Children of divorce experience challenges that are far-reaching but seldom recognized or discussed in society, or churches. It is a unique and personal condition that gets lost in the shadows amidst the greater stresses and priorities of broken families.
As a child of divorce, I am convinced that God wants us to embrace the topic of divorce, so He can bring His healing power into families. Whether for parents, grandparents, loved ones, or the children of divorce (like myself), we must embrace the unique challenges facing a child of divorce.
I believe this is essential to Jesus’ mandate to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
Negative Effects of Divorce on Children
Being the child of divorce can cause a person to be trapped in a certain mindset. Because of the negative effects of divorce on children, a child’s soul can get stuck in a moment that he or she cannot escape.
The negative effects of divorce can stunt a child’s emotional growth and relational development.
THE GOOD NEWS is when God is allowed to intervene, being a child of divorce can give way to healing and a closer relationship with Him. A relationship with God provides the pathway for children to overcome the negative effects of divorce and have a greater impact on the world.
Ultimately, as a child matures, it is their decision as to which life path to travel: a pathway of hurt, or the path of healing–But the child will need help along the journey.
The first step toward healing is acknowledging the condition of being the child of divorce. In today’s slang vernacular being a child of divorce is a thing. In fact, it’s a BIG thing which is the first negative effect on children of divorce.
As someone who has experienced the vast majority of his life’s journey as the child of divorced parents, I wanted to share lessons from God’s decades-long transformation in me.
God is continuously using my experience as a child of divorce to transform me into His image and release me from the negative effects of divorce.
What are Children of Divorce?
Being a child of divorce spans a wider definition than the legal meaning. It covers experiences by children when their parents are legally divorced or not involved in a lasting, committed, and loving relationship with each other.
What are Children of Divorce? Stated simply, being a child of divorce happens when the family unit does not function as a family because the child’s biological or adoptive parents no longer relate as a married couple.
The following are three general categories of children of divorce:
- Children of legal divorce: A child whose parents are married and get legally separated and/or divorced.
- Children of emotional divorce: A child whose parents are legally married and live together physically but are emotionally divorced. This condition usually unfolds over a span of years. The parents live under the same roof but their relationship is devoid of intimacy and in practice displays the earmarks of a legally divorced couple.
- Children of parents who remain separate: A child who has a relationship with both parents, but the parents are not together, nor do they live as an emotionally married couple.
At What Age Does Divorce Affect a Child?
How divorce affects children can be the same whether a child is 3, 8, 15, 21, or 35 years of age. It is a painful transition that is hard to grasp at the moment.
At what age does divorce affect a child? Although circumstances are very different by age, the psychological impact and mental journey are generally the same regardless of age.
Adult children of divorce often experience the same sense of loss as a younger child.
How divorce affects a child of all “divorce” types listed above are generally the same, in terms of how it affects family, friends, and especially children.
Regardless of what age a child experiences divorce of their parents, there will be a psychological impact.
Children of Divorce Statistics
Divorce is a present-day reality of society. Children of divorce statistics are roughly 40% or more of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Worldwide it’s about 25% and rising according to most experts.
When the definition of divorce expands to include emotional divorce, it’s safe to assume that more than half of all children in the U.S. suffer to some degree from their parents’ divorce.
Divorce and children of divorce are all around us.
18 Ways How Divorce Affects Children
The consequences of being a child of divorce are vast. Their lives are different from children in healthy homes. Understanding how divorce affects children is similar to a medical diagnosis, being able to identify the symptoms is half the battle to addressing the ailment.
