The importance of collections to the child of divorce




All kids like to collect things. Rocks, bugs, jewels, stamps, coins, and other small items become important to children. Sometimes the items are silly, fun things, while other times there might be a purpose to the art of collecting certain items.

Some children turn their collections into hobbies. Boys who collect baseball cards and other sports memorabilia are good examples of collecting as a hobby.

Children of various ages collect all kinds of items. When my grandson was five years old, he was into collecting rocks. What he called “rocks” were actually glass jewels I put in my aquarium, but to him, they were rocks. It was something fun for him to collect and put them in his little treasure box.

I collect rocks. I’ve always liked rocks, big ones, little ones, rocks of various textures, and rocks from different places. Many of my rocks have a sentiment attached to them. I know who I was with when I found a rock, and I can point out which rocks I picked up in different places. In other words, there are specific reasons I added a rock to my collection.

When items are symbols of attachment to a parent

Rarely do young children attach a specific reason or emotion to collecting something other than they like it at a moment in time. For the child of divorce, however, collecting things can mean something deeper.

Perhaps a little girl starts a collection of hair bows before her mother moves out. Her collection of hair bows, especially if her mother purchased any of them, becomes almost sacred to her because it reminds her of her mother. It might also remind her of the happier times when her mom lived with her.

The same thing is true for a little boy whose dad might have given him his first baseball cap, electronic game, or fishing gear.

Items that hold attachment to a parent who has left become all important to the child of divorce. They protect these things and forbid anyone to touch them without permission. They may hide them or hoard similar items to add to their collections.

The reason

  • Some children think if they keep their collections, their departed parent may return. Many times in their fantasies, they envision showing their collections to the returning parent. The children fantasize about how proud the parent will be and the praise heaped upon them for the miraculous feat of collecting these items.

  • For other children, the collection is a point of reference and connection with the parent. It gives them something to do together with the other parent. It gives them something in common with their parent and something to talk about when they are with their parent.

  • Many children will keep their collections in their pockets. I once knew a young child in a single-parent home who picked up something off the ground at each child care facility he attended. When his mother told him he was going to new child care, he would find something to take with him to remind him of that person or that environment. Rarely did he even share his treasures with anyone.

Nest of protection

As some children grow into their teen and adult years, their collections become their nest around them. You’ll see these items scattered on their nightstand or the coffee table. These items give them a sense of security.

This nesting is very important to these grown-up children because they represent their growing-up years.

If you have children you are working with and notice they have collections, ask about their treasures. Encourage the children to talk about what they collect and why they collect such items.

With summer upon us, perhaps you could encourage the children in your ministries to start  collecting something new. Designate a particular service or meeting where kids can bring samples of their treasures to share with other children. This will give the children of divorce an opportunity to fit in and let other people to have a glimpse into their lives. You might be surprised by what you learn about each child.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on June 18, 2015.

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