“Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, HCSB).
How many children’s leaders have ever thought of the verse in Matthew when a child has lost a parent to death? We hurt for the child who is mourning the loss of a parent. We might swoop in, or be called in, to help the child understand and help them mourn. Food is probably brought in for the family. People talk to the child; pray with the remaining parent and in general we care for this family. But how many of us have ever thought of the verse in Matthew for the child of divorce?
To a child a divorce is the death of a marriage — their parent’s marriage. In most divorcing situations it is the death of the only family life they have ever known. It is a tremendous interruption to their lives. Instead of having two parents that are one unit caring for the child, the child has to learn to deal with two separate individuals going separate directions and living in separate homes. And many times they must cope with arguing and warring parents. Many children are left standing in the middle wondering where they belong and questioning which direction and whom to follow?
What the Church Doesn’t Do
Unlike bereavement in the death of a parent, the child of divorce usually faces this time alone. There are no church people that come in and minister to the child. There are no meals brought in to help during the transition time. Do you realize how much a meal brought in ministers to the child? It says people at church care for him or her.
For the most part the family support system is gone and the community of friends and extended family tend to distance themselves over time leaving the children to navigate the divorce journey alone. They mourn alone. Most children’s church attendance drops after the divorce of their parents. If a child of divorce does attend your church it is usually every other week so the visitation schedule can be accommodated.
One week with dad at dad’s new church and the next week at mom’s church can leave a child questioning their loyalties to a particular group of people. Sometimes these are different denominations. Imagine the confusing thoughts when a child attends different churches:
- Do I stand or kneel during the prayers?
- Is it okay to raise my hands during the praise time? Or does this church have praise time?
- Am I supposed to take part in this communion stuff?
- How does all this stuff work?
- Is it okay if I wear shorts and t-shirt to this church?
- Do I call the man up front a preacher, or a minister, or a priest?
Many times the adults in a child’s life forget to explain things. The parents are divorcing so they talk to lawyers and counselors. They might make appointments with the clergy to discuss their separation and divorce. But whom do the kids talk to when they are struggling just to cope? It can be hard for children to find comfort when they live in between — in limbo so to speak, between two congregations.
Read Part 2 of Children of Divorce: Blessed Are The Ones that Grieve on Thursday, June 5.
Linda Ranson Jacobs has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She is a leading expert on children of divorce. Linda is featured as an expert on the DivorceCare and the Single & Parenting dvd video series.