What lurks under the surface must be acknowledged to take corrective action. Children of divorce are confronted with some or all of these conditions, many of which are out of their control:
- Sorrow over the physical separation from one parent or family unit
- Fears over financial provision for one of the parents (sometimes both)
- Feeling as though you’re cheating on one parent by expressing affection for the other
- Feelings of guilt over favoring time spent with one parent over the other
- Inability to talk with one parent about experiences with the other parent
- Hurts overextended family taking sides in the parents’ relationship
- Separation during holidays
- Awkwardness over forced interaction between the divorced parents during life events
- Inferiority or jealousy towards other families who have healthy nuclear families
- Hurts from hearing one parent talk disparagingly about the other parent
- Anxiety over potentially offending the parent by discussing the impact of the divorce is having on the child
- Empathy for the parents as they undergo pain, healing, regrets
- Unease over the parents dating other people
- Being a diplomat who must mediate conflicts between the parents
- Insecurity over being a creation resulting from a failed relationship
- Dissonance over which parent’s values and beliefs the child should embrace and emulate
- Feeling hurt or awkward when the parent’s emotional capacity to nurture is exhausted
- Feeling at fault for the divorce
How a Child Can Cope With Divorce
It took years for me to understand how a child can cope with divorce. Divorce is like ripping apart two pieces of construction paper that were glued together. The fibers tear and it is messy.
During the early stages of separation, the parents are struggling to self-heal and to deal with threats to their own new existence. Their focus may not be on how a child can cope with divorce.
The parents are caught in a vortex of finding shelter, splitting of wealth and possessions, settling incomes, rebuilding their confidence, defining custody, etc.
The plight of the husband and wife is center stage: Who is at fault? Will he or she heal? Am I still lovable? The effects of divorce on parents is painful and they are trying to cope as adults and may not understand or have the emotional margin to help a child cope.
Divorce can force people to take sides. Amidst the chaos, oftentimes children of divorce want to please their parents and just bury their emotions as a means of survival.
The child’s silence can wrongly signal that they are “okay”. Silence was my response but did not mean that I had learned to cope with divorce.
Helping Your Child Cope with Divorce
The good news is that God is at the center of our lives through every storm, whether it be sickness, divorce, loss of loved ones, loss of income, and the list goes on.
When our identity and security in life is stripped away, we are left in a place where only God can fill the void.
Helping your child cope with divorce is possible through faith in God and the belief that He can heal all hurts.
“You will restore me to life again
and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again.”
Psalm 71:20-21 NLT
When God is locked out of the situation, He cannot do His work. He cannot bring order to the chaos. When God is absent, how divorce affects children can last for decades and perhaps a lifetime; especially in terms of how it shapes a child’s worldview, relationships, eventual parenthood, and marriage.
I came to a relationship with Christ through the fallout of my parent’s divorce. At the age of twelve, I was touched in a very special way by God entering my world and knowing He was my one true parent. He imprinted on my heart that I was special.
It often takes a world turned upside down to catalyze a relationship with God.
Helping your child cope with divorce involves teaching them that we all decide if we will yield ourselves to God. Divorce is just one of many disruptions in life that can bring us to confessing that He is the One true God.
How Children of Divorce Find Healing
For me, the path to healing started by yielding my heart to Christ. But there were two other essential actions I had to walk through.
1. Children of divorce find healing when they forgive their parents
My mother and father exhibited unconditional love and support for me throughout their divorce which helped me forge a path of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is God’s medicine for the soul and a cleanser for the heart. A clean heart is fertilizer, sun, and water for family relationships.
Forgiveness provides God with a channel for blessing the child of divorce’s marriage and other relationships. Conversely, unforgiveness often leads to bitterness which can negatively impact the child’s eventual marriage.
[Note: children of divorce have a 20% greater chance of divorcing according to the 2018 General Social Survey]
“Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 GNB
A healed heart creates a level of sensitivity, maturity, resilience, and closeness to God that provides an opportunity for ministry to others.
Although the child’s world view is permanently changed, after healing through forgiveness, they are capable of great empathy for others.
2. Children of divorce find healing when they don’t dwell in the past
Living and dwelling in the past are crippling. Rehashing the events of divorce undermines the healing and maturing process. It blocks our view of others’ needs and our ability to hear God’s voice about the future. It keeps us stuck. Children of divorce must find a new way to persevere.
“I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Philippians 3:13-14 NLT
8 Ways How to Help a Child Deal with Divorce
Reflecting now, as an adult child of divorce, these are 8 helpful ways on how to help a child deal with divorce and get on the path toward healing.
1.Talk with your child about the divorce enter their world and ask open-ended questions about how they feel. Let your child talk about the divorce without being defensive and without feeling guilty and encourage them.
