Saturday, March 22, 2008

Daddy, I hate church

Henry, my seven year old, is getting increasingly vocal in his opposition to attending church. I have ignored this for the most part but am growing weary of the battle. Over the past few months I have let him stay home 3 or 4 times as a bit of an experiment. Last week, he strongly agitated to stay home but because my wife was not going to be home (she has not attended church regularly since she was a teen) I made him go. He was pretty upset and when we got there he chose not to get out the car. So I let him stay there while the girls and I went in. I thought he would calm down and join us in a few minutes. After about a half an hour I figured he wasn’t coming so I went out and got him. He still didn’t want to come in but I told him he had to and he reluctantly followed me in.

The funny thing is I think he sort of enjoys church even though he says he doesn’t. He is generally in a good mood after he attends. It’s just the getting there part that is a nightmare.

So I am not sure what to do. As I said, I have allowed him to stay home a few times lately so as not cause him to resent me for forcing him to go. But the result seems to be that he is just getting used to staying home. I want him to feel like going to church is his choice but perhaps he is too young to make that decision. Ideas?


Anonymous said...

Well, since the young lad has not reached the age of "accountability" I think perhaps allowing him to stay home is just fine. Even if Sis. Sanford Barrett is not home (so long as you leave him with a prayer that no harm nor accident will befall him whilst at home by himself). Oh, and hide the liquor and the matches. However, when he turns the magical 8 years of age, and suddenly becomes accountable, then as a responsible father you must drag him from your great and spacious home, kicking and screaming no doubt, to protect him from the temptations of satan... and the liquor in your home.

You asked.

Sanford Barrett said...

Hey Now (qouting Hank Kingsley from the Larry Sanders show).

pb said...

Why do you want him to go, other than for child care purposes?

If it's to indoctrinate him into Mormonism so he'll "be mormon," you've already lost that battle. The fact of nonattendance by mother conveys to child that religion is a choice, not an inescapable component of his identity. No rational child chooses religion if they understand they have a choice. Game over.

Anonymous said...

Have you asked him WHY he opposes going to church? If he has a good reason not to go - other than he just doesn't feel like it, then I think you should honor his feelings. If one parent is going, and one is not - even as he gets older he might decide that he wants to go. I would always ask him and encourage him to go - but forcing him if he has a good reason not to go-not sure if that is a good idea. Or you could bargain with him - make him go twice a month or something - and let him decide what weeks he wants to go. Then it's a compromise for both of you. But since I don't have kids - don't know how useful my advice is...I was forced to go all growing up - and now I don't go at all. It's like - I never got to discover my own beliefs, they were always forced upon me, but I don't quite believe everything that I was "taught" at church. Maybe if you give your son some way to explore his spirituality or beliefs some way, but without really forcing him to go to church all the time.


Fifthgen said...

I think pb asks an important question. Why do you want him to go? My kids frequently resist practicing their musical instruments, and I often wonder if music lessons are worth the battle and emotional toll they take on the family. So far, however, we have decided that maybe we know a little better than they what is good for them, and that some musical training will be valuable to them in their lives. If it were something we did not value as much, we might make a different decision.

Of course, different families have different dynamics, and it is very hard to compare one to the other. But if you think Church participation (or bathing or eating vegetables) is valuable, I think you have to be realistic about the idea that you might need to "encourage" a seven year-old to go along.

Oh, and Anon #1: It goes without saying that the "temptations of Satan" include liquor.

Sanford Barrett said...

pb says

Why do you want him to go, other than for child care purposes?

The part of me that wants him to go does so for the following reasons among others:

I want him to understand the culture of his family and take pride in his heritage. Although my wife doesn’t attend church, her mother is an active member and both our families have a long and proud tradition of Church membership. Henry’s ancestors made tremendous sacrifices for their Mormon religion and I want him to be aware of that. I want him to understand where he comes from. Mormonism is huge part of how he came to be where he is.

I want him to have a happy childhood. I was a very happy little Mormon boy and I want him to have a similar experience. I suppose I hope I can duplicate the experience for him. Maybe I can maybe I can’t. He could probably be happy elsewhere but this is the tradition I know and I am generally comfortable with it (this week anyway).

