Use these expert insights so you know what to say when families grieve a divorce, terminal illness, miscarriage or still-birth, or the death of a child.
Loss and grief, just like joy and celebration, are part of life. Throughout your years as a children’s minister, you’ll undoubtedly cross paths with a tragedy involving one or more of your ministry’s children. Whether it’s the death of a marriage or the unthinkable death of a child, it’s vital to be prepared in your role to support grieving children and families. Even though our human nature drives us to avoid sad topics such as divorce, death, terminal illness, and miscarriage, these very situations can be your most important moments in ministry. Your response — and demonstration of God’s presence — may be what helps see a family through its darkest hour. We asked experts to offer guidelines on what to do, what to say, and how to best support families and children experiencing trauma. Read on for their insights.
What to Say When Families Grieve Divorce
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 40 to 50 percent of marriages will end in divorce. Split families and dual households are a reality for many of the children in your ministry. But how do you help a child and his or her family in the midst of divorce? Linda Ranson Jacobs, one of the forefront leaders in the area of children in single parent families and children in crisis and the executive director of DivorceCare for Kids, offers this advice.
Children need acceptance. Children in a newly divorced family need attention and loving arms. They need to know that they’re safe and that the church will welcome them regardless of their circumstances. Many children have expressed that they feel cast aside by the church after the divorce. Call kids weekly. They may miss a lot due to visitation schedules, but they still need to know they belong to your church and that you welcome them — no matter how many times they miss.
Single parents need support. Single parents need understanding. Almost every newly separated or divorced single parent is under a tremendous amount of stress. Some are almost incapable of parenting at this time, so walk beside them and be there to assist with day-to-day living — offering to pick up groceries, taking care of the children while the parent looks for a job, being on the emergency call list at the child’s daycare or school.
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Families need practical help. Sometimes families need financial help, but be careful not to take away their dignity. Many children are embarrassed by their parents’ divorce and they’re cognizant that they don’t have the finances to take part in many church activities. Provide “backstage” ways they can take part in all activities through anonymous gifts. Remember that even purchasing a workbook for a Bible study may be out of the reach of some single parents. Also, help kids purchase gifts for their parents on their birthdays or holidays. Imagine how disconcerting it is to be a child of 8 or 9 with no way of providing a gift for your parent’s birthday.
Families need prayer. Pray, pray, pray for divorcing families. Learn about children of divorce. Develop an empathetic heart toward these families. Help other adults understand the loss these children and families feel.
Watch your boundaries. It’s inappropriate to try to take over a single parent’s life. Don’t pity children from single-parent homes. They need your empathy, not your sympathy. It’s also very inappropriate to try and arrange the single parent with dates.
Avoid promoting false hope. Don’t pray with the child that a parent will return home. Instead, pray for practical things. Little girls worry about their daddies’ practical needs. Little boys worry about their moms being strong enough to take care of things. (That’s great insight!)
- “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. How can I help?”
- “It’s not your fault that your Mom/Dad left.”
- “You are loved, and I’ll always be here to talk to you and be your friend.”
- “You’ll get over this.”
- “You’re better off.”
- “He/She was a loser anyway. You can do much better.”
- “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
- “I understand what you’re going through.”
- “If you just have enough faith, your Mom/Dad/spouse will come back.”