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Divorce and Families: How to Care for Children and Their Parents

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Divorce affects about half of the families in your church and children’s ministry. Unsure how to support kids and their parents as they navigate divorce? Want to offer hope and healing? Then read on for helpful insights and practical examples. 

Your job title may be Children’s Pastor, but children come with parents and caregivers! A children’s pastor interacts with family members just as much—if not more—than he or she teaches Bible lessons to kids. You’re a Parents’ Pastor, too.

As you wear your Parents’ Pastor hat, you may feel in over your head sometimes. You accepted this important role at church because you’re good with kids. Yet now you’re also braving the waters of ministry to grownups. Yikes!

How Divorce Impacts Ministry to Children and Families

As a young children’s ministry director, I recall feeling especially out-of-my-league when it came to ministering to children and families experiencing divorce. Divorce impacted my leadership and our church’s ministry to kids and families in three significant ways:

1. Attendance

Kids may be with Mom one weekend and Dad the next. Back then, our church still relied on rewards and attendance charts to motivate kids. (I’ve rethought things since then.) I recall talking with fretful kids and their defeated single parent about frustrations from not “winning” because of their sporadic schedule. I wish I’d done things differently.

2. Safety

Some families navigate stressful custody situations. As their children’s pastor, I needed to be diligent in our church’s pick-up policies to ensure all family members were on the same page regarding who’d collect kids from church. Not wanting that stress to affect the kids, I had to proactively communicate with families to know how to serve them best.

3. Support

Divorce is tough. Period. As a children’s pastor, I needed to learn how to listen and respond to parents’ hurting hearts, brave choices, and concerns for their children. Admittedly, I just didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t know how to encourage and support parents as they guided children through divorce.

Perhaps you’ve felt a little ill-equipped, too. Thankfully, children’s pastors aren’t alone and don’t have to know it all. God has uniquely equipped wonderful experts, including mental health professionals, with tools and wisdom to help families navigate two-household dynamics.

I asked Mandy Milner, a licensed professional counselor and contributor to Group’s Team Family (an intentional approach to family ministry), to share advice on talking with children about divorce. Her practical insights will help you talk with children at church. Consider sharing these tips with parents as you pastor them, too.

How to Talk With Children About Divorce

For Milner, how we talk about hard things with kids is as important—if not more important—than what we say. She suggests:

For all kids, regardless of age, be clear, empathetic, and reassuring. Sometimes we try to skirt around the truth. But it’s best to be direct, whether talking about your own divorce or someone else’s. In these kinds of conversations, kids are not only learning about the topic at hand (in this case divorce), but also how we talk—or don’t talk—about hard things.

We want to be a person kids know they can come to with questions and to process life’s hard stuff. And we set the tone for that in how we respond when they ask questions about awkward topics. So pause to breathe, pray, and manage your own discomfort as it comes up. Then do your best to respond.

Milner recommends that parents, caregivers, and children’s pastors remember these three communication strategies when talking with kids about divorce.

Communication Strategies for Children’s Ministers

1. Be clear.

When kids have questions, answer them honestly, and don’t answer more than they ask. (This applies to kids whose parents are going through divorce and kids who want to talk about friends or relatives who are going through divorce.) You don’t need to give all the backstory or your interpretation of what happened. Start with just the simplest truth.

For example: When a child asks, “What’s divorce?” You might say, “A divorce is when two people who are married decide not to be married anymore.” Then wait to see if they have follow-up questions. Just go one step at a time.

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