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A House Divided

Lori Haynes Niles

Divorce impacts all children whose parents experience it-but in different ways and to different degrees. Much depends on the support available in making the transition from a two-parent family to two separate families. Our churches can be part of the restorative process if we better understand commonalities of the affected children and as we listen carefully to these families' unique needs.

Kids' Needs

Children of divorce experience grief in much the same way that survivors of any loss do. Rather than viewing the grief process as a linear progression, it's helpful to imagine it as a spiral that includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and forgiveness. These stages may present themselves over and over as a child enters different stages of maturity. For example, the anger in a preschool child may show up as increased crying and demand for attention, while in the early elementary years, it may resurface as behavior problems at school. Preschoolers may bargain by promising to "be good" if Mommy or Daddy will come home. Elementary-age children may devise elaborate schemes to bring their parents back together and make promises to God about what they'll do if God will only answer their prayers for their parents to be together again.

Any stage of grieving that appears to have been resolved can be triggered again as life stages change. The third-grader who seems to have reached a stage of forgiveness for Dad moving away may become intensely angry in fifth grade when Dad's not there for a school play or soccer tournament. Or a preschooler who feels great about making a Father's Day gift for Uncle John may become withdrawn and depressed as the second grade father-son overnight camp approaches and he realizes that no one else is bringing his uncle. Another change that often provokes a regression in the grief cycle occurs when a parent begins to date.

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