The importance of replacing “rituals” for the child of divorce


iStock_000043362452SmallIn a previous post  we discuss the importance of rituals for the child of divorce. I shared that rituals help children connect to loved ones. It is important that church leaders, volunteers and ministers understand the role rituals play in the lives of children of divorce.

When children lose rituals or connections with important people in their lives, they may become attached to their “things”. Things and possessions bring a sense of comfort, control and a sense of order to a child’s life. These things become a substitute for deep connections with the parents and other loved ones.

I had the privilege of knowing one such young child who had to rely on himself when his rituals and things disappeared. We’ll call him Sam. (Name changed to protect the child.)

Sam was 4 years old when his mom met and married a man she had only known for a short period of time. Sam and his mother and he had always lived with his grandmother.

In a short period of time Sam was removed from his grandmother’s home. He was removed from the only childcare he had known and from his church. His mom and her new husband moved to another town close by. Sam began going to a home daycare.

In a few months, he began school, and his mom switched him to an after school program. His mom then had a baby, and within three months Sam, his mom, his new baby sister and the new dad moved back close to the grandmother. Sam’s mom enrolled him in the kindergarten of the original child care. The kindergarten class and extended care were in a different location.

One snowy night Sam and I were waiting for his mother to pick him up. It was just Sam and I sitting alone watching the snow. We were sitting in rocking chairs looking out the window. Sam said to me, “Hey Miss Linda, want to see my treasures?”

He reached into his pocket and began to pull out some items. He pointed to a piece of tar and said, “See this piece of tar? You remember your other daycare I went to? When my mom told me I had to leave, I picked this off the parking lot and put it in my pocket.

“See this piece of glass? I found this in the backyard of that home daycare I went to.

“See here, this screw? Well, I had to go to a school with after school care, and I found this on the playground. Then my mom told me that we were moving and I was going to get to comeback to your program, except in a different building.

“When I got here the first day, I didn’t wait for my mom to tell me we were going to leave. I went straight out to that big tree and took a piece of bark off of it.”

This child was carrying his life around in his pocket. His treasures were connections to his life. His rituals had been destroyed so he conjured up his own coping skills and replaced the rituals in order to bring sense to his short young life. He developed the ritual of taking a part of his environment with him.

Why replace rituals

In the book, “Rituals for Our Times” the authors sate,

  • “Rituals are a central part of life whether it be in how meals are shared together or how major events are marked.”
  • “They are the lens though which we can see our emotional connections to our parents, siblings, spouse, children and dear friends.”
  • “They connect us with our past, define our present life, and show us a path to our future as we pas on ceremonies, traditions, objects, symbols and ways of being with each other handed down from previous generations.”

But why do rituals need to be replaced for the child of divorce?

  • Rituals area a part of the child’s living history.
  • They are part of our family’s living history.
  • Children of divorce lose their family’s living history or in the least that history is altered.
  • Children need to create rituals they can pass forward to their own children.

Examples of child created rituals

  • Bedtime stories; some children will grab a book and read themselves a bedtime story if the parent that usually did the bedtime routine has left the home
  • A high five with a parent each morning
  • A special song, poem or hug. With my children I would sing, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck; a huuuuug around the neck” and they would hold on for quite some time on that last hug around the neck. I didn’t realize until years later that in their minds this was a ritual
  • Familiar sayings such as, “Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite. See you later alligator – pretty soon baboon. Sweet dreams.”
  • Special waves such as a hand under the chin with the five fingers wiggling
  • Funny sayings for arriving and departing such as, “Home again, home again, rig-a-jig-jig” When I was growing up this is what my dad would say each time we pulled into the driveway.

Without realizing it, I had said the same thing to my children. Right after 911 happened, I had to go and get my grandson. My daughter and son in-law were both military. The ride home was five hours and my then two-year old grandson had gone to sleep. As I pulled into my drive, I heard a tiny little voice from the back seat say, “Home again, home again, rig-a-jig-jig. To market, to market to buy a fat pig.” My daughter had passed this comforting ritual onto her own son. A part of our family’s living history survived the divorce.

While you can’t replace the fist bump a dad gives his son each morning, you can educate single divorcing parents about rituals. You can make suggestions for healthy rituals they can develop. This doesn’t mean the mom needs to start doing the fist bump but it does mean she needs to develop a ritual each morning. Maybe she could tussle the son’s hair each morning at the breakfast table or give him a high five.

What rituals do you remember from your childhood? Perhaps some of these could be told to the single parents in your church. Sometimes single parents just need someone to make suggestions to get their creative juices flowing.




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