Ministering to the un-ministerable

My oldest child is almost 17 and has hated church at least since she was a toddler. Possibly she hated it before then but lacked the verbal skills to express herself clearly. At any rate, for the last fifteen years she has expressed her hostility this way: yelling, screaming, blurting out insults and provocative comments, disrupting lessons (and singing), and generally making everyone else’s worship time miserable. This is not typical behavior, even for a teenager, so I should probably explain that in addition to having Asperger’s Syndrome and a mood disorder, she is kind of a brat. I think I can say that with love, since I’m her mom and she probably got it from me in the first place.

Since the time she became old enough to stay home alone without supervision, I have seriously considered, on a fairly regular basis (say, weekly), excusing her from church attendance. Some weeks are better than others. Occasionally, even, a Sunday passes without incident. But most Sundays are difficult, and sometimes they’re just horrible. I am long past the point of being embarrassed by my daughter’s behavior. Believe me, I think I would be embarrassed if I could be. I’ve just built up this big callous where my shame should be. No, the problem isn’t embarrassment or even guilt. I’m just so sick and tired of dealing with it. Sometimes I just want to go to church and be there and not have to worry about whatever my daughter is doing to make others uncomfortable, hurt their feelings, and further alienate herself from her peers. Some weeks I have just left her at home. Or taken her home when things have gone south, because sometimes that’s the only thing that can be done. After 17 years of living with her, I’m just out of ideas. I’ve been out of ideas for a long time.

We used to see these anti-social behaviors across the board. With the help of medication, therapy, and the right supports, she has brought her school behavior and her home behavior mostly under control. It’s her church behavior that is consistently poor, which to the casual observer, i.e. anyone who hasn’t been living with her for 17 years, suggests that she’s doing these things on purpose, to get attention or to be difficult or possibly just to alleviate boredom. I’ve definitely considered that explanation. Maybe it’s accurate to a certain extent, but I reject it as an adequate explanation for the same reason I’m still taking her to church every week: things just aren’t that simple.

My daughter does hate church–sometimes. Other times she doesn’t mind it. She’s told me herself that even though she doesn’t like being at church–she feels out of place and things and people annoy her there–she doesn’t feel right staying home either. In a million years I would never dream of making her go to mutual. I myself didn’t go as a teenager, and I managed to stay off drugs and out of jail, so as far as I’m concerned, mutual and other non-Sunday church activities have always been optional. My daughter chooses to go because a) she is starved for social interaction and b) sometimes she has fun. Sometimes she has lots of fun (as long as the activity isn’t too, you know, religious). Despite what her more extreme behavior would suggest, she actually does want to have relationships with other people, particularly with her peers–but it’s difficult for her, and she herself makes it difficult.

The other kids, particularly the young women, are always kind to her. They are very tolerant of her, shall we say, eccentricities. A lot of them have grown up with her and understand that she has a disability and blah blah, blah blah. No one is mean, even though some of them have been the unwitting targets of her wrath. They might be nicer to her than she deserves. (That’s charity.) But they’re not really her friends either. I don’t blame them. My daughter has always been apart from the other kids at church. She’s attended different schools, she has different interests, her parents are not friends with her peers’ parents. And she’s kind of prickly. When she’s in a good mood, she can be delightful. Everyone says so. And it’s not like she’s always in a bad mood. But when she is in a bad mood, she pretty much goes nuclear.

This is why we have had a lot of meetings with the bishop and with Young Women leaders. Everyone wants to help Mary feel welcome and have a positive experience at church. But more to the point, they want the angry outbursts and disruptions to stop. There are other kids and their feelings to consider. They want church to be a safe place for everyone. I’m beginning to think these goals are mutually exclusive. I say I’m beginning to think it, but that’s not really true. I think I have known it for a long time but wanted to believe otherwise because I don’t want to give up on my child. No, I don’t want other people to give up on my child. But it looks like maybe that’s what they need to do.

We have tried things like pulling her out of Sunday School and having her do one-on-one lessons with a trusted adult. That has worked much more smoothly than having her in the group class, but it has further isolated her from the other kids. She has an adult assigned to her specifically, so when she’s having a hard time in class (be it Sunday School or Young Women), they can take her outside and help her calm down. She has been given the heads-up when the lesson is going to be on a topic that might be triggering for her (e.g., marriage, dating, gender roles, Boyd K. Packer). She has been excused from YW opening exercises. People have tried to support and accommodate her, but disruptions still occur, and the disruptions are unacceptable. They spoil the mood and upset the other kids (and often the adults).

There is one particular YW leader my daughter just doesn’t like. They’ve clashed before, but I think they are simply incompatible personalities. That happens in life; we all have to deal with it, but since my daughter is developmentally delayed in the area of social communication, she handles it poorly. Fortunately, the leader in question works mostly with the younger girls, but unfortunately, there is still occasion for them to interact, and that is just about always a disaster. My daughter’s behavior is completely unjustified and out of line; I can’t excuse it. I also can’t prevent it; it’s irrational and not always predictable. I don’t have a magic formula for incident-free lessons and activities, short of taking my daughter out of church completely, and taking her out of church deprives her of opportunities to learn and practice better social behavior.

I used to not care if my daughter remained active in the church once she became an adult. I want her to be a productive member of society, and I want her to be happy and content; if that means she stops being a practicing Mormon, oh well. But my husband has persuaded me that the church is our daughter’s best hope for a long-term support network and social outlet. I know this is true because I know how difficult–how miraculous, really–it is to make genuine friends. The next best thing is people who fellowship you because they are morally obligated. I dream of my daughter living independently as an adult, but I think it will be much easier for her if she has home teachers, visiting teachers, a place where she is always welcome because Jesus said so.

But this is just theoretical. In practice, some wards are unfriendly, even toxic. (Believe me, I know.) Thank God our ward is not like that. Our ward is full of nice people who want to help but don’t know how. Unfortunately, I don’t know how either. They want me to help them help my daughter, but as I said, I’m out of ideas. I’ve got nothing. And these meetings called, ostensibly, to discuss my daughter’s needs, are not primarily about my daughter’s needs. They’re about everyone’s needs. Where my daughter’s needs run up against everyone else’s need to have a peaceful Sunday, it’s my daughter who is expected to change, and I can’t make her change. She can’t even make herself change. Not at this point. It’s been a long, arduous process to get her where she’s at now–successful at school, no longer physically attacking people, etc. It’s going to take a while longer for her to get where she needs to be, sitting in church quietly and not reacting with hostility to everything that annoys her. She won’t get there if doesn’t have the opportunity to practice. But that opportunity has a cost. We will all have to give up our expectations of peaceful Sunday meetings. I let go of that expectation ages ago, but I understand others’ reluctance to do the same.

Something that keeps coming up in these discussions is that my daughter’s bad behavior drives away the Spirit, which diminishes (or ruins) the experience for everyone else. This particular complaint my husband and I don’t buy. Our daughter’s behavior is bad. It doesn’t make other people feel good. But it doesn’t make the Spirit flee the room because where the Spirit goes is the Spirit’s business. We invite the Spirit to be with us–we’re promised, after we’re baptized and confirmed, that the Spirit will be our constant companion as long as we keep a place within ourselves for it to stay. My daughter may be driving the Spirit away from herself, but she doesn’t have the power to banish it from the room or command it to leave other people. If she makes it difficult for others to feel the Spirit, she has plenty of company. Lots of things (and people) make it difficult for us to feel the Spirit. As the self-help books of the world tell us, if life were easy, it wouldn’t be so hard.

