Question of the week: Why do single parents identify life events as ‘before’ or ‘after’ divorce?


DC4K-Single parent before after

Many of the single parents you interact with are divorced. In their minds, and in their interactions with you, they draw a clear line defining life “before my divorce” and “after my divorce.”

Is this healthy? Does labeling life “before the divorce” and “after the divorce” keep single parents from moving forward? Does it mean they are still struggling with their divorce and are stuck in their grief?

These are excellent questions and ones that need to be answered so you can have empathy and a better understanding of what the single parents in your church are experiencing. Allow me to share some comparisons.


If you have ever been in a hurricane, tornado, or flood, you’ve more than likely had things destroyed. If you’ve lost your home and everything in it during a fire, then for years and possibly for the rest of your life, you say things like:

  • “Before the fire, the kids had their favorite blanket.”
  • “I went to get a book the other day, and I could see right where that book was before the fire.”
  • “Since the fire, every time I smell smoke, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.”
  • “Since the fire, I’m hyper-vigilant at night, and if I smell anything different, I’m up and out of bed.”

When people go through catastrophic events and lose many of their personal items, they tend to categorize things as before and after. Our minds automatically do this, categorizing as events as before and after. It is reality. It is the same principle for single parents who have experienced divorce.

It’s not that they haven’t moved forward; it is simply reality!

  • “Before the divorce, we always took a yearly vacation.”
  • “After the divorce, my kids and I had staycations. We camped out in the living room and had picnics on the floor.”
  • “I had a get-together at my house, and I was rushing around getting things set up. I went to set up the coffee maker, and that’s when I realized, ‘Oh no! He got custody of the coffee maker after the divorce.’”
  • “In reality, before the divorce, I had access to many things like a coffee maker. After the divorce, I no longer had access to those things.”

What you can do

  • Be patient with single parents.
  • Try and imagine yourself in various situations, such as not having access to half of everything in your house.
  • Develop empathy for the single parents in your midst, and convey this empathy to them.
  • Fill in material gaps with items single parents might need.
  • When possible, start a food pantry or a clothes closet for needy single parents.
  • If your church hosts a garage sale, allow newly divorced, single parents to have items for free. Our church allowed one single mom whose storage unit was robbed of everything in it to come and take whatever she wanted at the end of a garage sale for free. Men in the church delivered furniture and large items to her that afternoon. What a blessing for one single mom who was devastated. She now labels things as “before the robbery” and “after the robbery.”

As time goes by and single parents heal and draw closer to the Lord, you will hear fewer “before the divorce” and “after the divorce” comments. However, as with any catastrophic event, there will be some events and situations that remain labeled “before” and “after.” Whether the disaster is a flood, fire, tornado, bombing, community shooting, hurricane, or divorce, there will always be “before” and “after” comments.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on April 28, 2014.


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2 thoughts on “Question of the week: Why do single parents identify life events as ‘before’ or ‘after’ divorce?

  1. Just a suggestion, as a person who is a divorced, single Mom, it would be a great blessing to have the church give of their BEST to someone who is hurting already. To be given the scraps of a garage sale (which is already what no one really wants) can, in some cases make a newly divorced person feel more like trash themselves when they may already feel like that.

    I am reminded of how God gave His very best for us, not just what was not really wanted or needed anyway, but sacrificially.

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