Help bring predictability to the child of divorce


Children of divorce need predictability in their lives. This means it’s very important that children of divorce know they can depend on specific things happening at specific times. They often perceive their lives as out of control and in disarray. Here’s why predictability is important:

  • Predictability lends itself to security.
  • Unlike routines, rituals involve a special feeling of connecting with another human being.
  • Rituals allow us to connect with each other in an emotional, intimate way.

Children in divorced homes are losing the ability to explore and take part in rituals. For many children today, rituals are quickly becoming a lost art.

Our world and our culture are changing

Many children are growing up in divorced homes, single-parent homes, and blended families where it may be too painful to take part in remembering childhood rituals.

“The simple act of remembering a ritual from childhood may put them in touch with many difficult, unresolved, or painful family issues” (adapted from Rituals for Our Times, p. 8).

  • A single parent may be trying to survive and can’t think about rituals passed down for generations.
  • The single parent may be cognizant of the fact that rituals involving extended family members or holidays may have to be changed.

Church leaders, ministers, and the church can fill this void. You can connect with young people today in ways the world can’t. And if you don’t, the world is waiting to connect with them.

Healthy vs. unhealthy rituals

Children naturally delight in rituals and are drawn to them. For children, rituals with special foods, certain activities, and the gathering together of people they love fit into their active minds and lifestyles. Children become ritual makers very early in life (Rituals for Our Times, pp. 95, 97).

Rituals happen because children begin to count on certain things happening at specific times in particular ways. In the case of the children of divorce, new rituals will automatically develop. With guidance and awareness, children can create healthy rituals. Without guidance and care, children may create unhealthy rituals that

  • Send the message that no one cares about me
  • Say my living history doesn’t matter to anyone
  • Shout that my heritage with my family or one of my parents is going to cease to exist
  • Say if I can’t depend on the adults in my life, then I have to learn to depend only on myself

If we don’t help children of divorce, these unhealthy rituals will only drive their pain deeper. Unhealthy rituals may only serve to remind children of what they have lost and that they are no longer connected to a particular person.

Movement between households

In Rituals for Our Times, authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts state, “The movement of children from one household to another requires special attention to the rituals of leaving and returning, as these express more complicated issues of family membership, loyalty, or unresolved conflicts between parents. Children may receive the hidden message that they are not to express sadness in leaving one household to go to another and that their good-bye ritual should be swift or secretive.”

Counsel the single parents in your church to help them understand the dilemma children face every time they have to say good-bye and hello. Every time they say hello to one parent, it means saying good-bye to the other. Here are some ways to explore reaching out through rituals through your church.

  • Greeting rituals: You may already have developed some rituals and just are not aware of them. Look around, and see if you can notice any rituals taking place.
  • Good-bye rituals: Think about a special way to tell the children of divorce good-bye. Keep in mind that many of these children have people come and go all the time in their lives and never have an opportunity to tell these people good-bye.
  • Birthday rituals: Birthdays are important to children, but when a divorce happens, birthdays can be confusing and stressful. Kids wonder if both parents will remember their birthday. What if both parents want to come to the same party? Will they fight or yell at the party? Church leaders or volunteers can create special birthday rituals to help calm the children of divorce.

Inspire single parents to develop rituals that will impact their children upon leaving for visitation and returning from visitation. If possible, encourage them to ask the parent in the other home to cooperate. I realize this is rarely possible, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Here are some suggestions I made to a single mom whose young children were upset when they had to leave home and when they returned home.

  • Develop a particular ritual for when your kids come back home. One single parent used “sweet dream water.” She purchased a small bottle of water, and when she picked up her daughter, she always had the “dream water” in the car. On the ride home, they would talk about their dreams and hopes for the future.
  • If the children come home right before bedtime, fix a concoction of warm milk with an extra drop of vanilla in it. Warm milk actually helps children go to sleep. Or use some type of bedtime tea that will relax your kids. Part of the stress is coming from you, the parent, so you must be calm and relaxed when they come home. So what if it’s late? They’ll recover.
  • Take time to get them settled first before getting into the routine in your home. One idea is to pop them into a warm bathtub full of bath toys, jars with lids, and little plastic people like the soldiers you can get at dollar stores. Water is always soothing—always! Let them play for half an hour or so. Set a timer, and give them a 5-minute warning before it’s time to get out and get started on the regular bedtime routine.
  • And, of course, pray with your children before they go to sleep. Don’t pray for them to relax, but pray thanking Jesus that the kids are calm, peaceful, and back home.
  • Before they leave for visitation each time, remind them when they return, you will have a peaceful home waiting for them. Talk a lot about peace and calmness in your home. Eventually, they will make the connection that coming home is peaceful, safe, full of rituals, and still fun, with a loving parent waiting for them.

Through this series of articles on rituals, we have given you a lot to think about. What have you learned you might want to do at your church or in your group? Do you have any suggestions for rituals for single parents and their children?


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