I’m not a disinterested party here, of course, but I still like to think that I have a fair outlook on the situation. I don’t kid myself that my daughter’s behavior is not as bad as everyone thinks it is. No, it’s bad. It’s not acceptable. But unlike everyone else, I don’t have a choice about whether or not to have her around. She lives with me. Our family has to find a way to deal with her unacceptable behavior while she learns to behave more acceptably. If our family were a club, I could kick her out for breaking the rules. I could tell her to go live someplace else until she’s ready to be civil on a consistent basis. But that’s not how families work. At least, I don’t think so. (If it is, then I’ve been a sucker, I guess.) Somehow, as a family, we have managed to get to a place where gospel learning can take place. We have Family Home Evening and family prayer and family scripture study (daily, in fact). These days it takes place mostly without incident, but it wasn’t always so. We’ve had many unpleasant experiences. People have cried, had their plans spoiled. Younger children have been traumatized. Unacceptable behavior occurred, but we got through it–shell-shocked, maybe, but for the most part intact. (We’ll see.)

Church is not like home. Should it be? I don’t know. But I think I’m all done going to meetings where people ask me how I can help them help my daughter when what they really want to know is how we prevent the unacceptable behavior from happening in the first place. We had one of these meetings a few weeks ago. We’re having one again because the behavior hasn’t stopped yet, and the behavior’s unacceptable. I haven’t come up with any new ideas in the interim. I want everyone to have their peaceful Sundays back. Believe me. But if they really want me to help them get that, they’re going to have to ask the thing I’m not willing to offer anymore. They’ll have to ask me to take my daughter out of church. If they’re not willing to do that, they’re going to have to learn to live with the things I’ve learned to live with.

My daughter is a lonely person. She functions at a high enough level that it’s hard to remember that she struggles with a disability and mental illness. She’s not a warm and fuzzy disabled person whose sweet spirit shines through her imperfect body.  It’s not easy to be friends with her. She knows it’s not easy. Over the years she has developed a habit of pushing other people away, rejecting them before they can reject her. It’s self-defeating, and sometimes irrational, but it’s what she does. Ministering to her is going to be much more challenging than ministering to someone you have things in common with, who gives as much as she takes, who is always grateful and gracious. To be honest, it’s going to suck, and I don’t know if it’s even going to work. But as her mother, I have to play the long game. This includes being willing to tolerate behavior that is intolerable. I don’t think my daughter’s needs should take precedence over everyone else’s. I don’t think her needs should take precedence over my other children’s needs, but in reality, this is sometimes what happens–because the only other choice is to turn her away.


  1. Wow. This is so tough, I have no ideas here. But I will be thinking of you and your daughter, and I will try harder in my own ward.

  2. Oregon Mum says:

    Bless you for your efforts, and thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I have a son who is on the spectrum, and though he’s still young, church is often difficult. A particular Amen goes out to your words about the Holy Spirit.

  3. Wow, Rebecca. I’ll think about this a long time.

  4. We’re in a very similar situation here. I am almost at the point of thinking that I am sinning more in bringing my daughter to church than in leaving her at home. Almost. Hands clasped across the continent, Rebecca.

  5. Gary Payne says:

    Rebecca, your are remarkable. You are why your daughter came to your family. Here is my quote for the day…

    “Someday, everything will make perfect sense.”

    God love you.

    And he loves your daughter.

  6. handlewithcare says:

    Sister. Been there, done that, and I still don,t have the T shirt. I have no idea what I would have done differently. I admire your acceptance of her agency, maybe your husband needs to get that too, because she will make choices and it’s likely to hurt more if you feel you either can or should control her, it will also poison your relationship, which is your best bargaining chip in the long run. Keep it as sweet as it is possible, even if it means letting go of your righteous aspirations. I really don’t believe that the Spirit can or will leave her, I believe that part of my covenant is that God will continue to call upon my children to walk in green pastures, and that they have a God-given right to find their own way. God be with you sister, I know what a hell this is as do many others, as did the father of the prodigal son. Reading Marylin Robinson’s books, especially ‘Home’, has helped me understand this better from my daughter’s point of view, to understand how she has to hold out for her own integrity in the face of something that was never her choice.

  7. This resonates with me, as I grew up with a sibling who was/is bipolar/mood disorder/ADHD/the diagnoses keep coming, plus an unfortunate decision to experiment with drugs as a teenager. We tried so hard, put up with so much, and he definitely took the lion’s share of my parents’ time and attention. Eventually his behavior devolved to the point where he had to be temporarily removed in order to keep the other kids safe. (How many times do you let someone hold you at knife-point?) My parents have so many regrets, and they keep learning about things they could have done differently, but could they really have? Is there any way they could have stumbled upon the perfect cocktail of reaction and intervention that would have turned things around? Their behavior wasn’t the primary problem, his was. And he, at least in part, couldn’t help it. No easy answers, no solution, and not even any respite. It’s so much that to call it exhausting seems crazy trite. Cheers to you for your fortitude!

  8. Do you wish to be compelled or coerced into going to church? What then does the Golden Rule tell you you should do for your children?

  9. Alf O'Mega says:

    Years ago I attended an opt-in singles ward. One single who opted in was a guy who had some developmental issues. He was obnoxious and officious, and he became an outsize problem for the ward. Given my leadership position and my difficulty saying no, I often provided him rides to activities, so I felt somewhat responsible for him. I definitely bore a larger share of the headaches than most members of the ward. But as frustrated as I felt at him, I nevertheless believed that we were obligated to accommodate him, that if we couldn’t find a place for him within our ranks, we had no business calling ourselves followers of Christ.

    My opinion was not, ultimately, shared by the bishop and stake president, who asked him to opt out. And when he showed up anyway, he was escorted away. I was relieved to have him out of my hair, but I believed then and believe now that we failed an important test. It may well be that my leaders’ decision was best for the health of the ward, since it depended on people affirmatively deciding to attend, and he was likely making that decision problematic for many people with less invested in the ward than I. But it felt like a dirty compromise.

    I hope that your daughter will find a way to live comfortably with her ward family. My experience is that no equilibrium in life is stable. Balance must be fought for and maintained with exertion. It may be that less church will be better for her at this point. Maybe you could experiment with a reduced dose of church until she finds her equilibrium, which may not end up including weekly attendance.

    My experience as a now-atheist living comfortably among the saints persuades me that the elasticity of the typical ward is great enough to accommodate your daughter. I hope that your ward is up to the challenge. It sounds like you are.

  10. This sounds so hard. I truly admire the amazing work you and your family have done so far in helping her to progress to where she is. And, with the Gospel learning that you’ve been able to establish in your home, I think it sounds encouraging for further improvement. I am also glad to hear about the efforts made by your ward. I can understand the frustration with further such meetings though. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be.

  11. I completely agree with you that it is incorrect that your daughter could drive out the Spirit for others based on her behavior. This notion arises from our cultural creation of what it means to “have the Spirit” — that it is equivalent to speaking in hushed tones or other “reverent” behavior. That’s just atmosphere. They should be saying that she is disrupting the atmosphere they prefer at Church rather than saying that she’s driving away the Spirit. I am sorry that some people think that is what is happening.

