Question of the week: Does divorce define who a child is?


Does divorce define who a child is? Ask these children.

I’m divorced, says a seven-year-old girl.

We’re divorced, my mom and me, says an eight-year-old boy.

When my dad and I got our divorce…, says a ten-year-old girl.

Why would children say these kinds of thing? They didn’t get divorced.

However, you can hear many children, up through tweens and young teens, say this. Some kids wear the word “divorce” like a badge of honor. It has been bestowed upon them, and they wear it whether they like the divorce or not. To many children, divorce defines who they are. Most children understand they exist because their parents loved each other. Because the parents loved each other, a child was born out of this love. The child is part mom and part dad.

Then the divorce happens. Now the child is no longer from one marital unit living together in one place and loving each other but part of two separate units living in two separate places and not loving each other.

It is important for children’s well-being and future to help them realize divorce doesn’t define who they are. We have to help them realize they are more than the trauma of divorce they have lived through.

In one of my DC4K groups, I had a boy who couldn’t seem to move past his anger over the divorce. After several weeks, I began to realize he couldn’t address his anger until he got past the word “divorce” and that he thought it was defining who he was.

What you can do

  • For the child who couldn’t get past the divorce, I took him aside, drew a big circle, and put his name in the middle of it. I had him list all the things he liked to do. We put all these things around the circle. I then pointed to each thing and asked him, “Is this who you are? Soccer? Baseball?” He soon realized all of these things made up parts of who he was. None of them defined him. You could see the reality slowly dawn on his face. Divorce wasn’t who he was. Divorce was a part of his life. His parents were divorced; he was not.
  • For other children, it means explaining to them exactly what divorce means. It means their mom and dad will no longer live together. They no longer love each other. As adults, we think kids know and understand what this thing called “divorce” is, but many don’t know. They hear their mom or dad say, “We are divorced now,” so the children think they are divorced too. I’ve had little kids come to DC4K and not really know or understand what divorce is. You also need to remember that many times, parents are so upset they forget to explain exactly what is going to take place during this thing called divorce.
  • Use children’s names as much as possible. Research tells us that hearing one’s own name is an attention grabber. Research also tells us that when people hear their own names, blood flow increases to the part of the brain that plays a role in our processing of “self.” Children of divorce especially need help processing “self.”
  • Help children realize who they are in Christ. Introduce these children to the God whose love is unconditional. Acquaint them with God’s Son Jesus. Explain that God gave His Son for us, and Jesus loved each of us so much He died on a cross for our sins. This helps children comprehend that they too can have life in Christ.
  • Let children know they are part of God’s family and the church family. Being part of God’s family and the church family helps take the emphasis off of being part of a family unit that has split into two pieces. We see this is DC4K all the time. It is as if the DC4K family becomes children’s special family unit as they work through the issues of their parents’ divorce.

Back to the original question, does divorce define who a child is? It certainly doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t—but many times, it does.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on May 11, 2015.

DC4K blog posts are great for training children’s leaders and volunteers, and they are free. Subscribe now.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community?

Did you know DC4K blog articles are on Pinterest? Divorce & Kids, Children’s Pastors, Single Parents, they’re all there.

Follow dc4kLinda on Twitter.

Like our DivorceCare for Kids and Single & Parenting Facebook pages where we give awesome parenting tips for the single parents in your ministries.


2 thoughts on “Question of the week: Does divorce define who a child is?

  1. The truth is, whether we are young or old, we will define ourselves by our experiences and by what other flawed human beings have told us.
    The truth is, we are who God says we are; nothing more and nothing less. When we truly get that, our identity lies in Him. What freedom there is in that!
    I love the circle idea, Linda! We do it on 3×5 cards for our “Chained No More” participants.

    • And we have to help the child understand who he or she is in Christ. As you know many times the parents are too overwhelmed at the moment to explain that to the child who hears the parent say, “We are divorced.” Thanks for your input and I imagine those Chained No More 3×5 cards are full.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.