About That Sleeper Effect

Sleeper EffectMany children of divorce appear to breeze through the divorce at the time the divorce happens. Many of these are little girls who identify with their mothers. They will hide their feelings and say and do the things they think the adults expect and want from them. However, the divorce experience remains alive – but as memories that they push to the back of their minds. Little boys tend to express their frustrations and tear through their feelings using sports and active behaviors. Their negative thoughts about the divorce of their parents appear to fade away.

As girls grow into adulthood, become involved in a relationship and marry or start a family, the memories from the divorce of their parents pop back into the brain – the sleeper affect kicks in. They begin to worry if the other person in the relationship will walk away. They wonder if their marriage will fail like their parent’s marriage. The worry if they know how to be married.

They feel doomed in their relationships. They don’t know how to be in a relationship. One young woman told me she could only breathe and trust her marriage after she has surpassed the number of years her parents had been married. She said she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. For 17 years she had waited anxiously, but after her 17th year of marriage she felt she could finally relax because they were going to make it.

Judith Wallerstein, author of “What About the Kids” and a pioneer in the psychosocial effect of divorce in children says this about the sleeper effect,

“the effect of something that happened long ago, went underground, and only come up when issues that draw on those past experiences move to the center of the stage.”

She goes onto state,

“Whatever they have observed in how parents treat each other and how parents treat children are the images they bring to young adulthood and work on as they mature.”

I have to wonder if there might not be a “sleeper effect” to the religious side of the brain. We know kids form their basic attachment to God from the attachment they have with the earthly parent. It would seem then if that relationship with an earthly parent is skewed, then their image of God and a relationship with Jesus Christ might not also be confusing.

Most kids do more of what is modeled before them than what is told to them. As children’s church leaders and volunteers we have an incredible opportunity to model Christian values, loving marriages and interactive relationships with your own children. We can model a faith walk and a prayer life.

What matters?

  • You matter
  • Your life matters
  • Your ministry matters
  • Church matters
  • God matters

What about that sleeper effect? Oh yes, it is there, and it matters deeply in the lives of children of divorce.

What can you do to lessen the sleeper effect in the kids of divorce you work with at your church?

For more resources and information on divorce, family disruption and modern families please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Divorce and Modern Family Help Center.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on May 17, 2013.

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Written by Linda Ranson Jacobs
Linda Ranson Jacobs is one of the forefront leaders in the area of children and divorce. She developed and created the DivorceCare for Kids programs. DC4K is an international program for churches to use to help children of divorced parents find healing within the arms of a loving church family. As a speaker, author, trainer, program developer and child care center owner, Linda has assisted countless families by modeling and acting on the healing love she has found in Jesus Christ. Linda offers support, encouragement and suggestions to help those working with the child of divorce. She serves as DC4K Ambassador (http://www.dc4k.org) and can be reached via email at ljacobs@dc4k.org. You can find additional articles from Linda on her blog at http://blog.dc4k.org/.