  12. Not sure what Log is saying here. If its what I think it is, I don’t agree. As parents we certainly raise our children to have agency, but until they leave us, we are obligated to do as much as we can to see that they are protected and nurtured and that what is happening is what we think is best. You chose differently than many more “orthodox” parents, but its your right (and responsibility to make that call and I’m sure you did so with the most righteousness you could summon. Rebecca, my heart goes out to you and I think you’re right. To the best you can keep your daughter affiliated with the Church, her life will be blessed. If that sometimes requires compulsion, so be it. As for those who would say otherwise . . . we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  13. What an incredible post. I know a lot of families are struggling with this kind of behavior. It’s great for people to hear how it really can be for parents whose children have these types of issues.

  14. I have two sons, one with Asperger’s, the other quite autistic. They’re 25 and 23 and they’ve been a hand full. But I have brought them to Church all their lives and have never considered the Ward’s feelings over theirs or, I guess, mine. I’ll try to be nice here but if a Ward can’t accept anyone. And I mean anyone, then the Lord will not accept them. My experience has paralleled yours in many aspects and I won’t give you platitudes to ease your burden. As far as I know, your burden is your Ward’s burden. Keep bringing her.

  15. Thanks for this post. Sometimes things just plain ol don’t work. We want our stories to have neat arcs and endings and didactic morals, but lots of the time, we just endure the things that don’t make sense. Thank God for grace. I hope your ward is able to continue its kindness with your daughter and to accept the messiness that comes, more often than we think, with true service.

  16. This helps me a lot. Thank you.

  17. You wrote of your struggles so powerfully, thank you for sharing this. As a leader who had a young boy move in who needed ministering, I can honestly say that when we went to the parents to ask what we could do to make his experience in Primary better for him we really and truly didn’t mean how can we control him so that he sat still in a chair and didn’t disrupt others. We knew he had issues and we didn’t want to do or say anything to make things worse for him. If her leaders are concerned for her than your saying honestly to them what you have learned works and doesn’t (if there is any predictability at all) and stating that at this time these are the only things you know to suggest will be enough. Sometimes we the clueless need to know the limits as to what we can do to help and be told after that it’s just lots of patience.

  18. Anon for this one says:

    Although your rather lengthy post doesn’t mention it, odds are pretty good that she has received multiple priesthood blessings. If this has not happened, I think it could generate immense good. A few possible outcomes:

    1) A once-in-a-lifetime patriarchal blessing might give insight into why your daughter has these issues, bring comfort to her and you, and unfold the promises that await her in the future.
    2) A father’s blessing (or other priesthood leader) may also help or give comfort.
    3) I really hesitate to suggest it, but I will anyway. Find a qualified priesthood brother to cast out any evil spirits that are affecting her, following the model taught in the temple. Yes, Elder Holland made it very clear that mental illness and evil spirits are different issues. That doesn’t negate the fact that evil spirits do exist, and do affect individuals. The fact that the behavior is worse at church than any other place is an otherwise puzzling data point.

  19. Rebecca, thank you for sharing this with the world. Your post resonated and stung and makes me feel like I have some repenting to do. Your daughter is so lucky to have you as her mother.
    Also, Anon for this one at 6:01 pm, holy hell! I would like to apologize to Rebecca on your behalf. Please don’t stop sharing yourself and your amazing insights because of people like 6:01 pm anon.

  20. Anon for her sake says:

    I have a granddaughter with Aspergers. She is high functioning, & is interested in music. Even tho she will only be 11 this summer, I am thinking about trying to teach her to play the organ, if only to give her a “spot” to belong at church.

  21. the other Marie says:

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that church meetings aren’t primarily about learning doctrine or personal spiritual growth, but about 1) taking the sacrament, 2) testifying with our presence that we believe, and 2) community. Unifying the covenant people. The learning and personal spiritual growth can happen in so many other ways and times (and often much better in other ways and times), but the community, the learning to love the Saints you’re thrown together with–as we are thrown together with our families–is, I believe, a much more important goal of our meetings. And you are of course right that the Spirit is not the skittish, delicate, noise-fleeing spiritual squirrel some claim him to be. So I’d say anything abrasive she does should just be viewed as an opportunity to get extra practice in Extreme Community Building–good for all involved–and that having her leave to preserve the peace would be a failure to accomplish one of the most important objective of our meetings.

  22. RJ,
    I’ve got nothing to say that would be of any help. You are a Saint (big S and everything). People forget this: When God says, love your neighbor as yourself, he isn’t just talking about the people who are like you, who are together, who will cause you no trouble. A promise to mourn with people you don’t believe will ever cause you to mourn is empty. The Gospel isn’t easy.

  23. That tough to read Rebecca but I deeply appreciate your courage to share. Our stories don’t usually have those movie resolutions. Thanks for the powerful narrative. God bless you and your daughter.

  24. wreddyornot says:

    Thanks for sharing and blessings to you, to your daughter, to your family. Really, to us all. May we all have more love for each other and for our God (Heavenly Mother and Father) and trust our trials have meaning and purpose. I read your narrative not only on its face but hopefully, in these troubled times, deeply into its heart. Thank you, again.

  25. You have my heartfelt sympathy.
    I have only a small fraction of experience of this with my own two kids behaviours, though thankfully, I only had to haul my daughter out of church meetings until she was 8. Her response outside home has been more one of silence. We had a particularly bad year at school with my son at 15 years old – coping with all those hormonal changes was very hard for him, horribly inappropriate remarks, threats of self harm, and violence towards others. Thankfully that calmed down after a year. But my nerves were stretched taught every time the school rang for that year. And my daughter is working to learn to speak to folk other than family at home (where she can be quite aggressive in her manner). Everything gets bottled up, and comes pouring out at home.
    With you on not forcing them to go to youth activities. My son goes when he wants to, and not when the activity doesn’t interest him. Also with you on the difficulty sometimes in advising others on how to help. It does sometimes feel like they’re asking how can we help them fit a mold. There’s nothing you can do that is going to make my son enjoy team sport. It’s just not something he enjoys.
    Also join with you and others on the ‘drive the spirit away’ thing. I’d be sorely tempted to tell them the reason they can’t feel the spirit is their own attitude towards the interruptions!
    It is an attitude that has long been encouraged in our discourse sadly.

  26. Thanks for sharing–many of us minister to loved ones who don’t seem to respond well much of the time. It’s hard when there is not a strong sense of belonging & there are so many gaps to bridge. In prolonged difficult situations I have learned that truly others have agency & I can only pray to do my part—the Harvest is with Jesus and His relationship with each person. He honors agency, which means he lets each of us struggle with our agency amid great challenges. He knows when a loved one is “on track” toward Him & I have found that I am usually not able to discern that for even my own grown child or their children—even for my wife sometimes—as she was “on track” when what I wanted and prayed for her turned out to be wrong for her and I had not understood. Even for my loved ones with major deficits, for whom I ache, I do not often know what “on track” looks like for them. When my part in their lives feels inspired, I still don’t know what “success” looks like in their responses. Bless you!!!

