical tussles with siblings recur. As the lights dim and the rocking of the contemporary melodies resound, she must grab the pens from each slot of the chair caddies to use them as drumsticks to imitate her favorite percussionist. To be able to see, her dad must hold her as she stands on the seat back of the chair in front of us. Fellow worshipers look at her and smile as they sing. Unfortunately, they’re the same ones that will shake their heads in disgusted judgement once she has run to the bathroom at least twice during the sermon or she’s zipping around the lobby once the service has adjourned.
Thankfully, this year our leaders have decided to have the children dropped off at Children’s Church prior to the service, so if that program is in session, there are no worries about whether she’ll actually make it to her classroom after being dismissed by the pastor. But then there’s the candy after class. Offered in loving kindness, it’s really not the best thing for Li’l Miss ADHD, but avoiding tantrums and fist fights over it prompt us to acquiesce.
I’m getting tired just reading what I’ve penned about our ADHD Sundays! No wonder I’m always eager for that Sunday afternoon nap! The sheer exhaustion each Sunday service produces makes me want to be like my neighbor who attends “Our Lady of the Puffy Pillow” or “Saint Mattress” while I’m straining through yet another Sabbath.
Barb Dittrich currently serves as the Executive Director of Snappin’ Ministries, an organization she founded in 2002 with a focus on parents raising children with special needs or chronic illness. Offering a web-based mentor program, quarterly free respite, quarterly fun free family events, and ongoing TLC support for stressed-out parents, Snappin’ Ministries is a Wisconsin-based ministry with a national reach.
Barb and her husband of over 20 years, Steve, are raising 3 effervescent children, each with either special needs or chronic illness. In addition to speaking and writing, she also serves as a Rare Disease Day ambassador, advocating for families living with rare diagnoses. She leads her team with Snappin’s devotional blog at Comfort in the Midst of Chaos, and is a regular contributor to the Not Alone blog.