Shortly after graduating high school and right around the time of my 18th birthday, I received a surprise. My dad and mom separated. They later divorced.
Even though warning signs preceded my parents’ breakup, still I felt shocked and numb. The heartache that followed was tough to handle. It affected my four siblings and me in a myriad of ways—emotionally, physically and mentally.
In my case, I felt I was being forced to survive in a world that seemed to have crumbled to pieces. In very practical terms, my life was changed dramatically. I lost one of my parents—a friend, a confidant. (My dad moved away, and later the rest of us relocated to a different state.) I no longer had that special person with whom I could share many of my innermost thoughts, favorite memories and jokes. My mom, brothers and sister and I suddenly had a lot less money. Being the eldest male at home, I now found myself not only responsible for aiding my mom in providing and caring for the rest of the family, but also for tackling the heavier household chores my dad once took care of—auto maintenance, yard work, home improvements.
The biggest changes, though, occurred within me. When my dad left, it seemed as though I had lost almost everything and didn’t have much left to fall back on or look forward to. I felt this way even though I had a loving parent remaining, plus other family and friends surrounding me. And because following high school I didn’t have any immediate plans for college or vocational training, I felt especially directionless without my father’s guidance and encouragement. I was in a crisis and felt helpless. My outlook was bleak. I felt sad, scared, angry. At times I felt discouraged and empty.
Yet I knew I wasn’t the only one in this situation. I looked around and realized I had become just like many of my peers: a child of divorce. Another statistic.
Perhaps you are an adult child of divorce like me. Or maybe you are a single parent or presently undergoing a painful separation or divorce. If not, chances are you know of a family shattered by such family trauma. Divorce is simply a problem of epidemic proportions in modern life.
Since about 1970, the annual ratio of divorces to marriages has remained basically the same—about one to two. Some take that to mean one third to one half of new marriages in America end in divorce, but a variety of factors could skew the true figures. Consider, for example, the modern tendency for couples to live together in a sort of informal trial “marriage.” These relationships often do not last. In the ones that do, a growing percentage of couples are deciding to live common-law rather than get married. Those who do decide to exchange wedding vows enter into their first marriage at an older age than couples did in the past.
In any case, an increasing number of children born into these relationships end up seeing their parents—whether married or not—separate. Many grow up not knowing one or the other of their parents. Some do not even know who their fathers are. And the results are often disastrous.
What can be done to help those who suffer a broken parental relationship?
Thankfully, there is hope for children of divorce!
The Holy Bible states, in James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless … in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The word fatherless applies to the children of widows, children born out of wedlock (where the father is absent), those whose parents are separated, as well as the children of divorce.
What are some of the afflictions of the fatherless (or motherless) children of divorce?
Each child responds differently after a family breakup. Some of the more common “afflictions” they grapple with include feelings of rejection, deep sadness or despair, fear, guilt, acute loneliness, sleep problems and depression. Some younger children even tend to regress to an earlier stage in their childhood. They may revert to bedwetting, clinging to parents, resurrecting an old “security object” (like a blanket or toy), or some other such behavior.
Some children wonder what will become of them. They have worrisome thoughts like, Where will Dad live? or Who will look after Mom now? They may also experience conflicts of loyalty.
Children trapped in the middle of a divorce can suffer a huge loss of self-esteem and confidence. Many children see their academic scores plummet.
According to The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25-Year Landmark Study, family researchers found that children of divorce are generally less educated, have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and have a lower economic status than their peers and even their own parents. They are also less likely to marry than others in their own age group.
The financial repercussions of divorce are substantial too. Because of negligent child support payments and a lower household income, the economic well-being of children can suffer. Sadly, some children of divorce even have to do without basic necessities, including adequate food and clothing.
Another “affliction” is that a child of divorce can sometimes turn into a “problem child.” A big part of the reason why is that a parental breakup can make children feel unstable and vulnerable. They may become unbalanced emotionally and do or say outrageous things to try to attract attention. They might become “class clowns” at school, or tend toward recklessness. Some even attempt suicide.
Lack of motivation can be another consequence. This seems to be especially true with younger teenage boys, who often need and want to please their fathers and make them proud. They need validation and encouragement. They need to be spurred on to greater achievements. But when Dad is gone, a fatherless boy may feel like a ship without a rudder, being tossed about on a wild sea. (Ask just about any homeless man on the street where his dad is and he’ll likely answer, “I don’t know, he left years ago!”)
Anger is another common symptom. It may depend on the age, gender and temperament of the child, and the family’s circumstances, but some insecure children of divorce—especially boys—may explode or “go ballistic” by yelling at others (including friends and loved ones), by getting into fights, by displaying destructive behavior, or by deliberately breaking rules. Older children, since they tend to know more of the details behind their parents’ divorce, may direct their anger toward the parent they see as more responsible for the breakup.
These are just some of the afflictions facing the children of divorce. There is a gamut of others too—probably too many to try to define, as there are numerous variables involved in each individual’s or family’s situation.
It is important to realize that divorcing parents aren’t the only ones responsible for helping the children of divorce. Society as a whole has a stake in the matter. We can all share responsibility: doctors, teachers, lawyers, judges, grandparents, mentors and friends. If you know someone who is going through a divorce or who has already been through one, it is important to try and help—especially the children—where possible.
Exodus 22:22 states, “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.” The verb afflict in this verse could be rendered “to depress” or “deal hardly with.” Each of us with the opportunity and means to serve a single parent family or a child of divorce ought to do so—so says God. We should not neglect or overlook those in such difficult circumstances.
Through the Prophet Zechariah, God says further, “Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless …” (Zechariah 7:9-10). Could we oppress children of divorce if we fail to reach out and help them if we are able? If we disregard or let down in our obligation to show mercy and compassion toward others undergoing hardships in our family or within our circle of acquaintances, could we be oppressors?
If you know a single mother struggling with “problem” children, perhaps you or your family could volunteer to give her a break by spending time with her kids. Take them camping or invite them over from time to time for board games, swimming or some other wholesome and productive activity. Maybe visit a museum with them, or just take them to a park to play ball or Frisbee. Talk to them. And listen.
Realize that it is important to try to do your part to assist in turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6), as you help strengthen the families and lives of those affected by divorce.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other relatives and extended family members can be a big advantage to a child of divorce and to a single parent. They can help fill the void to a certain degree. They can help ease some of the burdens.
Unfortunately, the “family clan” idea isn’t so popular in society anymore. The extended family networks are phasing out. But having a heightened awareness of this should help each one of us want to do what we can to fill the void. We should want to actively rally around the children of divorce—those we know who are suffering. Those we are able to help. Those we have the opportunity to show mercy and compassion to.
If you can, point the children of divorce to appropriate father (or mother) figures. Show genuine interest. Care. Learn that little things and small moments can mean a lot. Search out opportunities to serve. Become a coach, mentor or perhaps a Boy Scout or Girl Scout leader. Use every opportunity to build up, encourage and strengthen the children.
No More Tears
Almighty God is aware of the suffering going on here below; He sees the tears of the children of divorce. He hears the cries of the fatherless in their affliction (Exodus 22:22-23).
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 states: “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.” God does pay special attention to the fatherless (and widows) because they need extra help and support.
God is called the “father of the fatherless” (Psalms 68:5). He “setteth the solitary in families” (verse 6); in other words, He cares for the lonely—He fills the void and comforts those who are without one or both parents.
A child needs the strength and support of a father, mother and family clan. Even where physical parents fail, God’s provision for His children—spiritual, emotional, even physical—never fails when we look to Him.
God is also called “the helper of the fatherless” (Psalms 10:14). He provides the extra help necessary for children of divorce to endure their most difficult trials. He does not allow any of His own to suffer more than they are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When my own dad left, I had to internalize this lesson. Once I learned to cast all my cares and concerns on God and realized how much He cares (1 Peter 5:7), I was able to survive much better. I was able to let my spiritual Father in heaven replace the physical, biological dad I once had (1 John 3:1-2). The suffering has subsided. Sure, there are still some mental scars there—but the healing has been remarkable.
Thankfully, in the very near future, God is going to intervene to stop all the suffering that presently exists. He will stop the trend of separation and divorce. “Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded …” (Jeremiah 31:16).
For the time being, however, it seems society will continue on its current path—and separations and divorce will continue. The best thing you can do as a divorced parent, or a concerned parent who wants to help someone else who is going through or has gone through a divorce, is to diligently study God’s instruction book for mankind—the Holy Bible—to understand God’s teachings on marriage, divorce, child rearing and human relations. The book of Proverbs is a great place to start; it is chock full of wisdom and common-sense instruction for people of all ages.
Waste no time! “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And then apply what you learn. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
With due diligence and God’s guidance, you can go a long way toward establishing your children in a way of life that will prepare them for the wonderful World Tomorrow—an age in which there will be no more children caught in the midst of separation and divorce! Indeed, what a wonderful time that will be, when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”! (Isaiah 11:9).