  27. Anon for her sake: “I have a granddaughter with Aspergers. She is high functioning, & is interested in music. Even tho she will only be 11 this summer, I am thinking about trying to teach her to play the organ, if only to give her a “spot” to belong at church.”

    That sounds like a great idea. I know being able to play piano helps me integrate in a ward, when I would otherwise find it very hard.
    Learning any musical instrument can help though, if the interest is there. I was never good at socialising, but really enjoyed playing in a youth orchestra. It was the one group activity where I knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and how to respond. It was all written in the music. That was where I learnt to feel the joy of participating in group experience. My daughter also benefits from that. My son gave it a go, but just wasn’t as interested in music.

  28. I read this earlier today when it was posted and just can’t quit thinking about it. It triggered all kinds of feelings in me. I think raising challenging kids can stimulate a sort of PTSD for parents. The main theme that keeps rising to the surface is that you’re smack in the middle of this mighty struggle–raising kids, and the intense teenage years, plus the added challenges, you’re plugging leaks in the levee, constantly dodging disaster, and you just can’t sort success from failure. I don’t mean unblemished success, or the unflawed, pristine image of success that we’re flogged with so much at church, but just keeping them alive and moving forward one step at a time is substantial progress. I can imagine where your family would be without your effort. I can’t find the words to express the respect I have for you struggling to teach and train week in and week out, and I suspect you don’t always see the gain you’ve made, and what the impact will be in the future. I don’t have any tips or advice, just serious, bedrock encouragement, that you should know that what you’re doing, engaging with every problem you can manage, is going to make a difference; is already making a difference, and your family is better for it. I hope you can muster the stamina you need to continue.

    It’s late and I don’t have the energy to activate the filters needed to address your ward’s lack. Drive away the Spirit indeed. All I can say about that is that I was called once to teach a class with an emotionally disturbed child, because the powers that be discovered that I wasn’t intimidated by the child’s neediness. It wasn’t a cake walk, especially in the beginning. There was a constant supply of extra problems to solve, but I had stamina on my side, because I only had to solve them for the duration of the meeting, and mostly during the group exercises where it was my responsibility to avert disturbances. And make the atmosphere safe for everyone’s perception of the Spirit, I suppose. Things turned a corner when my problem child finally learned that I wasn’t going to throw them under the bus because of bad behavior. Or maybe they got that I loved them enough to solve any and all problems for that short couple of hours. The problems never quit coming at me, but my pupil’s improved attitude made a difference in our success as a class.

    It ain’t rocket science. You just do what is asked. The only essential is to treat them the way the Lord would. Even though we often fall short of that standard, it’s the only standard worth trying for.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Incredibly powerful post. You’ve given us hints over the years about these kinds of experiences with Mary, but this just really lays it out there. I wish I had something helpful or constructive to say; instead I will just express my love and admiration for you.

  30. handlewithcare says:

    Glory be, you’ve done the lord’s work in this post. Exhausted parents all over the world are being blessed by the wisdom, acceptance, compassion and commitment shown by yourself and your contributors. Wish I’d had access to such words.
    I just need to challenge the concept of forcing our children’s participation though. How are your contributors who hold this point of view proposing that you do that?
    There are places where that would be seen as abusive, and I can’t think of any way of enforcing this that is not, or will not be seen as such in the future. i think it’s important that we remember our job as parents is a long game. Experience would suggest to me that our kids (who all have particular difficulties and deficits) respond better to a ‘we respect your decision but maintain the right to disagree and be respected for what is precious to us, and hope that you will be able to exercise patience as we struggle with something that is dear to our hearts’. That is now working for us as it’s civil and gives us all a reference point for our behaviour, but we are still struggling to undo the damage done with our other kids due to our misuse of coercion in relation to their behaviours.
    I think kids with learning difficulties, and actually most non-compliant kids are going to be far more open to misunderstanding your motives as controlling or just downright unacceptable to their growing sense of independance resulting in pushback that gets in the way of the issues and is going to make it difficult to respond to the Spirit’s promptings. Our personal inspiration, which we were unable to respond to for way too long was just ‘get out of the way’.God is quite capable of doing His work with my kids as He has with me.
    Thanks HH for the heads up on how music worked for you, I could never get how my kids could be so comfortable with the pressure of performing in an orchestra but not giving a talk in the young women’s program. Wow I wish we all got to talk out of the box more.

  31. “At any rate, for the last fifteen years the she has expressed her hostility [to the church] this way: yelling, screaming, blurting out insults and provocative comments, disrupting lessons (and singing), and generally making everyone else’s worship time miserable”

    Hey, that sounds like the bloggernacle.

  32. Asbergers seems like such a profound challenge. That’s one of the reasons I loved the show Parenthood — for opening my eyes to the issues in raising a child with Asbergers.

  33. I really appreciate this post. It sounds a little like some of what I have gone through, although my child is more functional at Church than at school. I have felt very frustrated and lonely. I pray for all the difficult children. One day I had the strong feeling that my Heavenly Parents knew about our family’s struggles. That has kept me going.

  34. holdenmorrisseycaulfield says:

    I have a gay son. I have a bipolar son. I have only answers for myself. The church is not for everyone. The sooner I realized that the sooner my family could get on with their lives and solving their problems leading to their happiness, instead of fulfilling my dreams and visions. Square pegs don’t fit in round holes no matter how much we want them to.

  35. Posts like this are potent reminders that love isn’t the fuzzy virtue we sometimes make it out to be. God bless you, RJ, and hang in there.

  36. Thank you for sharing your experience with honesty and vulnerability. Jesus said the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath. Some kids have a hard time adapting to church. That’s okay. There are other avenues of spirituality, community, and service. It doesn’t have to be one size fits all. Church should be a blessing and a joy, not a punishment.

  37. Oh, Rebecca. This is just so painful. You are amazing, and it sounds like everyone is really trying, and yet here we all are, fallen together.

    “…the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; …For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6: 7, 10)

  38. As one of the people who cares about your daughter, and as one who has taken your daughter to the clerk’s office for a spell…. Dang.

    We have some Utards in our ward with the opinion that poor behavior from a special needs kid forces the Spirit to withdraw. My (rather uncharitable) response lately has been, “Well, maybe the Spirit withdrew because *you* were thinking unkind things about a special child of our Heavenly Father there.”

    Even though she’s 17, I might see if she could get a Primary calling to serve in the nursery. The lessons don’t seem to have any triggers – “Jesus created fish”, “Jesus loves us”, “Jesus gave us hands”. Nice, simple lessons. Other important lessons to learn are Share, Don’t Bite, and Clean Up After Yourself.

    Also, my offer still stands that if you’d like to stick her on a plane and send her here for a couple of weeks this summer, we’d be thrilled to have her. And no Girls Camp.

  39. handlewithcare says:

    This post may have brought me back to my testimony…

  40. Parenting is hard. Hang in there. No advice…..

  41. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments.

