The question took me off guard, but it shouldn’t have. It’s certainly something I’ve asked on my own more times than I wish I had to.
I didn’t mind addressing the question either. It’s one of the most important questions I can think of relating to divorce.
But I still had a hard time answering it.
I appreciate the way you think and pray. What of your boys? Do they cope spiritually with the loss? You don’t mention it much.
I was only wondering if it was a faith journey for children in divorce…from your perspective, or just a social struggle. If the parent is experiencing the Lord, is it easier for the children?
The question was too important to gloss over. Parents who abandon families, even those who take advantage of partial custody, foolishly say, “Children are resilient,” when they themselves refuse to be resilient. The court system deceitfully claims it does, “What is best for the children,” knowing full well children from single parent families are far more likely to end up in the court system, as victims or as offenders, than children of married couples.
Evidence proves children suffer in divorce, but few pause to mourn what happens to children’s faith when they are forced to be resilient, forced to rely on government institutions, through support collections, WIC, or other programs, when they can’t concentrate in school and are put in lower classes, when they don’t make the team because dad is gone and mom works too much, when there’s no one to throw a ball with at the end of the long day or pick them up from the field after practice, when counselors pull students from academics and socializing and struggling kids fall farther behind and feel more outcast in our fumbling attempts to make them feel “normalized,” when adult responsibilities fall on children’s shoulders.
Anyone who has any intelligence can look at the statistics and know what can happen to kids of divorce, but excuses are made and adult happiness is deemed superior to a child’s while responsibility and sacrifice are tossed to the wind. Leavers demand their children get over unhappiness about divorce while a leaver refuses to get over unhappiness of Marriage. Leavers mistake a child’s wanting Married, biological parents as temporary while assuming their own unhappiness is permanent, out of their control, and caused by another.
Leavers are willing to risk sacrificing their children to statistics so they, the parents, can chase elusive happiness.
Leavers always think their children will be different. Their children will not become a drug addicts. Their children will not face child abuse. Their children’s grades will not suffer.
Adults point fingers when bad things happen to children and give examples where divorce statistics don’t come true, but they never stop to realize that the reason those families are referred to is because they are so rare. Unmarred children of divorce are the exception I’ve yet to encounter.
Few adults ever stop to realize that while all this “normalizing” occurs, little is asked about the child’s faith. There are too many immediate issues like finding employment, housing, childcare, and basic necessities. Few church-goers attempt more than an occasional rudimentary reach out to an innocent child whose world has been shattered. Few realize losing faith is accepted as part of the “normalizing” process.
Free Will in Divorce
An ex has free will. He choses to use his free will in a way that is not only offensive to many who know him, but in a way that is offensive to God. He will have to answer for that one day. He is no longer your responsibility or concern except in the manner we are all called to care for any of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But loyal spouses have made mistakes too. In my case, I’ve also used my free will in ways that are offensive to God. I got married when I probably shouldn’t have to a man I definitely shouldn’t have. I couldn’t see then that God might have had a better plan for me if only I’d waited. I gave myself away when I should have held back for better, for God’s plan rather than my own. My sins only begin there and could continue in a long offensive list. I have to admit that and come to terms with it through confession, penance, and Reconciliation.
The hardest part of that “coming to terms with it,” isn’t the Reconciliation with my perfect God. I know He has an awe-inspiring ability to forgive me and my sin that is beyond me. What is most difficult is the reconciliation I must do with my children and with myself knowing I could have prevented their pain had I made better choices both before and during my marriage.
Children are the only ones who had no free will in this situation. They could not have prevented us from getting married any more than they could have prevented us from getting divorced. Yet, their lives are permanently altered. They are the ones whose faith is being built when their world is being torn down.
Is divorce just a social struggle?
Without a doubt, divorce is never just a social struggle. As much sorrow as it brings me to admit it, once our Marriage crashed, others started crashing too. Divorce is contagious. Divorce has a domino effect. When one marriage tumbles, others fall too.
I had a realization in the days after my husband left. I realized I was only the first to feel the pain of a mid-life crisis many in my circle would go through. I knew I had to be there for them. What I didn’t realize was how many Marriages would tumble or how fast they would fall, how quickly my friends would give up or how rapidly some would move on to new relationships. I didn’t realize my anger would evaporate so quickly or how heavily my sadness for them and for their children would weigh.
