You know what would be great? If we never had to worry about divorce. But guess what: we do.
Nationally, divorce happens in the homes of over half of kids under the age of 18. That’s alot of brokenness. Places like our own little Dburg are worse than the national average. We’ve come a little ways, as we’re no longer the divorce capital of the country, but that’s hardly anything to brag about.
The sad truth is that you, being a youth volunteer, either mentor students whose parents have been divorced or at some point will. And at some time, a student will come to you for help. They’ll tell you they’re sad. They’ll tell you they’re confused. Your heart will break.
But what do you do?
Below are some things to keep in mind, as well as some do’s and don’ts (donts, don’t’s dont’s, donts’, donuts?) to help you help them through it.
They’ll be confused. Even if the warning signs were there. Even if they say it’s for the best. Even if they appear to have it all together. Because it’s a confusing time. How did it go bad? Do all relationships end? What part did I play in it? What happens now? Where will I live? What’s life going to look like? These and so many other questions will be running through their minds. Do reassure them that you’ll be there for them through it. Hold them while they cry and contact them often. Let your words and actions show them that they have someone to walk beside them. Don’t make promises or speak on behalf of the parents. Make sure you only speak for yourself.
They’ll blame themselves. It’s much harder to admit that someone you loved has hurt you or done wrong than to carry the burden yourself. They’ll put themselves under a microscope and analyze every action and conversation. This blame can lead to anger and sometimes even turn them into a doormat. They may find themselves doing every little thing they can to try to make amends for their imaginary wrongs. Do remind them the decision wasn’t theirs. Help them see that maintaining a relationship is the responsibility of the two individuals and no one else. Don’t assign blame to one party (unless an incredibly outrageous grievance was committed and is already known). It’s not your place to turn any child against any parent. Your job is to love them through a difficult time, not be a judge and jury. Besides, there’s always more to a story than we could possibly know. Be as biased as possible while showing them that the fault is not their own.
The divorce can stunt their development. Research shows that between 75 and 80% of the time, children from divorced parents eventually recover and become mature, responsible adults with no long term affect. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in the moment and in the short term, it will almost definitely affect them. Maturity is the process of a child becoming internally equipped and empowered to leave the safety of their parents and their home. They learn who they are apart from them and learn who they want to become. That process of slowly pulling away is hindered when they perceive a parent to be the one pulling away from them. The process is almost reversed. During a divorce, parents often become a little self-absorbed, while they’re figuring out how to make things work financially, dealing with the wounds they experienced, etc and that leads to spending less time with the kids. The result is often children feeling insecure, or even anxious, about their relationships with their parents. Do encourage them to have open and honest conversations with both parents. Maybe even offer to be in the room with them for support, if you’ve prayerfully decided that would help. Do everything you can to build that relationship. Do continue to have high expectations for them. If their attitude, grades, etc slip, call them on it. Don’t make excuses for them because they’re going through a difficult time. Let them know that being hurt isn’t a good reason to hurt others or damage their future.
They’ll be forced to grow up more quickly. One home turning into two means less financial stability. The cost of another home could keep them from being able to pursue extra-curriculurs or keep them from having certain privileges. An extra home means more responsibilities. More chores, less parental oversight, you see where this is going. Sometimes a parent will even use their kid as a confidant and pull them into the drama more than they ever needed to be. All this can cause them to become frustrated, angry and even calloused. Do give them space to air their frustrations. Let them know it’s safe to be honest. Also give them a place to be a kid, free of responsibility. They need to be goofy sometimes. Don’t put more pressure on them to perform. Telling them to take care of mom or dad isn’t fair. And just saying it will most likely cost you your voice in their life.
On and on we could go. If you want more info, I can provide that for you. Overall, remember that your focus is them. You offer support, encouragement, love, a safe space, and a judge free zone. If you feel you’re in over your head, reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor. Even if you don’t feel over your head, it’s good to reach out to someone to get new perspectives. If you feel like they need to talk to a professional, seek out a good Christian counselor. Don’t wait. Don’t question your gut. Help them make it happen.
And don’t ever feel like you have to have all the answers. Walk it with them. Be loving and be real. Keep an eye out for alarming behavior, but keep in mind that it will get easier as time goes by. Typically the first two years are the hardest.
Stick with them. They need your constant love.