    I recognize that not everyone can thrive within the LDS church and plenty of people live meaningful lives outside of it. If it were not for my daughter’s own admitted ambivalence (referenced perhaps too subtly in the OP), my position on her continued attendance would probably be different. She has had some positive experiences at church and particularly with some of the people there, hence her ambivalence, and in the past my inclination to just stop taking her (for good) has stemmed more from my own fatigue and a desire to no longer have to deal with the drama than it has from a desire to do what’s best for her. I’m not concerned about her eternal salvation at this point. I assume she can work that out with God herself. I’m concerned that she’s on the cusp of adulthood and needs all the help she can get when she enters the adult world. This is why I want to help her make peace with church. If I didn’t think it might be what she wants too (and not just because it’s good for her), I might be less inclined to bother.

    I do appreciate everyone’s kind words and bless those of you who have gone or are going through similar struggles. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

  42. My bro is now almost 44. He has aspergers, very high functioning, has a Masters’ degree. His thing is he does stuff because that’s tradition and what he was taught, he goes to church and he has held callings for years, usually non ministerial callings like clerk stuff. Him and my older sister fought and fought and beat the crap out of each other from maybe the late 70’s to about 1990 when he went on his mission, even now their relationship is well, they don’t beat up each other anymore. When he was at church he’s fine, at home he and my sisters went at it.He I think tolerates people and puts up with people but his world is his world and no one gets in. Right now as we speak he is listening to Christmas music, it’s his thing. He served a mission and I think had a new comp. every month. he is uber, uber frustrating to deal with to say the least.I don’t know what to tell you but just hang in there.

  43. J. Stapley says:

    The long game. It is so easy to forget sometimes. I’m definitely keeping this one to reread, RJ.

  44. I appreciated this post. Fifteen years ago, I was called as a Mia Maid teacher. I had one young woman who was difficult. She was antagonistic and would make inappropriate comments. She was angry. She made the calling more challenging and I did feel that she made it harder to bring and keep the spirit. On a couple of occasions, I was a little pleased to notice that she wasn’t at church, and then I felt terribly guilty for feeling pleased. I knew that was wrong. My interactions with her with always kind but I could have done more, and should have done more. I should have prayed for her more diligently and reached out with more love. I would say that loving and welcoming her no matter what she did or said would do a lot to teach Christlike love and patience, and to bring the spirit of Christ.

  45. I have a brother with psychiatric, cognitive, and developmental problems. He is now in his thirties. His behavior can range from socially inappropriate to intentionally offensive to self-destructive. And yet….the members of his ward and community and family keep reaching out to him with friendship. We don’t always know how and sometimes our efforts are woefully misguided, but we reach out to him, we keep trying. It is exhausting and frustrating and discouraging.

    These ongoing efforts remind me of a bumper sticker I saw several years ago that was meant to belittle an unpopular political figure: “Your village called, they want their idiot back.” While the language may be offensive, and the original intent certainly was, I think these words capture beautifully what I want for my brother, what you want for your daughter. We want to them to have a community, a village, who notices when they are gone and who goes in search of them when they are missing. We want them to have a people who accept them, as they are, who want them.

    My brother can be difficult to deal with. He is not all sunshine and roses. He is thorns and manure, too. But he matters. He matters to me, even if he is not like me. He is part of my village. I notice when he is missing.

  46. And lest anyone think I’m calling my brother names, I want the same sort of community for myself, knowing full well that, I too can be difficult to deal with at times. It is just that my brother’s quirks and oddities are much more obvious to the casual observer. My own idiocy takes a while longer to discover.

  47. A 17 year old should be given the choice as to whether they wish to attend church or not.

  48. I appreciate the way you describe the situation and honor her agent. Parenting is what WE do, not what our children do. It is so hard to remember that.

    I am starting to feel more and more that the only reason we go to church is to learn how to love. We can learn about everything else on our own (and may vastly prefer to do so). Having your daughter there gives people ample opportunities to learn how to love.

    I really appreciate your thoughts about the spirit. As a youth I blamed my father for driving hte spirit away a lot. I wonder now how much of it was my reaction..I could have focused on the spirit’s ability to calm me IN the situation.

  49. As the mother of a son with autism who is just going into Young Men’s, my heart goes out to you. My son has some of the same issues including the problem with rejection. He is also tolerated, but the boys are not his friends and he knows it. In situations like this, many families leave the church. I’m glad you’re staying. When you have the next meeting with the ward, talk about what some autistics call the sixth sense of autism – the ability to immediately sense others’ emotions towards them. If she is tolerated instead of truly loved, she is reacting to this. She may also be struggling with defining herself on a church where being a wife and mother is the only role for a woman. If she realizes she may never marry, what does the church offer for her? To sum it up, I will hope and pray that your struggles reduce and that your daughter can find her place of acceptance.

  50. There is one lesson here for parents in the trenches with you, but the bigger one is for all of us watching from the sidelines. Your title, Ministering to the Unministerable, says to me that we all need to be a lot more charitable and patient, and repentant for our unrighteous judgment. My wife and I had the experience of home teaching a schizophrenic sister in our ward for a year and a half. At first we were appalled, then frustrated, then finally grew to love and appreciate her. When she finally had another break with reality, we were heartbroken. She finally identified us as part of the South American drug cartel that was out to murder her, and fled in the middle of the night. Years later, we still pray for her, and have no idea where she is. The experience has taught us to be more patient, and to understand a little better that the Spirit is closer to us when we are ministering to the poor, the sick, and the broken children of our Father.

  51. Christ is with us “alway, even unto the end.” He is in our midst, always. He is there with you and your daughter, bearing with you. When others can and cannot bear, he bears and will bear. He is not offended by your daughter’s behavior. He has borne it. He is not put off. He understands your situation perfectly and helps and waits to help in every moment. My experience with anxiety at church is much less extreme, but I can relate to triggering topics and things that make church mentally miserable. I pray that a multitude of miracles will accompany you as you move forward.

  52. I haven’t been able to write as this is far too close to home. In the scriptures, it talks about a man whose friends cut a hole and lowered him from the roof to get to the Savior. Some of us have to go through DRASTIC measures to get our children to Christ. I am sure that the other people who came through the door and then had material from the roof fall on them were bothered, annoyed and even angry why this person didn’t just come in the door like they did. Each one of us are children of God and there HAS to be a way and means for every one of His children to come unto Him. Even if it means you get some hay and sawdust on you. I am one of those desperate family members that has thought about cutting a hole in the YW room and lowering my daughter in because she is certainly not welcomed in through the door. Or at least she doesn’t feel that way. Don’t ask me how you can help her because I have no idea. And if I hear another talk on personal revelation when none seems to be available for special needs parents, I’ll scream. And this, too, shall NOT pass…at least in this mortal probation.

  53. Amen to what’s been said before: Your daughter is a gift to everyone. I don’t mean this in the cotton-candy, Mormon-ish, gloss-over-the-real-dirt way. I mean this in a pour-the-foundation-properly-or-the-whole-structure-will-colapse way. The injunction to mourn with those that mourn covers your Mary and everyone else who is burdened with a disabling condition. As far as I can tell, every day is a day of mourning for the life we must live. For some, that mourning takes the form of disruptive behavior over which a person has no control.

    I’m a realist. I agree – you may have to support her from time-to-time in her wish to be absent from church – for everyone’s benefit. But the story you’ve shared with us here speaks to the foundation of Christianity and more specifically to our Mormonism. I won’t cut those leaders any slack, either. Especially the one who is particularly prone to discomfort with your child. This is where that YW leader she gets to stretch to acomodate her sister in Christ. This is where she gets to ask if she can or will bear her sister’s burden. God bless you RJ. This is a remarkable post. You’ve reached me deep down in my bones. Thank you.

