I have worked with children of divorce for over thirty years and all around the country. I started out on the West Coast in the 1970s, moved to mid American in the 80s and 90s, and then to the East Coast beginning in 2002. I’ve heard some conversations that would curl your hair. I’ve also heard stories of tenderness and tales of heartbreak. Sharing these personal stories of children of divorce helps us all to get inside of their hearts and minds so that we may serve them better. Part of our mission at Hope 4 Hurting Kids is to help those who work with children to better understand the child of divorce. Understanding what is going on in their minds and their hearts is a big part of that mission.
Children are children! They run, and they play. They fall down. They get bumps, bruises and scrapes. They get mad, and they experience sadness. They express joy and happiness over silly child-like things. Unlike a child from most two-parent homes, the child of divorce often times finds herself running from the family. They are playing out their frustrations. The bumps, bruises and scrapes are on their hearts. Their anger goes deeper than it should, and the sadness is overwhelming. Many times their joy and happiness are pushed aside as they observe and protect the feelings of their parents.
Several times I have asked children of divorce,
If you had a chance to tell your parents, and other adults something about divorce, what would you say?
Some kids are blunt and say,
Don’t do it! Just don’t do it!
They say it so emphatically that very often it stuns me to hear such harsh voices coming from these little people. Very rarely do kids say,
I don’t know.
One thing that is consistently true is that virtually all of the children of divorce that I have ever worked with have something to say about the divorce of their parents.
One second grade boy said,
Don’t get a divorce. It’s really hard on the kids. They don’t understand what is happening.
A 3rd grade boy had this to say:
Divorce is really confusing to kids. Everybody thinks the kid understands and knows what’s happening, but I’d say just remember that kids don’t know and they don’t understand and they get confused because no one explains anything.
This next conversation was from another 3rd grade boy. The divorce of his parents was relatively new to him, and he could only talk about how much he was hurting. I believe it was his way of expressing some of the things he wanted adults to know but his own sadness got in the way.
I really miss my dad. See we used to go to the video store and he would put his hand on my shoulder and we would pick out a movie to watch. Now I am really lonely for him because he’s not there to take me to the video store and help me pick out a movie.
When I asked him if he wanted adults to know that divorce made a child feel lonely he looked at me with those dark brown sad eyes, hung his head and said softly, and replied,
Yes. That’s what I was trying to say. I just didn’t know how to say it.
One 6th grade girl told me,
My brother and I are okay now, but it’s been hard. I know both my mom and dad love me, but I still miss my dad at home. And, I would want to tell the parents not to put so much responsibility on the kids. I have to take care of my little brother all the time now and do a lot of work at home.
One 5th grade girl said,
If you are a parent and you get a divorce then you have to send your kids to DC4K or someplace where your kids can get some help and be around other kids whose parents are getting a divorce.
NOTE: DC4K is DivorceCare for Kids. More information can be found at http://www.dc4k.org.
One particularly mature 2nd grade boy once told me,
For a long time I thought I was the only one that had parents getting a divorce. I’d look around at school and at church and I thought every kid had both parents still at home. I didn’t realize other kids had parents that were already divorced. I’d say tell parents to let their kids know they are not the only ones with divorced parents.
Divorce hurts. Church leaders need to be cognizant about how much divorce hurts children. Next Sunday, look at the kids in your groups and classes and pray for their comfort! Many times we forget to pray for children’s comfort. Pray for their feelings of loneliness and confusion. Maybe even put your hand on a young boy’s shoulder so he won’t feel so alone. While you might not be able to help him pick out a video, perhaps you could begin a conversation about what movie you’ve seen recently.
Many children I’ve worked with are now grown and they are finding me on Facebook. They want to connect with me, someone from their childhood. It’s a strange connection we have because it’s a connection about their parent’s divorce. I feel honored to continue to fill a void in their lives.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 August 12, 2011.