Thursday, September 15, 2011

Separation Issue: Church Sunday School

Jacob has always been a little shy around strangers and sometimes even around family. He had the "normal" stranger anxiety issues when he was a little over a year old. And then again when he was about 18 months old. I was hoping with the passage of time and him maturing, it would change, but unfortunately it has not and it has been both frustrating and heartbreaking.

I often blame myself for this issue since I have pretty much been with him 24/7 since the day he was born. The only people he has really stayed with for an extended period of time, other than myself or Keith, are my parents or my sister, Katie. He did stay with a high school girl who lived across the street a few times when he was less than a year old, but it was only for a few hours and it was before he really understood what was happening. I truly believe that staying home with him and not having him in daycare or being cared for by someone else is a good thing. However, I also wonder if we would be having these same problems if I had left him more often over the past two years.

The biggest issue we are dealing with right now is leaving him at the Sunday School class at church. This is one of those situations that I look back and really wish we had just dealt with two years ago. Keith and I were very involved in our church in Richmond, but when we moved to Charlottesville in 2007, we fell away from going to church regularly. Numerous times over the past four and a half years, we have attended a church with the intentions of making it a regular part of our week. Unfortunately, we never made it a high priority before we had Jacob (mostly because of laziness) and once he came along, getting up and going to church with a baby seemed like an impossible task. There were morning naps, breastfeeding, and diaper changes to deal with and it was just easier to stay home on Sunday mornings and spend time as a family. We did go a few times, but once he got to the age where he wasn't content to sit in his carrier, we didn't attempt to go anymore.

Then, earlier this year, Keith and I had a discussion about how we felt it was important to get involved in a church - both for ourselves and for Jacob. We really enjoyed being a part of our church in Richmond and we miss that fellowship and feeling of family. Here at home, we read bible stories, sing biblical songs and pray with Jacob, but we wanted something more for him too. So, we started attending a church close to our home in late May. We left Jacob in the nursery one time (and he cried most of the time!) and another time we tried to have him in the service with us (we left early that day since neither of us could really pay attention to what was going on due to a very feisty toddler!).

Then, due to vacations and busy summer weekends, we didn't get into a good routine of going every Sunday until late July. At this point, since Jacob was over two years old, he was not allowed in the nursery anymore; he needed to go to the two-year old Sunday School classroom. In this setting, he would color pictures, sing songs, listen to bible stories, eat a snack and sometimes go outside on the playground. We were really excited for Jacob to learn about Jesus and to enjoy being with other kids his age. Unfortunately, he was not so excited! I basically had to peel him of of me and leave him in the room crying out for me the first day we left him. And, about 20 minutes into the service, one of the teacher's helpers had to come get me because he wouldn't stop crying. From then until now (for about six weeks), we have tried numerous things - bringing him into the service with us, me staying in the classroom with him, and what we have done most is to just leave him (even though he is crying when we leave and crying when we come back to get him).

It breaks my heart to walk away from him when he is crying so hard and calling out for me, but I have been hoping that it was going to get better. One of the problems is that the Sunday School teacher is not the same every week. It is a volunteer position that rotates and, especially over the summer, there was not a predictable schedule of who was going to be there. There is one teacher, Miss Terry, who Jacob is more fond of and who I feel comfortable leaving him with (she always assures me that "he will be fine" and that we should go enjoy the service and not worry about him). The first time we left him with her, I admittedly was a little worried about her blase attitude and I cried walking from the classroom to the sanctuary and for the first ten minutes of the service! I wondered if we were doing the right thing or if we were leaving him with someone who wasn't going to take very good care of him. That day, when we returned to get him (even though he was still crying and so was I again), Miss Terry told me that she had a daughter with special needs and that she understood the need for parents to have time away and for kids to learn the hard lesson that their Mom and Dad will come back for them. From that day forward, I felt like Jacob and Miss Terry had a special bond. A few times after the service when we have gone to the classroom to get him, the teenage helpers have told us that he and Miss Terry are in a different place (out at the playground or in a different area of the building). She tries very hard to distract him while making him feel comfortable being away from us. He still cries and has to be peeled off of me when I leave him with her, but she tells me every week that she thinks he is getting better and isn't crying as much (read: just on and off instead of the whole hour! lol) I am VERY thankful for Miss Terry and I believe that she is truly helping Jacob overcome his separation anxiety fear (even though it is a very sloooooow process!). The only problem now is that I don't feel comfortable leaving him with anyone else. And, there are weeks that Miss Terry is not going to be there so we need to decide what to do.

Keith and I have had NUMEROUS discussions about this issue and have also fielded many suggestions from family and friends. It is a hard issue to deal with and, even though we sometimes second guess ourselves, we have come to the conclusion that forcing him to spend some time away from us is a good thing. And, we are hopeful that someday (hopefully SOON!!), it will not be such a struggle for all of us. The saga continues...