  54. I think it is a service to your community to involve your daughter. A friend of mine brought her mentally disabled sister to Relief Society one Sunday and bore her testimony that our culture encourages us to hide what isn’t perfect in our lives but those very differences are important and Christ wants us to include everybody. It was a powerful moment that expanded my worldview. I am glad that your ward is trying to accommodate your daughter – it is particularly good to hear that the Young Women are kind.

  55. living in zion says:

    I have waited a few days before commenting because I was hoping someone else would say it for me. No one has, dang it.
    I hate to write my thoughts because they are so opposite of everyone else’s, which means I am running the very real risk of offending, being misunderstood or being banned from this site forever. Sigh…
    Here goes:
    You have tried for almost 20 heroic years to get your daughter to fit into the Church Box. She has cried, stormed, howled and who-knows-what-else to tell you know how painful and hard church is for her. It doesn’t sound like the situation has improved over the years for her at all.
    My thought is: Why keep torturing her? (I’m not implying that you are purposefully hurting her. Oh damn. I knew I would screw this up. Please forgive me and keep reading.) Instead of making her go into a situation that is physically, mentally and emotionally difficult, why not bring church to her instead?
    Can she watch Sacrament meeting on BYU tv? Can your sacrament meetings be taped so she can watch them at home? Can Music (since she likes that) and the Spoken Word count as her church? None of this is letting your ward members off the hook. Instead of being easier, it would be actually harder for teachers, classmates,etc. because they could be asked to visit with your daughter at her home, in a place she is comfortable, rather than force her to be in a place that is miserable.
    Her teachers and church leaders could present lessons at home, the sacrament could be brought (or maybe she goes to church long to have the sacrament and then leaves), maybe the young women could have one weekday activity night a month at your house, instead of excluding her completely. I am not advocating your daughter not participate, I am advocating participation in her best interest, which will require the blessed, healthy members of your ward to stretch in ways they haven’t even imagined possible. To me, this the only way your daughter is going to have sustained, personal relationships with church members beyond her teenage years.

    The church loses a significant number of young women as they transition from YW to RS, and that is kids without challenges. If your ward doesn’t get radical in helping your daughter, I don’t see how it is going to get better – for anyone.

    *Just so know I’m not a complete nut, I watched my special needs brother struggle all through childhood and well into adulthood at church. It wasn’t until the last 5 years of his life, when he moved into a ward with exceptional leadership, did he experience the true meaning of fellowshipping with the saints.
    I also struggled raising 3 hearing-impaired children in church buildings with terrible acoustics, awful sound systems and in the end, no friends from church. Now I am helping raise our granddaughter with significant autism. Church has yet to be a easy place for any of my loved ones. What I have learned over my lifetime is that saying someone has “special needs” doesn’t mean that individual needs to bend more to fit the established program. What it really means is that everyone else must bend to honor the special person in their midst.

  56. rubyscarab says:

    I honor your commitments and wish that I could relieve a fraction of the stress. I’m astounded that anyone thinks that being quiet is pre-requisite to feeling the Spirit. That’s not doctrine. It might be a simple method of attempting to teach Primary kids respect, but it’s not the only method. If it’s Sunday School, good teachers can handle interruptions with grace, and roll with it. When I was younger, I went to many Church dances and felt the Spirit while the DJ was blasting techno music or other music that was pretty loud. It’s part of the intent and motives involved and the focus of the individuals. If the conditions make others uncomfortable, then I think that they need to feel uncomfortable and to learn charity.

    Praising the Lord isn’t about asking people who are doing the best they can to change themselves beyond their limits. Your family is doing the best that you can, and I see no reason to apologize for it. There are lots of people in my ward with autism along the spectrum and Asperger’s and similar, and it’s normal to have them either in the meeting and playing with little toys (some small kids), or in a side area to help them focus (teenager).
    Regularly, a family with Asperger’s and somewhat autism uses the overhead speakers pumping in the microphone from the chapel to help the kid have the messages, but to be in a slightly different room to block out too many stimuli at the same time and overloading him. I’d be fine with having the kid in the regular meeting, but his parents/he prefer the other room, so whatever works best for them and him.
    Upon reading this article, I sincerely hope that they don’t keep him in another room to try to keep up ambiance in the chapel. Seriously, that would be tragic. The best meetings I’ve ever been to were ones where accommodations were made to help, whatever the circumstance.

  57. “People have tried to support and accommodate her, but disruptions still occur, and the disruptions are unacceptable….My daughter’s behavior is completely unjustified and out of line; I can’t excuse it. I also can’t prevent it; it’s irrational and not always predictable. I don’t have a magic formula for incident-free lessons and activities, short of taking my daughter out of church completely, and taking her out of church deprives her of opportunities to learn and practice better social behavior.”

    I appreciate your insight into your situation. I imagine there may be times when you may have wanted to give up and blame the church members, or the church leaders, or anyone else, for not doing enough, not loving enough, not meeting your daughter’s needs. Thank you for not doing that, and for pointing out what the ward does.

    I appreciate your willingness to acknowledge your daughter’s mostly involuntary behavior has some voluntary components, and sometimes she acts like a brat, and that’s not someone else’s fault. And I understand that mostly, it is not Mary’s fault either, and I am glad both you and the ward members see that. Finally, I am glad that sometimes she has a good time at church or mutual, and that you support her continued socialization and involvement, even though it’s hard. If my input is worth anything, it would be don’t get discouraged, or at least please endure the discouragement and remember the less discouraging / downright happy things too. Thanks for sharing your story and helping me learn.

  58. Thank you, thank you for sharing your story. It reminds me (in a small way) of Levi Peterson’s short story “The Christianizing of Coburn Heights” . I feel keenly my shortcomings and feel called to repentance. Thank you.

    I keep running your words through my mind, and those of the commenters, and here’s what I keep coming back to: all the people in the situation have adapted as far as they can, for now–including you, your daughter, your ward. Instead of continuing to push the people to change (which, obviously, they should) can you change the physical space? Can she attend RS instead, or Primary? Can the teacher play music quietly during the lesson, to give her something to focus on/calm herself down with? Can the YW hold class in a different room, maybe one where she feels more comfortable (does the switching rooms 3x contribute, is what I’m thinking?) Our ward held a Gospel Essentials class in the foyer to catch those members who left right after Sacrament meeting–for them, it was too big a commitment to walk into a classroom, but they were willing to stay in the building. I thought this was a brilliant adaptation to circumstances. And maybe she could use less group interaction and more one-on-one teaching, friendshipping, activities, etc. NOT because she’s disrupting the group, but because ministering happens one-on-one. I hope you are also getting the care and attention and love and support you need, because you sound fragile and in need of respite.

  59. There’s much to consider here, but I’ve been thinking especially about the issue of the spirit, and where it can and can’t be present. There are aspects of the church that cause me overwhelming grief and hopelessness, feelings I usually struggle unsuccessfully to conceal. Many years ago I went to the temple with a friend to do initiatories and found myself completely overwhelmed with despair. It was all I could get through the session without breaking down. At the end the temple worker turned to my friend and in dripping tones thanked her for the beautiful spirit she had brought to the ordinances. It was very much the way some teachers deliver an implicit rebuke to wiggling second-graders: “I like the way Jimmy’s raising his hand and sitting so quietly.”

