Why do some kids seem to breeze through a divorce?



Many children of divorce appear to breeze through the divorce at the time the divorce happens. But don’t jump to conclusions. Many of these little girls will try to “keep the peace.” They will hide their feelings and say and do the things they think the adults expect and want from them. However, the divorce experience remains alive – but as memories that they push to the back of their minds.

Little boys tend to express their frustrations and tear through their feelings using sports and active behaviors. Their negative thoughts about the divorce of their parents appear to fade away.

When the sleeper effect kicks in

As girls grow into adulthood, become involved in a relationship and marry or start a family, the memories from the divorce of their parents pop back into the brain – the sleeper affect kicks in.

They begin to worry if the other person in the relationship will walk away. They wonder if their marriage will fail like their parent’s marriage. The worry if they know how to be married. They ponder anxiously if they can be a good parent in a two-parent home.

They feel doomed in their relationships. They don’t know how to be in a relationship. One young woman told me she could only breathe and trust her marriage after she has surpassed the number of years her parents had been married. She said she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. For 17 years she had waited anxiously, but after her 17th year of marriage she felt she could finally relax because they were going to make it.

Judith Wallerstein, author of “What About the Kids” and a pioneer in the psychosocial effect of divorce in children says this about the sleeper effect,

“The effect of something that happened long ago, went underground, and only comes up when issues that draw on those past experiences move to the center of the stage.”

She goes onto state,

“Whatever they have observed in how parents treat each other and how parents treat children are the images they bring to young adulthood and work on as they mature.”

Relationship with God

I have to wonder if there might not be a “sleeper effect” to the religious side. We know kids form their basic attachment to God from the attachment they have with the earthly parent. It would seem then if that relationship with an earthly parent is skewed, then their image of God and a relationship with Jesus Christ might not also be confusing.

Most kids do more of what is modeled before them than what is told to them. As children’s church leaders and volunteers we have an incredible opportunity to

  • Model Christian values
  • Portray loving marriages
  • Be an example of interactive relationships with your own children
  • Model a faith walk
  • Share an active prayer life

What matters? 

  • You matter
  • Your life matters
  • Your ministry matters
  • Church matters
  • God matters
  • A relationship with Jesus Christ matters

What about that sleeper effect? Oh yes, it is there, and it matters deeply in the lives of children of divorce.

What can you do to lessen the sleeper effect in the kids of divorce you work with at your church?


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training your children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here

One thought on “Why do some kids seem to breeze through a divorce?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » A middle school teacher asks a tough question about tweens and divorce

Leave a Reply

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