We have arrived at the third and final installment in our series on healing for children of divorce. In the first part, Julia Hogan, LCPC gives her professional, practical wisdom for children of divorce. In the second part, Catholic women share their experiences as children of divorce. I hope that listening to their stories helps you better understand how having divorced parents can impact us and our faith.
This final part comes from the same Catholic women who tell us their stories in part two. This time, we have a message specifically for our fellow Catholics and for other Catholic women who are children of divorce.
If you want to know how we, as Catholics, can support children of divorce, this is for you.
If you are a child of divorce and just need to know that you are not alone, this is for you.
If you are a child of divorce who is looking for healing, this is for you.
Where have you found healing?
Emma: I have found healing in developing a stronger, closer relationship to the parent who has stood by me from the beginning. This parent also taught me the value of giving everything to God. When it doubt, give it to Him and He will take care of it. I have also learned that expressing my thoughts when I am hurting is one of the best ways to avoid bottling up negativity whenever I feel like I might be getting back to that place of emotional or mental/psychological abuse. But, I think healing is a continual process. I think different parts of me will continue to heal in different ways as I get older and come to terms with everything I have experienced.
Holli: I participated in a Blessed is She group last year in which we studied the Holy Trinity, and this led to my breakthrough moment of healing and forgiveness. In our discussion of God the Father, we were asked to consider the ways in which our relationship with God our Father is similar to or different from our relationship with our earthly father. I was familiar with the teaching of the Trinity, but I had never before actually been able to contemplate, see, feel and know God as a father figure in this intimate way. My earthly parents may be enormously imperfect, and that is alright, because I can seek solace in my Heavenly Father.
My earthly parents may be enormously imperfect, and that is alright, because I can seek solace in my Heavenly Father. -Holli
Josephine: I have found a lot of healing in prayer, spiritual direction, and therapy.
Sydney: Healing takes time. Lots and lots of time. God blessed me with a very holy and loving friend who made me talk everything through. He prayed with me so that I would not have to face anything alone and that made all the difference. A lot of time with Jesus also changed my life. I needed something to hold on to and, although at times Jesus did not bring me healing, He always brought me peace.
Marie: My best friend (also Catholic) and I both have divorced parents. Having someone else who I can vent to about my experiences has been invaluable. In the secular world, divorce has become so normalized that sometimes it feels like you do not have a right to complain or acknowledge the injustice of it. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like Catholic friends with intact families cannot really relate to my situation.
What would you say to other Catholic women who are children of divorce?
Emma: Women are incredibly capable of handling anything that comes their way, and they do it with grace. Divorce has nothing on women who have experienced it. I would want them to know that I want to hear their stories and how they used their faith to overcome this challenge.
Josephine: I want them to know that it is not their fault, they are not damaged, and they are lovable just as they are.
Sydney: You are loved! God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, and that Son died for you. You alone. You are everything to Him and, no matter what you are going through, you are worth so much that you are worth death on a cross; our parents love us, but no one loves us as much as Christ.
Marie: I think it is helpful to acknowledge that divorce is a tragedy and a grave injustice to the children affected by it. The key is to acknowledge this without harboring resentment against your parents. It is important to forgive them so that you can move on.
I think it is helpful to acknowledge that divorce is a tragedy . . . [t]he key is to acknowledge this without harboring resentment against your parents. -Marie
What can other Catholics do to better support children of divorce?
Emma: I would want them to know that we want understanding, not sympathy. We want support, not pity. I think it would be beneficial for other Catholics to hear our stories and to understand what part our faith has played in our experiences. I think the support would come from actively listening to what we have to offer and sharing our stories.
[I]t would be beneficial for other Catholics to hear our stories and to understand what part our faith has played . . . [S]upport would come from actively listening to what we have to offer and sharing our stories. -Emma
Holli: Display compassion and understanding to all involved, including the acting party. When I was 13 and struggling with angsty feelings of resentment toward my mom, I opened up to my Catholic grandmother, my father’s mother, knowing she must have despised my mom. I sought commiseration. I admitted my feelings and, to my surprise, she responded with disarming compassion. She explained to me that when people are deeply unhappy, they sometimes do hurtful things, and that there is depth to a person beyond their outward actions - things we cannot know or see. There was no condemnation, or even rationalization, but rather an effort to understand.
Josephine: First of all, not write them off as un-marriageable or irrevocably damaged. There seems to be a current right now with some people in the Church of condemning all divorce as evil, and that leaves Catholic children of divorce in a really weird position. I wish other Catholics could understand that divorce is something that impacts you your whole life, but it does not make you less Catholic or worse at relationships. In fact, children of divorce might be even better prepared for relationships since they have invested so much in trying to understand them and heal themselves. Second, just listen to us.
There seems to be a current right now with some people in the Church of condemning all divorce as evil, and that leaves Catholic children of divorce in a really weird position. -Josephine
Sydney: I think kids need to know that they are loved and that they have a support system. You have to make a conscious effort to love children of divorce and they have to have time to grow in faith outside of Mass because kids do not always have that. I think if we made a time just for the youth to be in front of the Blessed Sacrament to encourage healing, it could make all the difference.
Marie: I feel like the Church does not know how to address divorced couples/families, which makes for an awkward situation because they are everywhere. Some families seem to leave the Church because they feel there is no place for them. I think we need more outreach or ministries that proclaim what the Church teaches about marriage and divorce, while also helping these families come back into full communion with the Church.
I feel like the Church does not know how to address divorced couples/families, which makes for an awkward situation because they are everywhere. Some families seem to leave the Church because they feel there is no place for them. -Marie
Healing is an ongoing, lifelong process that takes various forms. While there exists no secret recipe for healing, it often includes a combination of therapy, spiritual direction, grace, prayer (both your own and from others), and the accompaniment of loved ones - the latter two are especially where you can support us, my dear brothers and sisters.
Experiencing your parents’ divorce may create fears and wounds that pose challenges for the fulfillment of our vocations, particularly for those of us called to marriage. At the same time, confronting those fears and healing from those wounds can very much make us stronger and even more faithful in living our vocations. I believe that what matters most is not so much the fears and wounds we have as children of divorce, but what we do with them and how we allow Jesus to heal us. Because He does heal us and, when He does, we become even stronger, more resilient, and more loving women than we were before.
For our fellow Catholics: if you want to take part in supporting us, this is what we need from you:
- We need to be listened to and have our stories heard.
- We need compassion for us and for our parents.
- We need you to fully understand Church teaching on divorce. That it is not a sin. That the Church is merciful. That divorce is indeed a tragedy, and also tolerated by the Church in some cases (CCC 2383 & 2386).
- We need you to understand that our faith can be strengthened through our experience and that we are not irrevocably damaged.
- We need you to stand by us through crises of faith, if and when they come. Depending on our circumstances, we may be at risk of leaving the Church.
- We need you to work with us to improve the pastoral care we offer to children of divorce because, frankly, there is not much of it right now. Or, at least, it is very difficult to access.
Thank you for listening.
If you are an adult child of divorce looking for healing, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. offers a retreat called Recovering Origins. You can find more information here and here.
In 2020, a ministry was founded to serve adult children of divorce in the Church: Life-Giving Wounds.
*Some names have been changed for those who wished to remain anonymous.