    I understand that grief and despair and negativity are hard to deal with; I myself am generally poor at dealing with others in such states, so I can’t criticize others who fumble and don’t know how to respond to me. But I have rarely felt so slapped in the face, so turned completely away from the Lord’s house as I did that day. Not only could I not seem to have the beautiful spiritual experience available to others, no one could so much as directly acknowledge my evident sorrow or offer me the slightest gesture of compassion. All I got was a sideways rebuke for not having “the spirit.”

    I don’t really know what the spirit is, but that spirit is not the one I seek.

  60. You know how I feel about the Spirit. John F is right- too many folks equate the Spirit with atmosphere. It’s not. It’s unbreakable. The Spirit of God could not be any other way.

    My heart and prayers go out to you and your daughter. I have a soft spot for her, but I know it’s like the soft spot people have for my son with Aspergers. My own relationship is so much more complicated and nuanced, and dammit, as a mother, I simply DO NOT HAVE THE OPTION of kicking him out of the club. I wouldn’t take it if I could- most days.

    These are important questions we all need to think about. What factor does perception play? What about disability that remains largely invisible? What of our own compassion, taxation, and limits? I don’t know. But I know asking someone to leave is not the answer.

    Love to you and M, RJ.

  61. First I want to say that my comments come from a unique place in this discussion (I don’t kow if anyone else has said this because I am still working through the comments). I have been a life long member of the Church, I am 40 years old and I have Apsergers. Unlike your daughter I wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20’s so there was no explanation for my behaviors and we all just struggled through many difficult days.
    I do want to point out a couple of things that I thought as I read your wonderful post
    “My daughter’s behavior is completely unjustified and out of line; I can’t excuse it. I also can’t prevent it; it’s irrational and not always predictable.”
    Your daughter’s behavior is out of line (especially in the sense that it does not fit with other’s view of how her behavior should be or what other girls her age are capable of doing) You can’t prevent it (though as you have discussed there are things that help mitigate or reduce it though those may be hit and miss) It’s is 100% irrational (because even though Aspie’s are often accused of being cold, hyper logical, and unfeeling the opposite, especially with girls, is to the extreme often true, over feeling heightened by others extreme feelings and therefore not based in a “thinking process”) but I would like to offer that it may not be wholly unjustifiable. So many things can cause me to have a melt down, and meltdowns as a person with ASD gets older, do not look like that of the five year old yelling and screaming, stemming uncontrollably, being completely non-communicative. Though some of these may (and for me still do occur though rarely) especially if it is someone who is highly verbal, being overwhelmed may take the form of you daughter’s behavior. Sometimes it is conscience, being rejected and judged, though not always unkidly, time and time again, it is justifiable emotionally to push people away. Sometimes when it is a sensory issue, (I have hated people indiscriminately with no rational reason, not understanding my absolute reason for despising them, until all of a sudden something clicks and I realize I can’t stand there perfume, or the way they stand, or the texture of the clothes they wear, that cause freak out when they try and hug me, or any of a million other reason that can set me off, and sometimes I never do figure it out) there is no time to “figure it out” before meltdown happens. It may be the sound of someone’s voice, the feel of the chair, noises outside a window that are barely heard, or someone smells wrong to be (I can tell someone is getting sick several days before symptoms show up because I SWEAR, they smell differently then I am used to them smelling.) or they make illogical statements with no support, and refuse to discuss why something may not be that simple (even in our Church that was based on questioning dogma, there are people who judge because I need a logical basis for why something is the way it is, it doesn’t preclude faith, but rather my faith is based in a logical, experiential, framework that leaves space for more answers to come but with the firm belief that a) there are in fact logical reasons b) that those reasons will be shown to me at some point here or the next life and C) that damn it God doesn’t expect or want me to be a sheeple accepting whatever anyone say simply because they are in authority.) All of this to say that there may be more justifications for your daughter’s reactions than are readily apparent. It can take years to figure out triggers and some may not ever be able to be avoided but I promise you that she will gain more and more coping skills as she continues to grow, though it may not all come together until a much later time than her peer group.
    I 100% agree with your husbands statement that “the church is our daughter’s best hope for a long-term support network and social outlet.” I know it has been for me, but that doesn’t mean it will always be sunshine and roses. I agree that there is much to be said for a system where they “have to accept you”. but that is fraught with it’s own problems. Not always being able to discern people’s real motives, I find myself questioning weather they are being nice to me because the really like me or just because they have to. Then there are people who are so Dogmatic and un-open to anything different or out of place in their world view that they will be unforgivably harsh and their interactions with her will reflect that, the leader that she clashes with? For me it was the Bishop who because of my extremely immature social behavior accused me of being a Lesbian (I had just turned 12 and didn’t fully comprehend sexual interactions, think 6 year old who thinks the height of hilarity is mooning someone) and told me in a meeting WITHOUT MY PARENTS PRESENT) that God would condom me if I didn’t repent and that I could be excommunicated! That is obviously a whole different subject, but as much as you know about this negative leader are you 100% sure that you know EVERYTHING that has occurred between them, It is possible that things have been said that you are anyone else is unaware of.
    I realize that I have be probably typing for to long, but I want to just say that don’t give up hope yet, keep enduring, because today, I am a happily married, 40 year old mother of 3, who silently knits during church meeting so that I don’t start randomly stemming in the middle of the lesson. There are a lot of people who don’t understand me, but there are many that do. I have an amazing support group in my ward and in the larger Church family, who love and appreciate me for my alternative way of looking at subjects, my insightful (according to them at least, I don’t know honestly) commentary on all subjects related to the Gospel and Scripture, and though it doesn’t always look like what other people think of, a secure happy existence IN the Church. It was hard won, and there have been times where I was more inactive than active, and I still but heads and say “weird things’ and become to emotional over illogical things. But with the support of my parents loving leaders and dear friends, I truly understand that my participation in the Lord’s kingdom is between Him and me. I have a place in His Church, even though I know there are those who wish I didn’t, and I look to that bright future that Elder Holland spoke of, when I will stand in his kingdom with him healed of all afflictions and heartache, 100% a member of his Eternal family. The same can be and IS true for your daughter.
    *LOVE AND HUGS* from another Aspie

  62. Maryland Musician says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post and for all of the incredible comments. My granddaughter is 19 years old and has lived with me for almost 6 years. Her mother and step-father emotionally and physically abused her and her brother and then kicked them out, with my granddaughter ending up here in Maryland living with me. She not only has the abuse to deal with but also has bipolar and ADHD. She was a mess when I “inherited” her and is still a mess, but I love her dearly. I don’t always like her, however. She just recently moved in with one of my daughters and has taken herself off of all of her meds. I envy those of you whose wards have been such a significant positive source for your families. She has had a bishop who didn’t like to talk to her because what he said went in one ear and out the other, and visiting teachers who rarely saw her. Most of her rage/anxieties were centered on me and her school teachers, so her behavior at church was more mellow. But like anyone with abuse/bipolar/ADHD issues, her behavior wasn’t that of the typical sweet YW. And I refused to hide who she was or pretend things were just great in her life (and my life!). I finally went to our stake president (a long-time friend) for some relief, which was temporary at best. We seem to do well as a church with broken legs and new babies and cross-country transfers, but we are not so hot with personality and behaviorial disorders. My granddaughter is now only barely active — I can’t force her to do anything and wouldn’t want to anyway. We are both making our way through this difficult world. She is doing the best that she can. It’s all she has to offer right now. I have had to readjust my expectations of my ward and stake and reassess what I have to offer. Grace often sustains me.

