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Rite of Passage and the Child of Divorce: How You Can Help

Issues Kids Deal With / Leadership //

A few weeks ago my step grandchildren were visiting us. The eleven year old can’t wait until she turns twelve years of age. Know why? So she can get a Facebook page. She also can’t wait until she is sixteen so she can get her drivers license.

Her parents are smart in declaring rite of passage of certain things. Many kids in our world today are impatient and can’t wait or don’t understand the rite of passage. Wikipedia describes “rite of passage as a ritual event that marks a persons transition from one status to another.” Rite of passage helps a child feel special or accomplished in some way whether that be age, talent or maturity.

Perhaps your church has included rites of passage for the kids in your church family. You may not even realize you have these rites of passage but the kids know it. For example being an official teenager and getting to be in the youth group is a rite of passage for many kids. Being allowed to usher or work in the nursery for special events are looked upon as a rite of passage.

When I owned my school age program we incorporated many rites of passage. If you were a kindergartner you had to wait until you were in first grade to earn money credit to purchase treats at the snack bar. If you were in kindergarten or 1st grade you had to wait until 2nd grade to be on one of the animal committees. You could only be the manager of an animal committee if you were in 5th grade. And so it went grade after grade.

One rite of passage that every kid in our program waited for was the privilege to sit in the “loft.” In one of our rooms was a loft that sat pretty high up off the floor. One had to be ten years old to be able to sit in the loft. Those kids would count the days until their birthday so they could sit in the loft. It was a big deal to be able to climb up the ladder to the loft and sit there over looking the room. On the morning of someone’s tenth birthday I knew I would see him or her sitting in that loft.

  • It was a silly thing.
  • It was a fun thing.
  • It was a special thing.
  • It was a powerful thing.

A few weeks ago on Facebook I actually had a young man tell me, “I never made it into the loft. No fair. We moved before my 10th birthday.” After all these years he still remembers the loft.

Divorce obliterates many rites of passage

Many children of divorce miss out on experiencing a rite of passage. Divorce fractures families and many times family traditions and a rite of passage is lost. It might be something such as experiencing the first camping trip with grandpa, or getting to travel alone to visit a cousin in another state the summer of your 13th birthday. It could be the first shopping trip with a grandmother or getting a first pedicure with a special aunt.

Some rites of passage aren’t clearly laid out but a child just knows that something special is going to happen regarding an event. An example of this in our family was getting to sit at the “grown up” table at family get togethers. As adults we had no idea the kids thought this was a rite and that all the cousins talked about it at our family events.

Why the rite of passage is lost

  • Mom moves out: Many girls just know that when it comes time for their first big dance, mom will be there to take them shopping. If the teenage girl doesn’t live with the mom, the shopping trip never happens.
  • Dad leaves: A teen boy knows when its time to start shaving dad will be there to cheer him on. If the teenage boy doesn’t have a father in the home, he learns how to shave on his own.
  • Teens are left on their own: The teens don’t get that special bonding time with the parent. No one feels accomplished or special doing these things alone.
  • Extended family forgets: One family had a rite of passage about Christmas. When a child graduated from high school they were included in the adult only Christmas party. After the divorce, the extended family didn’t invite the child to the Christmas party. What a sad disappointment after having waited all through high school to be considered adult enough to attend the adult only Christmas event.
  • Finances change: In other situations the divorce has changed the finances in the home. So while a child might look forward to that senior trip throughout middle school by the time they make it to their senior year in high school and their parents have divorce, there isn’t enough money to fund the long waited for senior trip.
  • Child’s behavior: A child’s behavior might be another reason a rite of passage is lost. Many children of divorce have problems with school. It is not unusual for kids to lose a grade, drop out or be reassigned to an alternative school. The senior year comes along and the teen is in alternative school and there is no senior trip in alternative school.

What you can do

  • Understand that the rite of passage is important to kids. Don’t discount the hurt kids feel when they rites are lost.
  • Help the child of divorce understand why they might have lost a rite of passage.
  • Work with the child and the single parent to create a different passing of an event.
  • Bring in mentors or mentoring families that can adopt the child of divorce into their family’s passages.
  • Set up clearly defined rites of passage in your church so children of divorce can feel part of the church family. These rites of passage would be for all children not just the child of divorce.
  • Pray with the child about ways you can allow the child of divorce to experience a rite of passage at your church that is just for him or her.

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About the Author

Linda has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids, dc4k.org), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She currently serves as the DC4K Ambassador and Professional blogger at http://blog.dc4k.org.