I want him to understand Christianity. There are other places he could learn this but this is one that I have chosen so it is the most doable for us. I think Christian ideals are good for adults and good for children and the Mormon Church is a good place for him to receive instruction. If I didn’t attend I would probably not attend any church and Henry would likely be raised in an agnostic setting. I hasten to add that you don’t have to attend church to learn about Christianity but I personally find that it can be helpful.

I want him to know other people in the neighborhood and know that they care about him. The Mormon community is the one that I know the best and the one in which I happen to reside. That’s not to say that I have no issues with living in a heavily Mormon neighborhood, but I find that if I focus on the positive aspects of my community is works out better for me (and my children). It is nice to have other adults in the neighborhood see him and take a personal interest in his life and well being. I think that is good for a kid.

Oh my goodness – did I just bear my testimony? It probably wouldn’t impress many people in fast and testimony meeting but I think that’s what it was. How bout that.

Sanford Barrett said...

anonk says

Have you asked him WHY he opposes going to church?

I have tried to have that discussion with him but have not gotten very far. I think that being seven, he has a hard time articulating his feelings and ideas. He mostly just repeats that he doesn’t like church or that it’s boring or that he just has to sit there and he doesn't like it. I am going to try and approach him again on a weekday and see if I can get more out of him. Having said that, the reasons he has given are pretty legitimate. But like fifthgen points out above, sometimes you make decisions for your child based on your opinion of how it can benefit them in the bigger picture rather than on how they feel about it.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Fifthgen on this one. It all comes down to the value you place on church attendace. If you think in the long run it is something that will make him a better person and help teach him the values you want him to have, then yes, you have the duty as a father to take him to church despite his protestations.

Too often parents would rather be friends with their kids than parents. You know a lot better what is best for Henry than he does. Most children prefer staying home and playing to going to church. I know I did when I was a child. I also prefered playing to a lot of other activities like school and yard work. Luckily my parents decided to do what was best for me even though I couldn't see it was best for me at the time.

If you ascribe the same value to religion that you do to school and work, then you should require church attendance just like you require school attendance because just like education will benefit him, so will growing up in the church.

To AnonK, what good reason is a seven year old going to have for not going to church? If a child says that school or yard work is boring should you honor his feelings then? If you as a parent feel that religion is beneficial for your child why wouldn't you require him to go to church just like you would require him to go to school or do chores around the house?


Sanford Barrett said...

binnes, welcome -- you have not disappointed me. I think your comments are going to draw some fire -- some from me and more from others. But maybe some lurkers will appreciate your unequivocal tone. I will respond in more detail later.

The Cliftens said...

hmm..sounds like you might have a little Natalie on your hands. :) Good luck with that one!

Mormon Heretic said...

I think Binnes has some good advice.

I have a 5 year old who hates to be bossed around (and loves to boss his 3 year old sister). He protests about lots of things, church, eating, going to the store--sometimes he doesn't even like to go to a birthday party if he's in a bad mood.

For us, church is too important to leave the choice for him to attend. We try to use positive reinforcement (ie bribery) to get him to do things he doesn't want to do.

We've begun violin lessons for him. He hated to practice, but when we threatened to quit violin, he didn't want that either. When we got a sticker chart, now he wants to practice twice a day, just to get a sticker. (Only 1 sticker per day.) Anyway, it has stopped some of the battles.

I hope this isn't a slippery slope, but at his young age, it seems to work the best, and helps us have a happier home.

For example, we will give him a sticker if he does something we want. Lately, even though potty trained, he is having a ton more accidents. I've tried negative consequences--taking away toys, but that doesn't seem to work as well as positive consequences--giving him stickers to keep going potty. Anyway, I'm wondering if a similar method may encourage your child to go to church.

It seems kind of ridiculous sometimes, but I think the positive feelings are worth it to reduce parent-child battles. It's amazing how something simple like a sticker causes him to be very motivated.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading and I think I will be trying to go to church with the kids again. Just because I do not want to go and have problems is it right for me to keep my kids away? It should be their choice if they want to go and if they believe. It doesn't have anyhting to do with anyone else's answer but reading all of this makes me think.

If you make them go you are forcing them. If you make them stay home you are forcing them. Where is the happy medium? And at what age do you let them decide?

