Do’s and Don’ts of Ministering to Families Affected by Divorce
Published: April 24, 2023
It can be hard to know what to say to parents and their children affected by divorce. So here are some do’s and don’ts on how to minister to families of divorce.
While divorce has become more prevalent in our society, it has not become less painful. Separation from loved ones, continuing strife between the parents, moving, loss of identity, and social stigma are but a few of the consequences of divorce. The family of God can minister powerfully to fill the voids left by divorce. The church has God’s blessing and command to love and care for those who have suffered divorce just as a family loves and cares for its members. But it can be hard to know what to say during this painful time. Here are some do’s and don’ts of what to say to families who have been affected by divorce.
Don’t Say This to Families of Divorce
“I know just how you feel.”
Many of us think we know how it feels as many of us have come from similar families of divorce situations. But each child is different and feels his or her pain in a unique and specific way. To indicate you can read the child’s feelings disregards the depth of his or her disappointment, pain, and right to the grieving process.
“You’ll still get to see them.”
That’s not the point. Life will never be the same again for the child. It will never be as secure and ordinary as it has been up to this point. For younger children, seeing Daddy every other weekend seems like an eternity between visits. For an older elementary child, it can mean managing two sets of household rules, atmospheres, and schedules.
“They are better off apart.”
This is not the issue from a child’s point of view. Often they feel either responsible or at the very least that they could have affected the outcome in some way. Even with parental disagreements or trouble in the home, it was still the life the child knew. Change will take time, and adapting will be tough. He or she will never see either parent in the same way again.
“Your parent was wrong to _____.”
Don’t say anything that criticizes or demeans either parent. Children of divorce are best served when they are encouraged to love and accept both parents. Adults fare better, too, if they are encouraged to treat the former spouse in a civil and respectful demeanor.
“God hates divorce.”
When spoken to a parent, this type of statement (or “Scripture forbids divorce”) may make the person feel guilty, judged by the church, and condemned by God. Unfortunately, the family may be driven away from the comfort and healing that the church can provide. To a child’s ears, this statement may cause confusion and guilt—he or she may worry that God’s love for the family is conditional and has been lost because of the divorce.
Do Say This to Families of Divorce
“I’m here if you need to talk—or even if you don’t.”
Knowing someone is available to listen to you vent, rant, or cry is a huge comfort. Knowing someone will just be there to be there is also a security a child needs at this point. Sometimes kids don’t know how to express their pain so they act out. They need to know someone will stand by and let them process the pain until they can adapt and handle it. This isn’t a free pass to create their own “reign of terror,” but it is unconditional acceptance.
“Can I pray?”
Take the child to a quiet corner, and pray right there with him or her. Model how the child can pray for God to ease the pain and show him or her how to go on. Tell God how much the situation hurts, and ask him to provide peace and healing in the child’s life and in the family.
“I care about you, and so does Jesus.”
This break in the family unity feels like a death, and kids can react by feeling lost, abandoned, and alone. Parents are drowning in their own pain and are often unable to meet the emotional or spiritual needs of their children. Knowing someone cares and will stick it out with them is a huge relief. Teachers still expect them to perform in the classroom, friends expect them to adapt quickly, and their parents are often emotionally absent. They need the stability of Jesus, and you may have been chosen for such a time as this.
“Please take care of yourself.”
Parents experiencing a divorce need to maintain their emotional and psychological well-being. Encourage parents to spend time by themselves, to do something special for themselves, and to spend time with caring friends. If a parent has a supportive network, it can protect the child from becoming a surrogate spout and feeling responsible for the emotional well-being of the parent.
This excerpt was taken from Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for Children’s Ministry. Looking for more tips on caring for families affected by divorce? Check out these posts.
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