2. Avoid discussing, doing, or saying anything disparagingly about the other parent, regardless of the circumstances.
3. Honor the other parent and communicate with one another peacefully in front of the child, on the phone, through text, or otherwise; even the slightest degree of harmony between the parents in front of the child alleviates anxiety and creates comfort.
4. Don’t inflict guilt on the child for expressing affection for the other parent, or for favoring time with the other parent.
5. Affirm the fact that the child is not at fault in the split.
6. Be tough and call it out when the child tries to manipulate the separation to serve the child’s own self-centered desires.
7. Recognize that going back and forth between parents can often be a ritual wrought with some guilt for the child, separation pains, discouragement, and discomfort from having to readjust to “the other parent’s” climate.
8. Be bold in establishing the guiding principles of your own house, and express to the child that those principles should be carried out into the world.
My experience and healing have helped me see that we as the church and as a society should increase our awareness of how divorce affects children.
By acknowledging that divorce is a condition that can contribute to a host of adverse life outcomes, we can minimize the pain and facilitate healing through God’s power.
If you would like to read more on how divorce affects children and how to help a child deal with divorce, I have listed a few good resources.
Adult Children of Legal and Emotional Divorce by Jim Conway
“Explains how to recover from the problems caused by a dysfunctional family, and offers advice on facing the past, improving one’s self-perception, and finding spiritual direction.”
The Truth about Children and Divorce by Robert E. Emery Ph.D.
“Nationally recognized expert Robert Emery applies his twenty-five years of experience as a researcher, therapist, and mediator to offer parents a new road map to divorce. Dr. Emery shows how our powerful emotions and the way we handle them shape how we divorce””and whether our children suffer or thrive in the long run.”
48 thoughts on “A Child of Divorce Finds Healing in 8 Powerful Ways”
Thank you for sharing! I too was a child of divorce and have been through divorce. I’m so blessed that God intervened in my life and know that He has been faithful! God bless you!
Laurie, so glad Cory’s words blessed you…thanks for reading!
Thanks Mary for sharing this very explicit post. It’s an eye opener for me to see that people go through a lot of emotions and consequences of divorce. My heart breaks for children of divorce who are still hurting. This post has been very helpful in providing practical tip to manage the situation and heal totally. I pray a lot of people gets to see this post as it’s very helpful. I also pray for homes that are at the verge of taking that painful decision of divorce that God will step into the situation and restore their home. Everyone deserves to be happy.
So true Mary! It’s not talked about enough. Members of my hubbies family decided to take the path of pain many decades ago and are still so stuck back there when their father left them as children. Your number 1 advice on the path to healing – forgiveness – is being rejected by them, especially by one of his younger sisters who is in her 50’s and still seething like the whole thing is still so raw and fresh to her. She is incredibly bitter and has accused us of betraying her when Jesus led my hubby to forgive their father a few years back. It’s all so sad. We are continuing to pray for her but she distrusts and rejects anything we try to say to her. ðŸ˜“
Donna, I agree we need to talk about divorce and its effects more. Thanks for reading and your valuable insight!
I truly enjoyed Cory’s article! It rang very close to home. If people would read and digest it, then put it into play (if divorce enters their world) they would learn how to truly help the innocent victims of divorce….. THEIR CHILDREN !
Sheila, thanks for reading and adding your thoughts!
Wonderful insight on rising above divorce and focusing on our one true Father! Reading your words made it evident that guilt and each hurt, doubt,or fear can be a foothold for insecurity in a child’s life if not healed and overcome.Words of wisdom!
Thank you for this insightful post about being a child of divorce. I cannot relate well to divorce and it is so prevalent in our society that I rely on articles like this to help me understand how others feel.
Heather, so glad the post was able to provide insight on the issue of divorce.
Heartbreaking – the pain and damage divorces can cause. Thankfully God can help and heal!
It is heartbreaking….thanks for reading and reminding us that God can heal all!
Very sweet and tender post. I believe for children of divorce that with Jesus’ help, and if we are willing to cooperate with Him, we can find healing on this side of Heaven. So much unraveling is needed for all the pent up feelings and experiences.
