Children of Divorce

by James Rudy Gray

There are perhaps several reasons why people behave the way they do. We do live in a world that still operates under the curse of sin, even though many redeemed people provide salt and light. Still, everything and everybody has been and is being influenced by sin in this fallen world.

What happens in our families as we grow up shapes and forms much of who we are as people. In fact, Dr. Carl Whitaker, one of the influential therapists and theorists in family systems therapy, has noted that there are no true individuals. We are, he says, fragments of families. 

One of the common situations pastors and counselors are called upon to deal with in today's church is the aftermath of divorce. There is no question that divorce is damaging in many different ways. An overlooked but extremely significant area of damage is the hurt inflicted upon the children of divorce. We know from different studies that children growing up without the biological father in the house are about three times more likely to commit a crime that ends in jail time than children from intact families.

For a child, the worst time their parents could divorce is somewhere between the ages of about 10 to 14. While there will always be hurt for the child when a divorce occurs, this age span seems most susceptible to damage. Since the dad is the parent who typically moves out of the house, boys in that age bracket are more severely affected than girls.

Dr. Archibald Hart has observed that divorce "signals the collapse of the family structure, taking with it any semblance of unity and stability. This creates feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and abandonment and concerns about the future."

The divorce issue is a reality that simply has not gone away in the church population. In fact, evangelicals divorce at about the same rate as the rest of the country. What can a pastor or counselor do when called upon to help a family deal with life after divorce? Foundationally, an emphasis on the grace of God is tremendously important. God's grace is truly amazing and when a person can see that truth through an understanding of His Word, healing can take place.

The parents who have divorced must also learn to work together to help their children. Often there is extreme alienation or even bitterness that exists between former mates. These negative emotions are frequently influential in the children's lives. Kids will experience grief. There is a sense of loss they feel. Trust has been broken and the two biological parents must work especially hard to rebuild trust with their kids. Children of divorce often have to battle depression, insecurity, low self-esteem, anger, rejection, and even feelings of abandonment or isolation.

Life is not over after divorce. Divorced mates who have children should make every effort to send the genuine message to their kids that they are loved. Love is not allowing kids to do evil or wrong but valuing kids for who they are.

Dr. Hart writes, "Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to help the custodial parent accept that the ex-spouse is still a parent. The healthiest outcome in children occurs when both parents continue to parent."

Divorce itself is damaging. If we are to minister effectively in the lives of people who have been impacted by divorce, we must work diligently to help the mother and father see the essential need for cooperating with each other in parenting their kids with healthy boundaries and real affection.

Even though the marriage may be over and some hurts may linger, the future of the children is worth the labor, time, and sacrifice it may take for the divorced parents to work together in the enterprise of parenting their kids. Even after divorce, kids need a mother and a father. There is enough confusion in their minds over why this had to happen. They should not have the added burden of wondering if their mother or father cares about being a parent.

God is the God of second chances. He forgives people on the basis of Christ's finished work on the cross. Mistakes are made by everyone. Sins are committed by us all. However, to compound our wrongs by continuing with more wrong behavior is detrimental to more than just one person.

We are part of the family in which we grew up. Working to have as healthy and godly a home as possible is not a dream. It is always a necessity—even in the case of divorce.

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