A child carries the treasures of his life hidden in his pocket


When children lose connections with important people in their lives, they may become attached to their “things.” Things and possessions bring a sense of comfort, control, and order to children’s lives. These things become substitutes for deep connections with parents and other loved ones. They replace many of the rituals they held important before life changed.

I had the privilege of knowing one such young child who had to rely on himself when his rituals and things disappeared. We’ll call him Sam. (His name is changed to protect the child.)

Sam was four years old when his mom met and married a man she had only known for a short period of time. Sam and his mother had always lived with his grandmother.

In a short period of time, Sam was removed from his grandmother’s home. He was removed from the only childcare he had known and from his church. His mom and her new husband moved to another town close by. Sam began going to a home daycare.

In a few months, he began kindergarten, and his mom switched him to an afterschool program. His mom then had a baby, and within three months, Sam, his mom, his new baby sister, and the new dad moved back to the same town where his grandmother lived. Sam’s mom enrolled him in our private kindergarten and afterschool care.

Treasures hidden in his pocket

One snowy night, Sam and I were waiting for his mother to pick him up. It was just Sam and I, sitting alone, watching the snow. We were sitting in rocking chairs looking out the window. Sam said to me, “Hey, Miss Linda, want to see my treasures?”

He reached into his pocket and began to pull out some items. He pointed to a piece of tar and said,

See this piece of tar? You remember your other daycare I went to when I was just a little kid? When you and my mom were talking the last time I was there, I picked this off the parking lot and put it in my pocket.

See this piece of glass? I found this in the backyard of that home daycare I went to last summer.

See here, this screw? Well, I had to go to kindergarten and afterschool care at the elementary school, and I found this on the playground. Then my mom told me that we were moving, and I was going to get to come back to your program, except in a different building.

When I got here the first day, I didn’t wait for my mom to tell me we were going to leave. I went straight out to that big tree and took a piece of bark off of it.

This child was carrying his life around in his pocket. His treasures were connections to his life. His rituals had been cut off, so he conjured up his own coping skills and replaced the rituals to bring a sense of order to his short, young life. Evidently, he decided to take a part of his environment with him wherever he landed in his next phase of life.

Why do children replace rituals?

In the book Rituals for Our Times, Evan Imber-Black, PhD, and Janine Roberts, EdD, state,

  • “Rituals are a central part of life whether it be in how meals are shared together or how major events are marked.”
  • “They are the lens through which we can see our emotional connections to our parents, siblings, spouses, children, and dear friends.”
  • “They connect us with our past, define our present life, and show us a path to our future as we pass on ceremonies, traditions, objects, symbols, and ways of being with each other handed down from previous generations.”

But why do rituals need to be replaced for the child of divorce?

  • Rituals are part of the child’s living history.
  • They are part of the family’s living history.
  • The child of divorce loses the family’s living history, or at least, that history is altered.
  • Children need to create rituals they can pass forward to their own children.

Examples of child-created rituals

  • Bedtime stories: some children will grab a book and read themselves a bedtime story if the parent who usually did the bedtime routine has left the home.
  • A high five with a parent each morning
  • A special song, poem, or hug: with my children, I would sing, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck; a huuuuug around the neck,” and they would hold on for quite some time for that last hug around the neck. I didn’t realize until years later that in their minds this was a ritual
  • Familiar sayings, such as, “Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite. See you later, alligator—pretty soon, baboon. Sweet dreams.”
  • Special waves, such as a hand under the chin with the five fingers wiggling
  • Funny sayings for arriving and departing, such as, “Home again, home again, rig-a-jig-jig”

When I was growing up, my dad would say this every time we pulled into the driveway. Without realizing it, I said the same thing to my children. On September 11, when the airplanes struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania, I had to take custody of my two year old grandson because my daughter and son-in-law were in the military. The ride home was five hours, and my grandson went to sleep in the back seat of my car. As I pulled into my driveway, I heard a tiny, little voice from the backseat say, “Home again, home again, rig-a-jig-jig. To market, to market to buy a fat pig.” My daughter had passed on this comforting ritual on her own son. A part of our family’s living history had survived the divorce.

While you can’t replace the fist bump a dad gives his son each morning, you can educate single and divorcing parents about rituals. You can make suggestions for healthy rituals they can develop. This doesn’t mean the mom needs to start doing a fist bump, but it does mean she needs to develop a morning ritual. Maybe she could tussle the son’s hair each morning at the breakfast table or give him a high five.

What rituals do you remember from your childhood? You could tell some of these to the single parents in your church. Sometimes single parents just need someone to make suggestions to get their creative juices flowing.


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