Discussions on divorce in Catholic circles tend to focus on two points: 1) pastoral care for divorced persons in the Church and 2) the question of (not) permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. As members of the body of Christ, we need to ask these questions and properly care for divorced Catholics. At the same time, there is a sobering void in our discussions. We are quick to state how deeply divorce hurts children, but we are largely silent when it comes to how we can help them.
We are quick to state how deeply divorce hurts children, but we are largely silent when it comes to how we can help them.
The truly efficacious grace given to me during the sacrament of Confirmation is, I am convinced, what kept me in the Church. One year after my Confirmation, my parents told me they were getting divorced. I sought comfort and healing in the Church, spent more time at my parish than before their divorce, and never missed Mass on Sundays. How I wish my situation were the rule and not the exception.
Our holy Mother Church has everything a child of divorce could need to heal (in addition to good counseling, as needed). Catholics often do a great job of professing the Church’s beautiful teachings on marriage and the family:
- The love of husband and wife models the love of Christ and His Church (CCC 1659).
- For the good of the spouses and their children, marriage and the conjugal love expressed therein require “the inviolable fidelity of the spouses” as a consequence of their gift of self (CCC 1646).
- The family is the domestic Church and a school of human enrichment (CCC 1656 & 1657).
- Within the community of the family, we learn moral values, how to love and serve God, and how to love others (CCC 2207).
However, the lived experience of children of divorce may not include a manifestation of what we know to be true about marriage and the family.
What do you do when you believe the family is the domestic Church, but yours was separated?
How do you express how you feel when you suffer from the evil of divorce, but you know your parents do, too?
Where do you look for a model of lifelong marriage when you do not have one in your parents’ marriage?
How do you process your emotions when you know that civil divorce was best in your parents’ circumstance, but divorce still hurts?
Given the beauty and truth of our Church’s teachings, and the experiences of children of divorce, Catholics are not doing as much as we could to take the teachings and do something to help them; I know I am not the only one who notices that something is missing. There is an entire group of people not receiving the support they need from their brothers and sisters in Christ during a time of great - and often silent - suffering.
There is an entire group of people not receiving the support they need from their brothers and sisters in Christ during a time of great - and often silent - suffering.
Members of this group may be unable to seek resources on their own; namely, young children and those whose suffering is so great that they do not have the energy to look for support. Even as an adult child of divorce with nine years of healing under her belt, I had trouble finding good, Catholic resources.
A Google search of “Catholic resources for children of divorce” did not provide as much as it should, considering that, in 2014, 20.7% of Catholics had experienced divorce at some point in their lives. The vast majority of results I saw consisted of pastoral care for divorced Catholics (which is great, and needed) and Catholic websites discussing how divorce harms children. As well-meaning as those websites are, if you are a child of divorce, you do not need someone else telling you how harmful divorce can be for children. What you might need is direction on where to seek support.
Fortunately, asking others for resources they know of provided more results than my Google search. The three that most caught my eye are DivorceCare for Kids, Rainbows, and Faith Journeys Foundation, Inc. (the only Catholic resource).
Yet the general lack of resources should tell us that we need to do better at helping children of divorce heal, and we need to do this in a way that does not make assumptions or vilify the adults who are divorced, because rarely do we know the circumstances surrounding their decision. We should remember that the Church is merciful and that, in some cases, civil divorce may be the best - though still unideal - course of action (CCC 2383 & 2386).
How can we do better?
No single solution will be what every child of divorce needs, so I cannot provide a perfect formula. What I can provide are a few suggestions for where to start:
- Pray for us and our parents. Ask the Holy Family to care for us, that our wounds may be healed, that we may grow in our love of Christ, and that we will stay in (or come back to) His Church.
- Remember that every situation is different. Some of us have good relationships with both parents. Some of us watched our parents receive annulments, get civilly remarried, or remain civilly unmarried. Some of us were victims of abuse. Some of us are doing quite well. Some of us are suffering deeply.
- Minister to our parents and keep them in the Church and your parish. Especially for young children, parents may be the best way to connect children with support they need.
- Consider talking to your pastor about hosting or advertising a support group at your parish. Take advantage of resources that do exist, such as DivorceCare for Kids, and bring them to your parish. Not every child will seek this out, but at least it would be available for those who want it.
- Be a model of a lifelong marriage for us. Who among us - no matter our family background - could not benefit from witnessing more examples of joyful, faithful, holy marriages?
- If you know us well enough, ask us what you can do. We each need something different. Some of us may not want to think of ourselves as children of divorce and just live like any other child. Some of us may want to talk about it. Maybe we will need you to connect us with resources you know about, or maybe we will simply need to know that you are there for us.
- Keep us in the community and continue loving us. Whatever relationship you have with us already, keep nurturing it. Whether you are our friend, the parent of one of our friends, or play another role in our life, continue doing just that.
You may already be doing some (or all!) of these things; if that is the case, thank you. Frankly, I wish I had more ideas to add to the list, but I have more questions than answers when it comes to what we can do for children of divorce. I cannot answer these questions on my own, and I hope you will help me. Let us begin the conversation.
Update (December 2020)
Though I didn't know it at the time, during the same year that I wrote this article (2017), a seed was sown that grew into a pastoral ministry for adult children of divorce: Life-Giving Wounds. This beautiful ministry offers retreats, support groups, and parish resources - all dedicated to supporting adult children of divorce in the Church. Thanks be to our faithful God, who always hears our prayers.