Donna, Thank you!
Hi! Thank you for reminding us that God can bring healing! Thank you for being so honest with us and sharing your raw experiences.
Adriana, thanks for reading!
This is so beneficial and l love your deep pondering points that l believe can bring hope and healing to many, away from anxiety and long term mental health problems. Thanks for sharing!
Ava, thanks for reading!
I’m thankful I’m not a child of divorce, however it is so good for me to read this!
Rachael, thanks for reading!
My heart breaks for those who are children of divorce. My mother is one, and she has talked with me some about it over the years. She is a Christian and was able to forgive her parents, but the hurt is a scar that lives with her still. This is a much needed topic of discussion. Thank you for sharing this post!
Teresa, Thanks for reading and I am so glad your mom was able to forgive. Huge step…many blessings.
I am not a child of divorce, and neither are my kids, but my husband and I were separated for a time. During that time I saw the toll it was taking on my 3 sons not having their father around. It really hurt all of us. By God’s grace He restored my marriage and my kids are thriving! I try really hard not to take it for granted, because I know things could have easily ended up a different way for us all.
MJ what a great testimony! So happy for your family. Thanks for reading and adding to the story!
I’m a child of divorce and I never thought about how it can be so emotionally damaging to a child’s development. I have no memories of my parents being married. My dad and stepmom raised me and are still married so I guess I did get to see their marriage and I felt safe living with them. Thank you for breaking all of this down in such detail. I’m sure it will help many people!
Adriane, thanks for reading and your encouragement!
This was such a good post. Sadly, divorce is seen as so normal these days that most people don’t even realize the pain it causes. May God heal the hearts of all those affected by divorce. Blessings, Joni
Joni, thanks for reading!
This is definitely not talked about enough. I see my nieces and nephews struggling through it now. I am also a child of divorce, but my family life was so broken and my parents divorced when I was only 2—divorce seemed like the least of my worries. It definitely had a much bigger impact on my older brother though.
Thanks for sharing a part of your story. I agree we need to talk about it more…thanks for reading.
Oh my gosh!! So many emotions ðŸ˜â¤ï¸ What a beautiful testimony in such a well worded way. Thank you for talking about a topic that needs more attention!
Thank you for reading!
I have seen many children struggle through the divorce of their parents. Our children take on so much responsibility for carrying around feelings that are often beyond their control and way beyond their expertise. Thank you for sharing these insightful tips for helping a child of divorce!
Thank you for reading!
Thank you for this insightful post about divorce. My husband’s parents divorced when he was young. I know it was difficult to care for both of them as they got sick because they lived in two different states. I think as your parents age you want them to still be together especially when trying to make sure they are doing well. But I believe as you said divorce is just one of many disruptions in life that can bring us to confessing that He is the One true God.
Tona, thanks for reading and sharing part of your story.
This is a well written post that aptly explains the pains, stress and hurts experienced by all parties in a divorce. My heart broke reading this and pray for healing for everyone experiencing the impact of divorce.
Betty, thanks for reading!
Wow! This article is so helpful. Thanks so much! I’m sharing it with some friends who definitely need to read â¤ï¸
Kari, thanks for reading and sharing!
These steps on the path to a child healing from divorce are so gently laid out. Really helpful for me as I work in children’s ministry and much appreciated. Thanks for sharing your insight!
Divorce affects so many people and we don’t realize it…especially the kids. They know alot more than we think, and we have to honor them and their feelings. Thanks for sharing this important topic.
What encouragement of how God takes what is broken to a masterpiece.
Mamie, thanks for reading. Yes that is very encouraging to me as well!
I appreciated the list of how children are emotionally affected by divorce, or even when the parents live in the same house but don’t get along. It broke my heart as I read it. But, I’m so thankful that healing is possible!
So helpful to read about the effects of being a child of divorce – even if it’s not a literal divorce. I never even thought of that before. And good to point out that it’s still a hardship for adults. I have a few adult friends devastated by their parents goin through a divorce right now. Thank you for the insights and guidance 🙂
Glad it was helpful! Thanks for reading!