How to help children of divorce with confused, divided and split loyalties


Sad girl (6yrs old)

Children of divorce have to do a lot of adjusting. And they have to continue to adjust as they continue to grow. As new people enter into their parent’s lives, children adjust. As people leave their lives they adjust. They learn to make do and accommodate the adults in their lives.

We said it before on this blog but I think it needs to be repeated. In order for a child to say “hello” to one parent they must always be saying “good bye” to the other parent. When they say “hello” they are also adjusting their loyalties.

Children live in two different worlds. You could liken it to living in two different countries. Each country has their laws and language. Children must remember when they leave one country what the law, language and manners are expected in the other country.

Unlike citizens of a country who have loyalty to their country of origin, children of divorce have lost their family of origin. They become devoted to two different families and have allegiance to both parents. They develop split, confused and divided loyalties.

Confused loyalties

Divided loyalties in a child’s mind can cause confusion and understanding of what is going on in each parent’s life. A child may have so many sorrowful feelings for a parent they don’t live with that they imagine that parent being sad and depressed. However, that  the parent is really enjoying being free from a marriage. He or she may be enjoying a childfree lifestyle. Or their jobs keep them so busy that they are not concerned with not having a child in their home during the week. Every other weekend works into their schedule better.

Sometimes loyalties to one parent will push the other parent away. This is particularly true of celebrations in life transitions such as graduations, religious ceremonies and festivities of talents like recitals or sports events.

Split/divided loyalties

Divided loyalties really come into play when one parent marries. Stepparents will tell you that split loyalties can make the transition into blended families troublesome.

Here are a few things that can cause un due anxiety with split and divided loyalty issues

  • Birthdays – which parent do I spend my birthday with?
  • Is it okay to invite my other parent to my birthday?
  • I want both parents at the concert next week but they won’t come if they know the other parent will be there. What do I do?
  • How do I tell my dad that mom has a new boyfriend and I like him?
  • I want to spend time with my grandparents on both sides of my family.
  • I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior and am going to be baptized. I want all of my family to come especially both my parents and all my grandparents.
  • It is a huge deal that I’m made the varsity track team so how come I don’t want to tell my parents about this huge deal?
  • What if my parents get into an argument at the football game tonight? I will be so embarrassed.

What church leaders and ministers can do

  • Help the single parent in your church understand the issue of divided loyalties
  • Provide information about children of divorce, such as this post, to help educate your single parents
  • Encourage children to talk to you about being caught in the middle between two parents
  • Take the pressure off a child when it comes to church events and invitations to children’s programs or performances and you do the inviting
  • Before you offer an invitation to the other parent, check with the parent that brings the child to your church to make sure you are not intruding. Explain the importance of taking pressure off the child
  • Find mentors that can attend various school events with the child so the child feels there will be a third party to mediate between their two parents

Get to know the kids in your church classes. Find out what problems they have with split loyalties. Most children, as they grow and mature, will find their own way of adapting to issues with both parents. They will develop a way to accommodate the loyalties. Things will be less confusing as everyone settles into routines. But in the meantime they may need some assistance as they struggle living in two countries.

What have you noticed causes split, confused and divided loyalties in children of divorce?


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