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.
Many children are left standing in the middle wondering where they belong and questioning which direction and whom to follow. It can be hard for children to find comfort when they live in limbo, so to speak, between two families and perhaps even two churches.
Do I Still Exist?
Many children wonder if either of their parents still loves them. After all the child was told the parents loved each other when they married but now they no longer love each other. They wonder, “Does this mean my parent can fall out of love with me too?”
Andrew Root writes in his book, “The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as a Loss of Being”,
It is my belief that our humanity (and very being) is upheld in community. For each one of us, the most significant and core of these communities is the one made up of a biological mother and father. Without their community, there would be no child. So when that community is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but also the break of community in which the child’s identify rest.”
Andrew’s parents divorced when he was a young adult. He began to question his very existence. “Divorce is a threat to a child’s very ontology, to his or her very being…when the community that rated a child dissolves, the child is left exposed not only psychologically and socially, but ontologically.”
Are those of us in the church underrating what divorce does to a child? Research shows that divorce is the second highest rated stress event in a child’s life with death being number one. It takes a child of divorce on average about ten years to completely process the divorce. Many parents don’t wait ten years to remarry so the child is thrown into another marriage, or possibly two other marriages if both parents remarry.
What Does Divorce Do to a Child’s Relationship with God?
For some children they turn to God. They depend on Him as their comforter and as their heavenly Father. Other children turn away from God. They say things like, “If God the heavenly Father is anything like my dad, I want nothing to do with Him.” Or “I used to think my dad was the best but now that he has left and never carries through on his promises how can I believe him and how can I believe a God who my dad is supposed to be like?”
Divorce can destroy a child’s relationship with the church and with God. Many adult children of divorce do not attend church as adults. Some will tell you that the rejection from the church hurts almost as the divorce itself.
Society has now reared an entire generation of kids whose parents divorced. We have pretty much lost many of those adults to church. Don’t you think it’s about time we stepped up and reached out to the child of divorce? It is time to talk about divorce in front of them. Ask them questions about the time with dad or with mom. Accept they will only be at your church every other weekend. It is now their schedule so work with them on special projects. Love them and be patient with them as they search for truthful answers to their questions about their parent’s love, devotion and God’s presence in their lives.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child — this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! (Matthew 18:4-6, HCSB)
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.