  63. Steve Smith says:

    Could it be that your relationship with her would improve if you just accepted her decision to not go to church? Why should she have to go? She’ll be a legal adult soon and will more than likely opt to not attend church then, so you might as well just call it a day and let her stay home.

  64. Steve (and others): I’m not convinced that you actually read Rebecca’s post. In it, she says both that her daughter sometimes hates church and wouldn’t feel right if she didn’t go. I don’t see any coercion in what she’s written.

    That said, we make our kids—even our nearly-adult kids—do things they don’t want to all. The. Time. Heck, as adults we quite frequently find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do. (I, for example, have no love for cleaning my guinea pigs’ cage, but what can you do?)

    There’s value to church attendance and church community. There’s value to doing what we’d prefer not to do and interacting with people we’d rather not interact with.

    But more than that, there’s value in having loving parents and a loving community who both accommodate and push you, even when they’re utterly exhausted. And Rebecca’s provided a wonderful example of that loving accommodation, even if it’s not the loving or the accommodation you would choose for your child.

  65. You’re talking about a different Steve, right??

  66. Yeah, I’m talking to S. Smith. Sorry.

  67. This paragraph: Something that keeps coming up in these discussions is that my daughter’s bad behavior drives away the Spirit, which diminishes (or ruins) the experience for everyone else. This particular complaint my husband and I don’t buy [ etc. . . . ] I thought was fantastic. This is so right, and it gets very close to the heart of what is being asked of us as Saints – unconditional love and charity. It sounds like you have a great ward by almost any objective measure. I hope they’ll be able to take that leap to becoming even better by understanding that, when they say “that behavior drives away the Spirit,” what they really mean is, “I find that behavior distracting.” “Losing the Spirit” becomes our excuse for our lack of that extra mile of love and understanding. (That’s not necessarily a criticism; it really is a lack of understanding.)

    I am also so happy to hear you say that you don’t buy it, because I believe that many parents do, and that they would not be so focused and articulate and able to drill down as you have done, and become such effective advocates for their child and for their ward. Many people might agree with that assessment, even if there were a small whisper in their hearts that it weren’t the case.

    Finally, you’ve put the situation into words so clearly and beautifully that some things have come clear to me in my own head, for which I’m grateful. I had a “ministering night” visit with a family in my ward last night, which gave me opportunity to reflect on trials and compassion and how we as Saints and humans cope, and this is a great follow-up for me to read this morning. Thank you.

  68. Steve Smith says:

    “That said, we make our kids—even our nearly-adult kids—do things they don’t want to all. The. Time. Heck, as adults we quite frequently find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do.”

    Yes, some things like chores, pay taxes, attend school until the age of 16, we just have to do. I fully agree. But the church is a voluntary organization, and that really needs to be respected. So I can understand taking young children to church against their will, but older children should be allowed more of a choice. I did thoroughly read the post and see that Rebecca J’s daughter is torn about church attendance. However, the following sentence made me think that church attendance is being somewhat pushed on her: “But my husband has persuaded me that the church is our daughter’s best hope for a long-term support network and social outlet.” That may be, but at 17, the question of church attendance may be better posed as a suggestion than as a requirement. She should be able to make the choice for herself each week about whether she wants to attend or not.

  69. handlewithcare says:

    This comment is not necessarily aimed at you Rebecca because I believe absolutely in your choices for your child, but in our family I have learnt that it is very important that our children start arguing with God, rather than their parents. The sooner they can begin to separate their parents from their religious choices, the sooner they can start their own quest for their relationship with Deity. That is indeed very hard when we as parents passionately believe in this church as the correct path into the Father’s presence.

  70. We recently had a beautiful discussion with our Beehive class presidency. They were concerned that one of the girls was always driving away the spirit by incessantly chatting during their class temple trips. In an amazing and inspired act of verbal judo, the YW president helped them realize that they had no control over the Chatty Cathy and could only decide whether they would react with love and tolerance and generosity for each other’s quirks. And that THAT decision would be what would invite or drive out the spirit. Another leader gently pointed out that we all have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses, and it might be unimaginably difficult for that girl to sit still and quiet, but that might actually be a God-given trait that will help her, for example, be a great missionary. The whole exchange was so beautiful to watch.

    I know your circumstances are different and more dramatic, and they present more complicated challenges. But I think the underlying principle is the same: others can’t take the spirit away from us, and we’re better off trying to change ourselves than others. Is it uncomfortable? Yep. But that might be the best sign that we’re being forced to grow.

    PS: Practically speaking, I do think it’s important to spread the work around, though. Folks are human and can only do so much growing at once. That’s why community is so important.

  71. Everything you said here, Rebecca, plus a million. As someone who has sat in those meetings with you and loves your daughter like my own, I am in tears reading your beautiful, bittersweet synopsis of life with M. I remind her on a regular basis how lucky she is to have two parents who “get” her, musical obsessions, steampunk fashion and all.

    (And your brilliant writing! I’d so hoped to lurk anonymously, but you had to give me the feels …)

    I’m sorry that there are those who wish to jam quadrangle M into a cap-sleeved peg. And I’m sorry that sometimes I’ve looked to you for help instead of doubling-down on love. It’s such a hard situation. It’s hard to watch her hurt, and it’s hard to see others get hurt by her. But the bottom line is that she belongs, just like we all do. God’s arms are big enough for everyone.

    Please be patient with us well-meaning leaders, but most importantly be patient with yourself. Her moments of enthusiasm, wit and empathy are signs you are doing something very right.

    Hugs! (You know, if you or M were into that sort of thing.)

  72. I’m glad your daughter feels like she can go to church. My son grew up with a boy, “L”, in the same ward who sounds just like your daughter. It was often challenging for everyone, but hard is not bad. Hard can make you grow and learn. My son is in his 30s now. I see the effects of his experiences then in his life now: his patience and engagement with his Aspergers, ADHD brother-in-law, his ability to see past the actions of children and look at their hearts, his unflappability amidst chaos, his skills at dealing with situations where things don’t go as planned..all have some of their roots in his experiences at church and scouts and YM with L and watching his Primary and YM leaders consistently work to be aware of the dynamics, turn them to good and find ways and teach young people ways to include all the boys no matter what behavior issues were involved.

    It was very hard for L’s mother. Both her children dealt with these issues and had terrific troubles and violent behaviors at school due to the challenges they were dealing with. It still is hard in their adulthood. There was no magic wand, to create, in this life, a happily ever after/riding off into the sunset ending. But I am grateful for her hanging in there with her children. They are better for it. And so is my son.

  73. livinginzion says:

    My brother didn’t find a ward that loved him until the last 5 years of his life. They healed a lifetime of horrible treatment at church and in his life in general.
    Here is the story of his wonderful ward that did the right thing in regards to a special needs member:

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