My heart broke again. It started in the car.
“Mama, no one will include me at recess. I keep asking to play, but everyone already has a plan.”
Deep breath. Gratitude that the booster seat confined child behind me cannot see my tears. A swallow, gulp really, before I began to speak.
“Sweetheart, have you talked to a grown-up at school about this?”
“No, not really.”
“Do you want me to let your teacher know this is happening?”
My kid is brilliant and sweet. Kind and naïve. And, he is not neurotypical. Much of his brilliance, sweetness and kindness is born of the unique wiring of his neurology. Wiring that also makes him rigid, righteous, and empathetic beyond his ability to cope.
Connecting to peers has always been a challenge for him and he has begun to notice the parties, the games, and the conversations which don’t include him. Not because anyone is being mean…rather, it’s just that he doesn’t fit in and he doesn’t go along. Per his teacher, kids “really like him”—I would add, “but they don’t think of him”.
And, this is where I am grateful for the community we call the Church.
In a world where kids spend 8 or more hours a day with children “their own age,” adults in the work force are surrounded by individuals who are largely their generational peers, and seniors often live in “senior only” housing, the Church is one of the few places where people of all generations have the opportunity to share space.
And in this, I am not raising my children in the church because they get to hang out with “their cohort” or go to age segregated Sunday School rooms. I am raising them in the church so they can be part of a multi-generational community in which they can be seen and known and loved, for who they are, as full and equal members of the Body of Christ.
In my current call, I am fortunate to be in a community that is full of grown-ups who have no clue about “typical” child development. So, an 8-year-old with a passion for science and engineering who happens to carry stuffed animals with him all the time and can’t tolerate change…well, that makes total sense to them. They don’t know or really care what typical is—they see him and love him for who he is and the common interests they share.
The grown-ups who have befriended my child know that he has a lively interest in social-justice, is curious about first century Palestinian life, and is a really good Jr. Acolyte. Sure, they may remember the time that he hid under the pew sobbing because I accidently got him wet when I asperged the congregation…but, meh, we all have our moments.
There are many who speak of providing “developmentally appropriate” formation for children, and I think it’s important to recognize that different people have different abilities and needs that are sometimes connected to their chronological age. But, in the midst of this all, we need to be mindful that there are also individuals in our communities with atypical development who will flourish if given the opportunity to develop relationships across generations.
“You know friends don’t have to be your age…”
“No. Can you think of the grown-ups who are your friends?”
“Well, Bob and Jon, Sally…oh, and George!”
[Photo Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]
How has the multi-generational church benefitted you or your family?
Emily Watkins says
This is lovely. Thank you for these words and the reminder of how important cross-generational relationships are for our children. Do you have any suggestions on how to make these connections with and for your children at a new church?
Joy Caires says
We had a long time formation director who really emphasized the full person-hood and membership of children. Children in worship full time, training people to “notice the kids” and make a point of saying to them, “I’m glad you are here”. All in all, creating a general ethos of folk who are truly interested in getting to know younger people–youth might present a project during an adult forum, mentoring models in which adults are paired with a youth over multiple years, and sometimes just people being willing to take a minute to greet a child like they would anyone else.
I’m very moved by your post and it’s bittersweet truth’s. Thank you!
Mindy Boynton says
Love this post Joy! All so very true, thank you Church!