Question of the week: What is the emotional glue that helps single parents stay connected to the kids?



“I’ve heard you speak at children’s ministry conferences about rituals and the child of divorce. What I want to know is why rituals are so important for the child of divorce.”

Almost all children are ritual-makers. They automatically create rituals when they say hello or goodbye and in many other situations. Rituals help children connect with the people in their lives, whether parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, or other important people. You might say rituals are points of connection for children. They help children bond with the important people in their lives.

Dr. Becky Bailey says that rituals are the emotional glue that holds relationships together. Many children’s relationships become strained or even nonexistent during the divorce, so they need to be able to develop new points of connections. They need to connect. And they need to connect often.

Let me explain. Imagine when the dad leaves for work every morning, he gives his son a fist bump. The son begins to rely on that fist bump as his point of connection with the dad each morning. If the dad forgets or is rushed and tries to get out the door without giving the fist bump, that little boy will jump up from the breakfast table and run after the dad to get his fist bump. The child’s day begins with that one ritual from the dad, and it’s so important the child may knock a chair over rushing to get to the door before the dad leaves.

When parents divorce, children lose important connections with those around them (or at least with the parent who moves out of the family home). If the dad moves out, the fist bump and similar connecting points leave with the dad. This leaves a hole in the child’s routines and his little heart.

Divorce brings many changes to the child

  • The child loses the two-parent home.
  • The child loses access to both parents under the same roof.
  • Some children feel a loss of self-esteem.
  • Many lose their sense of well being.
  • Some may lose a lifestyle.
  • The loss of rituals they have created to connect and build relationships with those they love disappear.

With the high divorce rate, our families have only gotten weaker. Although we may not be able to reduce the divorce rate immediately, we can assist children and go to battle for them in this world of confusion. We can make children stronger by connecting with them, strengthening the emotional glue that holds relationships together.

One way to connect with children is through rituals at church. Rituals are not routines, and they are not traditions. It might help to know exactly what rituals are.

The following information is adapted from the book Rituals for Our Times by Evan Imber-Black, PhD, and Janine Roberts, EdD:

What are rituals?

  • Like we’ve said, rituals are points of connections.
  • Rituals usually involve the performance of actions or procedures in a set, ordered, and even ceremonial way.
  • They are social interactions that are repeated, coordinated and significant.
  • Rituals can be daily interactions, or they can be once a year, but they’re repeated.
  • Rituals are coordinated. You know what’s expected of you and when to show up for it.
  • Rituals offer opportunities to make meaning from the familiar and the mysterious at the same time. Examples include symbols and actions such as blowing out candles on a birthday cake and exchanging rings and saying vows at weddings. Many parts of rituals in our society are well known to all of us; birthday cake is a good example.
  • These points of familiarity provide us with anchors or foundations and help us transition into upcoming, unfamiliar events, such as getting a year older and becoming a married person.
  • Rituals give us opportunities to stop and reflect on life transitions. They allow us to use the familiar habits developed, such as blowing out the candles, while at the same time, they allow us to mix in the intrigue of the mysterious, such as making a wish and wondering if it will come true.

Basically the answer to “why rituals are important to the child of divorce” is

  • Rituals allow the child to bond.
  • Rituals allow the child to connect on a deep level.
  • Rituals allow the relationship to become intimate and special.
  • Rituals soothe the lower levels of the brain (Dr. Bailey).
  • Rituals allow the child to matter to the parent.

Tell us why you think rituals for children of divorce are important.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on Aug 4, 2014.

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