“You cannot make her eat,” said the pediatrician. I am certain I looked at her as if she had grown a second head. With my toddler, Eve, in tow, I had come for my well child visit and just rattled off a laundry list of ways I was trying to prompt a defiant toddler to eat. Dr. Y repeated her comment, “Tammy. You cannot make her eat. There are some things we cannot make children do. You can set up appropriate boundaries for when she says, ‘no’ to all proffered foods but you cannot control when she chews and swallows.”
For several weeks, my toddler had been using her newfound sense of “no” in regards to her food choices. She would either eat nothing or only certain foods. I was convinced her nutrition was poor, and therefore, her health at risk. I was sure that as her mom, I was supposed to make Eve eat. The words from Dr. Y opened up a new world to me, a world where I could create opportunities but could not force the outcome.
Now as a pre-adolescent, Eve has found a new focus for her steadfast, “no.” Eve does not want to attend church. The daughter of a minister, Eve has been attending church since she was six weeks old. She has been given freedom of choice about participating in children’s choir or in children’s ministry events. She has not been given a choice about attending Sunday school and worship. However, she is consistent in her Sunday morning whine and protest. She lists all the things other kids (and adults) list as reasons for not attending church. She can be quite convincing, almost.
Eve is nine years old, and I take her to church despite her protests. I struggle with her dislike of church. As a minister, participation in a faith community is vital for me. Firmly I believe in the community of the saints, and I believe the saints sit next to you in the pews. I believe in the church universal. I believe that Christians all over the world gather to worship, and I want to be counted as one of their number. Attending church is bigger than whether or not I want to show up. I can explain that to an adult, but what do I say to a nine year old?
Currently, I tell her, “We attend church as a family and you are part of this family. Get dressed, and be ready on time.” As of now, I can take her to church but soon, the decision will be hers. Will my heart accept it if she chooses to not be a church goer? I know she is growing in her faith journey. She is learning the faith stories and has made a profession of faith. I am not worried about her loving God. I am worried about her turning away from something I value and hold dear. I guess this is a part of becoming an adult, part of casting parent as other so you can form your identity. But every Sunday, when she whines, “But I don’t want to go to church” my heart catches in my throat, and I wonder if I can accept that I can’t make her love church.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.