So many divorces are “normalizing” divorce in society. Despicable isn’t it? People encourage others to join the “divorce club” so that they feel
good less bad about their own actions, so they can gossip and commiserate.
The truth is, there is a social struggle in divorce,
but it is less of a social struggle than it should be.
Do they (the children) cope spiritually with the loss?
This is so hard to answer. Boys just don’t talk as much as girls do, so it can be hard for me to figure them out. Plus I’m convinced that boys are a totally different species from girls. How else would you explain a tennis ball left in the toilet, a dead lightbulb left on the shelf in the freezer, and pictures that disappear for months at a time???
I can say I would not have the faith I do had it not been for God working in my boys’ lives. My oldest had finished 6th grade CCD when his father walked out. Sixth graders study the Old Testament, and he suggested that I read the Book of Job. It was this child who reassured me that everything would be different but okay. Such Wisdom from an 11 year old!
Each of my boys has his own degree and display of faith. It’s hard to say what kind of affect divorce and abandonment will have on them or what influence adults have.
My ex is now married in the Catholic Church. I see hypocrisy in this new relationship and sometimes wonder…
How do children reconcile such hypocrisy?
But I’m less concerned with the hypocrisy of their father or their new step-mother than I am with the hypocrisy my boys see in me. Maya Angelou said, “We do the best we can with what we know at the time, and when we know better, we do better.”
Well, I know better, and I still fall down in my faith. I still use language I shouldn’t when talking unkindly about others. I still roll my eyes and put myself ahead of others. I can be legalistic and want things done a certain way – my way! I still put work ahead of people. I can get mad at my poor mother who is so good to us. I can selfishly want to spend the rest of my life alone, enjoying the Peace and quiet and free time. I can occasionally long for a relationship and put myself down feeling not good enough for anyone to love.
I can be a terrible role model some days.
(And some days I speak way too harshly about myself too! 😉 )
Some days I beat faith into my boys and get too preachy. I let fear of my precious boys turning out like their father override my love for them. I say I’m speaking in Love, but I really speak in fear and, every once in a while, still in anger or disbelief.
Sometimes I fill them with “Don’ts” – Don’t drink too much. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex outside of Marriage. Don’t miss Mass. Don’t be like your father.
Don’t be like me…
The words are usually (although not always) more hidden than that. I don’t usually come right out and say the “don’ts,” but kids are smart. When you take something away as you do with a “don’t,” you need to fill it with something else or you just leave holes that need to be filled.
“Don’t look at porn.” Doesn’t work if it’s not countered with a message of God’s creation of the human being, of the body being the temple of the holy Spirit, and of a Man’s call to love, honor, and protect women and children.
Too often I speak to my children and to my world in fear rather than in Love.
I create holes I fail to fill.
I need to get better at filling my children.
No, I don’t usually come right out and say the “don’ts,” but my boys know what I mean and they know I forget to fill them with Love. That’s what gets me most. How do you forget to fill someone with Love and still claim to Love Jesus?
If the parent is experiencing the Lord, is it easier for the children?
The boys see their father and step-mother for who they are. Yes, they enjoy the material gifts, but what value do material gifts give?
The bottom line is children know when faith is shallow; they also know my faith is deep and how I still mess up. My biggest worry is what happens when they look at me, hear my proclamation of faith, and watch me choose to do wrong anyway, when they see me for the hypocrite I can be.
Does my faith help my children’s faith? I Hope so, but somedays I wonder if I make it harder for them when I fail, when they turn to me for guidance and I show them fear or rejection of something worthwhile, something priceless like time and attention.
You don’t expect many fish from a puddle, but when you cast your net into the sea, you hope to bring up something worthwhile. These children cast their nets in me, hoping I will direct them to the Lord but too many times I don’t produce the fish they desire, they crave, they need. Too many times they bring home empty nets when I have failed them in my faithlessness. Too many times I fear they won’t cast their nets again.
Too many times I fear they will only cast their nets in me and not in the Lord.
But so far they always have. I pray they always will.
