The question we get asked more than any other here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids goes something like this:
What do I say to a child in my church who tells me on Sunday that his/her parents are getting a divorce?
Obviously, each situation is different and how you will reply to this situation will depend on the age of the child, your knowledge of the situation and your relationship with the child. However, there are some standard things that are acceptable o say to any child who announces to you that their parents are getting a divorce.
Make no mistakes, that first moment where a child reaches out and tells you that his/her parents are getting a divorce is critical. How you respond may well set the tone for whether or not that child will allow you to walk with them and be a source of strength and wisdom as they go through the divorce and post-divorce process. It is important that you be prepared, and knowing at least the five things covered in this article will be a good first step. So, what should you say to the child who announces that his parents are getting a divorce?
#1: That stinks! I am so sorry that you have to go through this.
Divorce hurts, and it is particularly hurtful to the children involved. Let the child know that you understand that their situation is not one they wish to be in. Don’t try to “happy up” the child or pretend that nothing has changed or that “everything will be ok.” Simply let them know that you know that they are going through something tough.
#2: I’m here for you.
Don’t force your presence or your advice on the child, but let them know that you are there for them and will be there for them for the long haul. Helping a child deal with the effects of their parents’ divorce is not a short term commitment. Assure them that you will be there if they need to talk or a shoulder to cry on or just to have someone to listen to them.
#3: It’s not your fault.
No matter how many times they hear it from their parents or anyone else, most children of divorce will at some point blame themselves, or at the very least wonder if they were responsible, for their parents’ divorce. Remind them that divorce is an adult decision and there is nothing that they did that caused the divorce and nothing they could have done to keep their parents together.
#4: Things will never be same, but the pain and sadness will eventually lessen.
You should never lie to a child whose parents are getting a divorce. Don’t tell them that “everything will be ok” or “maybe your parents will get back together.” Instead, be very up front that things will change. It isn’t a pleasant reality, but it is a reality that these kids will need to face. Likewise, they need to understand that the pain and confusion and sadness that they are feeling now will get better. It will get better!
#5: God still loves you and your family.
God hates divorce, there is no doubt. He hates divorce because He knows the impact that divorce has on families and children. That said, it is important that a child whose parents are getting a divorce understand that God does not hate them and God does not hate their family. In fact God loves them more than they can ever know or understand. Even though they may not understand why this is happening to their parents, it is critical that they know that God loves them and will be there for them through it all. Encourage them to pray and lean in to God during this difficult time.