You may wonder why we would be talking about the child of loss on a website designed to talk about the child of divorce or cohabitating parents. Usually when you think of the child of loss you automatically think death. Have you ever thought about the child of divorce or the child of splitting cohabitating parents as a child in grief?
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” [Matthew 5:4, NIV]
To the child, it is the death of their once intact family. They experience deep grief because the living environment they once knew no longer exists, but few of us realize these children are in mourning.
“When my mom told me they were getting a divorce, I got confused. I didn’t understand what divorce was. I just knew my dad was moving out. I didn’t understand he was moving out moving out. I thought he was visiting a friend for a few weeks. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me and my sister. I was scared. I mean what was happening to our home?” ….a second grade boy
Far too often the children are left standing in the middle wondering where they belong – with mom or with dad, or even, “do I belong anywhere?” Two parents who were once one unit are now two parents going separate ways. Unlike bereavement in the death of a parent, the child of separating parents usually faces this time alone. For the most part, the family support system is gone and the community of friends, religious leaders and extended family tend to distance themselves over time. All of this leaves the children to navigate this journey by themselves or with their siblings.
Many church leaders tend to think, “They still have both parents alive why should we consider them in mourning?” Even though both parents are still alive, the children no longer have both parents living in their home. Life for them has changed forever.
In the death of a parent, the church reaches out to console the family. This might mean bringing in food for the family or just spending time talking to the children. Leaders may talk to the child about what it means when a person dies. They talk about heaven and what that’s all about. They ask how the child is doing. They encourage the child to talk about the parent that has died. They may even help the child develop a memory book where pictures and journaling pages can be displayed. Or, they encourage the development of a memory box where mementos that belonged to their loved one can be stored. Other adults in the church and community step in and help the surviving grieving parent by taking time to care for the children. In other words, everyone surrounds the grieving family.
When parents separate it’s very rare for anyone to surround the grieving family. Very few ministers take the time to sit down and talk to the child of divorce about what’s going on in the family. Even fewer explain to the child what a divorce is or help them understand all those legal terms like court, judge, lawyer, child custody and child support. Do you have any idea how scary those terms are to a child?
Children grieve more than the loss of a parent in these situations. Due to financial restraints, many splitting parents are forced to move leaving the children to grieve the loss of friends, their school, their child care or baby sitter and many other things that will be lost in the move. They grieve the loss of their dreams. Because they have to take on a lot of new responsibilities, many grieve the loss of childhood. Many grieve the loss of their church or, at the very least, the loss of regular attendance at church as they begin the arduous journey of visiting the other parent every other weekend.
When a parent dies we expect the child to cry. In fact we’d think it strange if a child didn’t cry at some point. When a child of divorce cries, many times we try to stop their weeping. We want to “happy up” the child. Some children need to cry, and I suspect many more weep alone in their rooms late at night when no one is around. Have you ever thought about letting a tear drop or two fall when you see those sad eyes? It’s okay to empathize with the child and even adding a statement such as, “I’m sad for you.” Perhaps sharing with the child about a sad time in your life and how the Lord comforted you. Then in front of the child take a minute to pray and ask God to comfort the child.
Next week, we’ll look at specific things you can do to help minister to these children of loss and help them through the grieving process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 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. More great articles about how to successfully minister to the child of divorce in your church can be found at Linda’s website Healthy Loving Partnerships for Our Kids (HLP4). Linda also offers support, encouragement, and suggestions to help single parents and those working with single parent children. She can be reached by e-mail at Linda@hlp4.com.
* Photo courtesy of Hannah Nino (Lament)