There are so many single parents who discover stronger faith only through failed marriages. I am certainly one. After God rebuilds the heart and soul of the devastated spouse, there is little for the devil to attack. The worst has already happened in abandonment – except for the children. The devil can still somehow worm his way into our hearts and minds with thoughts of how our children will not come to know the Lord because of what we’ve done or have failed to do.
We forget that most of us weren’t born with this degree of faith, that it had to be earned through hardship and triumph. In wanting to spare our children the pain we went through, we forget that it is that very struggle that gave us our faith. We forget that these are God’s children first, that each child has a personal path to follow, that even Jesus broke with Mary and Joseph to go and preach in the Temple.
We forget that children have free will, just as we do.
They may be more sinful than us,
but they may be far more faith-filled than us too.
We just don’t know. We don’t have the answers. Our crystal ball just doesn’t work that way.
In John 21, Peter impulsively jumps from the boat and swims as fast as possible to get to the shore, to get to Jesus. I picture Jesus throwing His head back in laughter at the look on John’s face as he realized who Jesus was. I picture Jesus with a cramp in His side from laughing so hard and running to the water’s edge to meet Peter in a warm embrace. I picture Jesus settling down to discuss life with Peter and asking him if he Loves Him.
We all want children like Peter, willing to jump off the boat and swim as fast as they can to the Lord, but in this passage we forget that Peter had his own journey too, that he denied the Lord three times when he most needed to stand by Him. We forget that Jesus chose John to be His Mother’s son, when Peter wasn’t even mentioned.
We also forget that the other disciples came in the boat. Eventually they got to Jesus too. Jesus did not overlook them just because they came later. They are just as beloved, just as precious, and just as welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven as John who stood faithfully by the Cross and as Peter who jumped off the boat and swam like a madman.
Yes, children of divorce have an incredible spiritual journey they must endure. Sometimes their faith is shattered most by the ones who care the most for them and the children need to pick up the pieces.
Children of divorce need to discover that the very same free will that allowed their parents to sin allows them to not – if they choose to work it that way.
My Five Boys
I don’t write much about my boys anymore for a few reasons. I’ll give two here. First, I try to value and honor their right to privacy. Some like being mentioned more than others. Each child has his own opinions and journey in every aspect of life I guess!
Most of all though I don’t mention them much because I now really try to focus on God rather than on us. Yes, I use the agony we went through to emphasize points and give examples, but we don’t live in that pain anymore.
I have moments of doubt when I worry about their faith. I so wish I could find a strong Man to mentor them, show them the way to God, to lead them in the things a Man should do and be. I wish I could provide that Iron Sharpens Iron concept especially when they say and do mean, hurtful, spiteful things, when I want to shake them or banish them or scorn them and most of all when I really just want to give up and run away.
But that’s when I Hope they see the strength of my Faith and know I am not always a hypocrite. I hope they learn there is Goodness and Strength, Power and Love in the Lord that makes me stay with them because it’s also what makes the Lord stay with me. Not for any Good that I do, but because of the Good in Him. My Love for them is not reliant on good they do, but on my Love as a Mother reflecting a fraction of the Lord’s Love for them as their Father.
I have truly got the best kids in the world. They constantly amaze me with their accomplishments and perspective. They fascinate me with their stories and ideas. They make me laugh with their jokes and their pranks. They make me want to do better and be better. They have lightened my world and brightened my burdens.
And they inspire me with their faith.
Is Divorce a Spiritual Journey for Children?
Without a doubt it is, one I don’t yet know the end of. In the end, it is up to each of them. If they want to turn away from God, divorce is just one of many excuses they can choose for doing so, just as an abandoning spouse can choose many reasons to justify his leaving.
I pray my children never justify their actions but instead look inside themselves. I pray they discover the Holy Spirit’s power to Love fully in ways I fail to do. I pray that they turn to God whether they choose to sit faithfully by the Cross from the beginning as I Hope, eventually jump from the boat and swim like mad, or row slowly to the shore – hopefully taking a friend or two along as well.
Divorce leaves children navigating turbulent waters. All I can do is hope and pray and provide the best example I can by picking myself up and asking for forgiveness when I am more me and less God.
Divorce is without a doubt a spiritual journey, even for a young child.
Luckily, it’s not one any of us goes through alone.
And, as always, thanks for commenting, liking, following, and sharing!
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