A New Way Of Looking At The Spiritual Impact of Divorce on Children

Spiritual Impact of Divorce

A New Report

Melinda Lundquist Denton of Clemson University conducted a study of the spiritual impact of divorce  which offers a new way of looking at the spiritual impact of divorce. The results were released in the article, “Family Structure, Family Disruption, and Profiles of Adolescent Religiosity” published in Journal For The Scientific Study of Religion.

How Is This Study Different?

The report explains that many of the reports that have been done thus far on the spiritual impacts of divorce on kids have utilized a “variable-centered” approach. In other words, they have measured the effect of divorce on one individual measure of religion. In other words, previous studies, for example, might have asked “What is the impact on divorce on a child’s religious attendance?” or “How does divorce affect a child’s prayer life?”

By contrast, Denton’s current report takes a “person-centered” approach to studying the impact of divorce which accounts for the varied ways in which children understand and practice their religious faith. As such, it is better able to capture and analyze the “complex religious profiles of adolescents.”

The Impact of Divorce on a Child’s Spiritual Development

The report explains three ways in which divorce can impact of child’s spiritual formation (two negative, and one potentially positive):

1) Disrupted Religious Practice.

Divorce makes it harder for kids to get to church events and services. These are referred to as “practical barriers to continued religious practice.” Studies show that many parents leave church following a divorce, and children (in most cases) are subject to their parents’ attendance patterns. Even children who find their own way to church often fall away from the church after a time. Visitation patterns, moving neighborhoods and parents’ changing congregations or not attending can all work together to impact a child’s ability to be involved in the religious life of their church. Furthermore, things like working patterns (when a mother has to go back to work full time) can impact the child’s ability to make it to church events.

Oftentimes there are also emotional barriers to continued participation. Unfortunately, many churches are still not inclusive of non-traditional families causing children of divorce and their parents to feel unwelcome and unwanted at church.

2) Sacred Loss and Desecration.

Where marriage is viewed as having a sacred component, for example a biblical understanding of marriage as an institution created by God, the loss of that relationship is viewed not only as the ending of a relationship but also as a desecration of something sacred. Likewise, for kids who are raised in a faith where they are taught that marriage is a sacred institution, when their parents divorce they also experience that as a destruction of something sacred. This can be much more devastating than it would be to a child who did not view marriage in this same light. Obviously, this has the potential to adversely impact their view of God and other spiritual matters. Studies have shown that children who hold this heightened view of marriage also experience a “deepened sense of loss and violation” when the marriage is ended and may struggle with their own faith as a result.

3) Religious Coping.

Another train of thought, which is supported by some research, holds that children may actually turn to religion and the church for help and guidance in trying to deal with their parents’ divorce. This could be seen as a positive outcome in terms of the spiritual impact of divorce.

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 March 27, 2013.

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Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families. Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship). You can reach Wayne at wayne@hope4hurtingkids.com.