Sunday morning, I decided to take all four kids to our (new) church by myself. It was an act born out of desperation as much as dedication. We haven’t been to church for almost a month, due to moving, bad weather and illness. I miss that set-apart time with God, the chance to physically do something to demonstrate the blessing of a fresh start. So today, even though I knew it would be challenging, I decided to go.
The morning started off fairly well. Corey left for a business trip. The kids and I weren’t rushed. We left for church with time to spare, and I even managed to pep talk Natalie into attending Sunday school at the new church for the first time.
The trouble began when I started to check Natalie and Connor in to their classes. Connor had been to Sunday school at the new church before. But Sunday, when I tried to hand him a name tag, he balked. “I’m not going to Sunday school,” he said, tight with both fear and anger. “Yes, you are buddy,” I said, with an amazingly calm voice. (I was praying like crazy.) “I’m all by myself today, and I’m taking Kieran with me to church because he’s tired. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay the whole service, and I don’t want to leave you alone in the sanctuary or drag you around with me. So today, I need you to go to Sunday school.”
“I’m not going!” he reiterated, and ran around a corner.
Natalie, with tears in her eyes, tried to grab his hand. “I’m going to Sunday school today, Connor. I’m scared. Won’t you come with me?”
“No! I’m not going!” he barked, swatting off her advances.
I thought maybe time alone would help him calm down. So I walked Natalie to her small group, made the appropriate introductions and got her (nervously) settled.
I returned to the lobby to talk to Connor. Things went from bad to worse. He ran away from me, refused to look me in the eye, pulled away from me when I tried to take his hand. I ended up dragging him (holding Kieran in the other arm) into the back of the group Sunday school room (as he clawed at the door frame and carpet) to talk.
“What is the deal, Connor? What is going on? Why don’t you want to go to Sunday school?" (Still praying like crazy, fighting the frustration threatening to spill out.)
“It’s boring! I’m not going!” was the only reply I could get.
I did what I could with consequences. I took away his computer time. I reminded him that his Dad would be hearing about this episode, and that he would exercise his own consequences when he comes home on Tuesday. Nothing mattered. Nothing changed.
I was backed into a corner. (And Connor was literally in a corner, sitting crossed and angry, kicking at the wall and knocking over garbage cans within reach.) Should I leave him a room where I don’t know the adults and let them deal with his attitude? (Past experience would show he would stay in that corner the whole hour, scowling, not responding to anyone no matter the kindness showed him.) Or should I relent and let him come to church with me, the better to spare the childcare workers his tantrum?
I relented. I told him he could come to “big church” with me, but that he would sit on his behind the whole hour and not doing anything other than listen.
Which he did. He fidgeted and he made goofy faces at Kieran, but he did sit. He did obey.
But I hate that I lost the battle. I am afraid I reinforced his subconscious belief that he can throw a tantrum and get his way, that obedience is conditional, that he is stronger than me.
I lost. He lost.
How do I win with a strong-willed child?