Children and Divorce

Without question, the most painful event in the life of a child is the loss of a parent through divorce. Children have said they think the death of a parent would be easier than a divorce situation for them.

I have some authority in this area. For those who don’t know, my older two sons are children who experienced the reality of divorce, visitation, abandonment and eventual step-parent adoption. My then husband and I brought our children into the world 2.5 years apart in the midst of a stormy, violent and unhappy marriage. I was for all intents and purposes a single but married parent as my husband was rarely home. When he was home he was largely un-involved preferring to leave all work related kid things to me.

In our 7th year of marriage he came home and announced to me that he was leaving me to live in the trailer in his mom’s driveway. When I asked him what he was going to tell the kids who were 4 and almost 2 at the time he said this; “Daddy will be back when his heart doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Each subsequent interaction with the boys brought them more pain, as he broke promises to visit, made arrangements with them to not show up, and began to use them more as ornaments than people- only wanting them to show them off for events at his job or his family birthdays. During those times his family or girlfriend would take care of them while he passively “parented.”

Birthdays and Christmas became times he tried to buy their love and affection buying them expensive gifts they had to leave behind at his house for when they came to visit- which was rare to never. He chose to terminate his parental rights to the boys and allow my second husband to adopt them. This was an incredible blessing for our family and our boys have benefited greatly.

Each situation is different, and it could be a woman who leaves as well as a man and leaves a trail of destruction in their wake. Sin is in every respect an equal opportunity master.

I am not proud to say I did not do everything right in my situation. I will tell you that I made several mistakes, and a few were whoppers. I did a thing or two in the early days of our separation that now I am ashamed of. But over time, I learned vengeful actions were not only sinful, but I was only going to hurt my children if I tried to get even with him or to keep score.

I learned that my kids were pretty smart even at their young ages, and they quickly figured out what was right and wrong about our and their situation. They realized the kind of people we both were and where their stability lay. As I trusted God in my situation and waited for Him to reveal things, to make things clear, and to show me how to proceed, my children learned how to trust God. They learned-in my case- which parent was truly interested in them and which parent was not.

Divorce brings about numerous fears for children because their life experiences are so few and they have nothing to really compare to much of the time. Their world as they know it is ending, Mommy and Daddy don't love each other anymore and there is a lot of bickering and arguing going on. The day that parents sit their children down (if they are old enough) and tell them that they are splitting up is traumatic for kids.

If you are ministering to someone who is in this situation you may find the following information helpful to help answer their questions and address their fears.

Parents don't understand that many kids fear that the other parent will also leave them. No matter how much you tell a child something, what they experience means more to them than what they are told. One person who was a center of their universe is gone. It is normal they should fear more changes. They also may really fear that they will never see the other parent again. A sad reality is that 1/3 of all children of divorce, 1 in 3 never see the other parent again. That has been the case with my children.

Some children fear that since the parents don’t love each other, they don’t love me anymore either. Your child grew up hearing you tell each other you loved each other, and suddenly that is over. They may be seeing their parents screaming at each other, hating each other and it is reasonable for them to wonder if mom and dad will one day feel the same way about them.

Another sad reality for children is that at 57% of remarriages end in a divorce. Their security has already been shaken once, and many do not believe this new daddy or mommy with last either. Love becomes conditional in their minds and they see divorce as the result of poor performance in the relationship.

Tomorrow- how to minister to a child of divorce.

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