I am Anonymous

reddirtgirl said...

I have to agree that if church attendance is a value that you want to pass along you should "make" him go. There are lots of things kids just have to do because their parents think its important. Swimming lessons comes to mind with my children. In the end he really will choose for himself as an adult and if you want him to have childhood memories of church and mormonism that is what you should focus on. Here's the key. Make it positive and enjoyable. A stickers not a bad idea, or just lots of interaction with you (I guess a gas station treat is out considering it's Sunday).

My situations growing up was just the opposite. My Dad was the inactive one and my Mom wanted us to go to church. She was also a huge believer in free choice and she did let us choose from the age of 12 (which to me seems a more realistic age of accountability). Sometimes I went. Sometimes I didn't. Now I don't go AT ALL. But I have alot of good memories from childhood, positive feeling about mormonism and I have a GREAT relationship with my mother and father.

My husband's family was more strict and serious about it all. End result--lots of negative feelings about Mormonism and his parents.

However, in my experience primary has change alot since we were kids. I loved all the pioneer songs, and Jesus wanting me for a sunbeam and thinking the world is beautiful. Now they are all "Marching like the armies of Heleman" and intensely preparing for missions. And all of this for 3 hours in a row on a day off from school with no recess and no snacktime, having to sit quietly and listen to adults talking about living prophets and sacrifice, keystones, thou, shalt, blah, blah, etc.? I can and do emphathize with how your little guy feels.

Your kids are adorable. Didn't you say you had three? Where is a picture of your third?

Puolustaja said...

I think the appropriate age to stop requiring the church attendance of your children is when they decide to cut the purse strings. As long as my children are living in my house, church attendance will required. That may seem dictatorial, but it's no different than any other rule in the house. I will also require my kids to put their plates in sink after dinner and to keep their rooms moderately clean even if they are over 21.

I think twelve is still a little early to let kids make their own decision about church attendance. It's too important a decision to leave up to a twlve-year-old brain. Maybe try turning a blind eye if your kid ditches sunday school to grab a sandwhich and watch some football occasionally. That way your kid still makes it two or three meetings and got enjoy some time with friends in between.

Another problem with letting a twelve-year-old decide (assuming he or she decides to stop attending church) is the social ramifications. That's about the age where friends start to take preeminence over parents. I realize that not all kids in the ward will good influences, but for the most part I think I will take my chances with kids in the ward. It's hard for kids to stay close friends with the other LDS teens in the neighborhood if they aren't attending church and activities every week with the other LDS teens.

My group of friends consisted primarily of the guys my age in my ward. We had non-member friends in the neighborhood but it was harder to stay close to them because they didn't come on campouts with us and play church basketball with us and ditch sunday school with us.

So my advice (take it for what it's worth considering I don't have any teenagers) is do everything you can to keep your kids active through the teenage years then it's up to them to make their own decisions.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I say make him go for the time being. And tell him why! Right now he's too young to see the importance of going to church, but you are his father and you know better and you have to do whatever you feel is in his best interests until he's old enough to decide for himself. You set the age of accountability, whether it's 16, 18, whatever. Under the law, once he is 18, he is legally able to make his own decisions and then you won't be able to tell him what to do. Tell him that. I know he might feel it's a "long sentence" to have to go to church until he's 16 or 18, but it will at least give him some hope that you won't be ruling his life forever. Letting him stay home now and then expecting him to go to church without a huge fight once he reaches the age of accountability is a mistake, I think, because then the habit of staying home is already developed. If he's not already going to church regularly once he hits those terrible teens, I think there is little hope for him to be active.

In the mean time, think of some incentive for him to want to go to church. It doesn't have to be a material thing, nor do you have to make church "more fun" because you can't. Just make it worth his while once church is over, perhaps by having one-on-one time, going to a favourite place of his, playing an hour of X-box with him afterwards, etc. Whenever he doesn't put up a big fight, tell him that you're proud of him and it makes you really happy when he goes to church with a willing spirit. Praise every good thing that he does because that can end up being a kid's #1 motivation, whether they admit it or not.

mike said...

I can relate with Henry's good mood after church - as a child I was always SO happy it was finally over.