When a divorce takes place in a family, children find themselves in an especially difficult situation. They must cope with their parents’ broken relationship. Custody issues may arise with regard to which parent the children wish to live with and whether they love one parent more than the other. And many times, children question whether they were the cause of their parents’ divorce. I imagine some children experience anger because they find themselves having to face realities they never imagined. When it comes to custody arrangements, we all know younger children don’t have the same choices as those age 15 and older. It is not unusual for some children to receive therapy to address these and related situations.
With regard to the Church, things can become complicated when one of the parents is not Orthodox. On some weekends Orthodox children are with their non-Orthodox parent, and they may end up going to that parent’s church, thereby attending Liturgy in an Orthodox parish only twice a month. It usually is not that predictable. With decreased attendance at the Divine Liturgy there is a chance of further diluting a child’s involvement in Orthodox parish life. Twice a month easily becomes once a month. Children may miss an important activity in their Orthodox parish because that is the weekend they are scheduled to be with their non-Orthodox parent. As a result, children are now exposed to two different experiences of the Christian faith.
How might some of these issues be addressed?
- It is important for both parents to become good listeners and to allow children to express what is on their mind without feeling judged for doing so.
- If children feel that the divorce is somehow their fault — a situation that should not be dismissed — ask what makes them feel that way. Doing so allows them to share their perceptions in such way that parents can better respond to their children and clarify reality for them.
- When it comes to visitation arrangements, is it possible for divorced parents to allow for their baptized Orthodox children to go to their Orthodox parish every Sunday? This is especially an issue if the non-Orthodox spouse is not particularly invested in their faith tradition — or has no faith tradition whatsoever. Can the parent bring their children to the church and pick them up after? Perhaps the visitation schedule can be extended a few hours to allow the non-Orthodox parent to have a few hours with their children since they didn’t have them on Sunday morning.
- Is there ever a place in a Church school setting that affords children the opportunity to share what is on their minds relative to their parents’ divorce?
The intent behind some of these suggestions is to always remember that parents and their children who are coping with divorce should not be treated as second class citizens. While we shouldn’t act as if divorce is no big deal, we also must not be too critical and judgmental as parishes deal with families coping with divorce on their journey to embrace healing.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul