Kids of divorce need predictability. How do you give them that?


waterToday, we continue our exploration about the importance of “rituals” for the child of divorce. This post will focus on the need for predictability in the lives of children of divorce.

It’s very important that the child of divorce knows they can depend on specific things happening at specific times. They often have the perception that their lives are out of control and in disarray. Here’s why predictability is important:

  • Predictability lends itself to security.
  • Routines lend themselves to security in the child’s life.
  • Unlike routines, rituals involve a special feeling of connecting with another human being.
  • Rituals allow us to connect with each other in an emotional, intimate way.

Children in divorced homes are losing the ability to explore and take part in rituals. To children today, rituals are quickly becoming a lost art.

Our world and our culture are changing

Many children are growing up in divorced homes, in single parent homes, or in blended families where it may be too painful to take part in remembering childhood rituals.

“The simple act of remembering a ritual from childhood may put them in touch with many difficult, unresolved or painful family issues”(adapted from Rituals for Our Times, p. 8).

  • A single parent may be trying to survive and can’t think about rituals that have been passed down for generations.
  • They may be cognizant of the fact that rituals involving extended family members or holidays may have to be changed.

Who or what group can step up and assist the children today? This is where church leaders, ministers and the church can fill the void. You can connect with the young people today in ways the world can’t. And if you don’t, the world is waiting to connect with them.

Healthy vs. unhealthy rituals

Children naturally delight in rituals, and they are drawn to them. For children, rituals with special foods, certain activities and the gathering together of people they love fits into their active minds and lifestyles. Children become ritual makers very early in life (Rituals, pp. 95, 97).

Rituals happen because children begin to count on a certain thing happening at a specific time in a particular way. In the case of a child of divorce, new rituals will automatically develop. With guidance and awareness, children can create healthy rituals.

  • If we don’t help the child of divorce, they may develop unhealthy rituals that will only drive their pain deeper.
  • These rituals may only serve to remind children of their losses and remind them they are not connected to a particular person any longer.
  • Unhealthy rituals send the message that no one cares about me.
  • My living history doesn’t matter to anyone.
  • My heritage with my family or with one of my parents is going to cease to exist.
  • If I can’t depend on the adults in my life, then I will have to learn to depend only on myself.

Movement between households

In “Rituals for Our Times” authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts state, “The movement of children from one household to another requires special attention to the rituals of leaving and returning, as these express more complicated issues of family membership, loyalty or unresolved conflicts between parents. Children may receive the hidden message that they are not to express sadness in leaving one household to go to another and that their good-bye ritual should be swift or secretive.”

Counsel with single parents in your church to help them understand the dilemma the children face each time they have to say good-bye and hello. Each time they say hello to one parent, it means saying good-bye to the other. Here are some ways to explore reaching out through rituals through your church.

  • Greeting rituals: you may already have developed some rituals and just are not aware of them. Look around and see if you can discern some rituals taking place.Here is an example: “Mom, you know every Sunday morning Mr. Harmon puts his hand on my shoulder and says to me, ‘How you doing, son?’” While this might not seem like a big deal to you or even a ritual, but to this 10-year-old boy, it was a big deal. This was a point of connection. Mr. Harmon was a good friend of the family before the divorce. This ritual said to the child that this man still accepted him and cared for him even though the dad had left. It impacted this child.


  • Good-bye rituals: Think about a special way to tell the child of divorce good-bye. Keep in mind that many of these children have people come and go all the time in their lives and they never have an opportunity to tell these people good-bye.You might sing the same song each time you are ending a class. Or you might develop a special good-bye handshake. Or even a special hug for little ones.
  • Birthday rituals: Birthdays are important to children but when a divorce happens birthdays can be confusing and stressful. Kids wonder if the both parents will remember their birthday. What if both parents want to come to the same party, will they fight or yell at the party. Church leaders or volunteers can create special birthday rituals to help calm the child of divorce. One idea might be to take the child and the parent that attends your church for a low-key breakfast.

Inspire single parents to develop rituals that will impact their children upon leaving for visitation and returning from visitation. If possible encourage them to ask the parent in the other home to collaborate with them. I realize this is rarely possible but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Here are some suggestions I made to a single mom with young children. Her children were upset when they had to leave and when they returned home.

  • Develop a particular ritual for when your kids come back home. One single parent used “Sweet dream water”. She purchased a small bottle of water and when she picked up her daughter she always had the “dream water” in the car. On the ride home they would talk about their dreams and hopes for the future.
  • If they come home right before bedtime, maybe you can fix a concoction of warm milk with an extra drop of vanilla in it. Warm milk actually helps children go to sleep. Or use some type of bedtime tea that will relax your kids. Part of the stress is coming from you the parent, so you must be calm and relaxed when they come home. So what if it’s late, they’ll recover.
  • Take time to get them settled first before getting into the routine in your home. One idea is to pop them into a warm bathtub full of bath toys, jars with lids and little plastic people like the army men you can get at the dollar stores. Water is always soothing – always! Let them play for half an hour or so. Set a timer and give them a 5-minute warning it’s time to get out and get started on the regular bedtime routine. And of course
  • Pray with your children before they go to sleep. Don’t pray for them to relax but pray thanking Jesus that the kids are calm and peaceful and they are back home.
  • Before they leave for their visitation each time remind them when they return you will have a peaceful home waiting for them. Talk a lot about peace and calmness in your home. Eventually they will make the connection that coming home is peaceful, safe, full of rituals and still fun with a loving parent waiting for them.

Through this series of articles on rituals, we have given you a lot to think about. What have you learned that you might want to do at your church or in your group? Do you have any suggestion for rituals for the single parent and their children?



This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 30, 2014.

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One thought on “Kids of divorce need predictability. How do you give them that?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Question of the week: Do you have any advice for parents to help children who rotate between two homes?

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