Question of the week: Why are rituals important for the child of divorce?


“I’ve heard you speak at children’s ministry conferences about rituals and the child of divorce. What I want to know is why are rituals so important for the child of divorce?”

Almost all children are ritual-makers. They automatically create rituals when they say hello or goodbye and for many other situations. Rituals help children connect with the people in their lives whether it be a parent, grandparent, friend, teacher or other important people. You might say rituals are points of connection for children. They help children bond with the important people in their lives.

Let me explain. Imagine every morning when the dad leaves for work, he gives his son a fist bump. The son begins to rely on that fist bump as his point of connection each morning with the dad. If dad forgets or is rushed and tries to get out the door without giving the fist bump, that little boy will jump up from the breakfast table and run after the dad to get his fist bump. The child’s day begins with that one ritual from dad, and it’s so important that he may knock a chair over rushing to get to the door before dad leaves.

When parents divorce, children lose important connections with those around them (or at least with the parent that moves out of the family home). If the dad moves out, the fist bump or similar connecting points leave with the dad. This leaves a hole in the child’s routines, and in his little heart.

Divorce brings many changes to the child.

  • The child loses the two-parent
  • Access to both parents under the same roof
  • The loss of their self-esteem
  • Their sense of well being
  • They may lose a lifestyle
  • The loss of rituals they have created in order to connect and build relationships with those they love

Dr. Becky Bailey says that rituals are the emotional glue that holds relationships together. Since so many children’s relationships become strained and some even nonexistent through the divorce, they need to be able to develop new points of connections. They need to connect. And they need to connect often.

With the divorce rate, our families have only gotten weaker. While we may not be able to stop the divorce rate immediately, we can assist the children and go to battle for them in this world of confusion. We can make the children stronger by connecting with them. One way to connect with children is through rituals at church.  Rituals are not routines and they are not traditions. It might help to know exactly what are rituals.

The following information is adapted from the book “Rituals for Our Times” by Evan Imber-Black, Ph.D., and Janine Roberts, Ed.D:

What are rituals?

  • Like we’ve said rituals are points of connections.
  • Rituals usually involve the performance of actions or procedures in a set, ordered and even ceremonial way.
  • They are social interactions that are repeated, coordinated and significant
  • Rituals can be daily interactions or they could be once a year, but they’re repeated.
  • Rituals are coordinated.You have to know what’s expected of you and when to show up for it.
  • Rituals offer opportunities to make meaning from the familiar and the mysterious at the same time.Examples include symbols and actions such as a birthday cake and the blowing out of the candles, or exchanging rings and saying vows at weddings.Many parts of rituals in our society are well known to all of us; the birthday cake is a good example.These points of familiarity provide us with anchors or foundations and help us transition into the up and coming unknown events, such as getting a year older or becoming a married person.
  • Rituals give us an opportunity to stop and reflect on life’s transitions. They allow us to use the familiar habits developed, such as blowing out the candles, while at the same time they allow us to mix in the intrigue of the mysterious, such as making a wish and wondering if it will come true.

Basically the answer to “why are rituals important to the child of divorce” is

  • Rituals allow the child to bond
  • Rituals allow the child to connect on a deep level
  • They allow the relationship to become intimate and special
  • Rituals soothe the lower levels of the brain (Dr. Bailey)
  • Rituals allow the child to matter to their parent

Tell us why you think rituals for children of divorce are important.



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2 thoughts on “Question of the week: Why are rituals important for the child of divorce?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » The importance of replacing “rituals” for the child of divorce

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