Staying Power in Divorce Ministry
One of the frustrations of divorce ministry is keeping the energy going that existed when the ministry began. Whether one parish or a coalition of parishes sponsors a group for the separated and divorced, keeping it going and maintaining its vigor is no little job!
Part of seeing to it that there can be a "staying power" for divorce ministry has to do with what kind of support you have on the parish level. That's why putting a group together is not just a month's worth of time. To inaugurate divorce ministry that will last, it is important that it has the broadest support possible. Before getting a few parishioners excited about the prospects of a starting a group, it may be very smart to prepare the parish staff and parish council in such a way that you will get a mandate, from these groups to minister to this population!
Once the green light is given, there are many aspects to preparing to start a group. What kind of resources already exist in my area for the divorced? Who will sponsor this group, just our parish, or a group of parishes? What form will their sponsorship take, will they provide a budget, space, training of facilitators, etc? Who will be our facilitators, and what qualities will we be looking for? What kind of supervision will be provided for them so there will be less burn-out? How do we get the word out? What benefits/drawbacks are there in being ecumenical?
Who hasn't dealt with diminishing numbers, when you know there are many people out there who are hurting because of separation and divorce? How do you help them to understand that they belong to the faith community, that they shouldn't go away?
All of these issues and more are of paramount importance in planning for divorce ministry in a parish or region.
It will be exciting at the North American Conference for Separated and Divorced Catholics conference at Notre Dame to share with each other some of the accomplishments and challenges that exist in the ministry.
Start a Divorce Support and Recovery Group
If you are interested in starting a divorce support and recovery group, here is some helpful information:
Ten Ways to Help Your Grandchild through Divorce
- Don't disparage your ex-son or daughter-in law in front of your grandchildren. Make sure they are not in ear-shot when talking about their parents on the phone as well.
- Remember holidays. An important role of a grandparent is to celebrate and help create memories. These celebrations may look different than you had once imagined for your fancily, but if you keep the grandchildren's interests first, you will be creating memorable and wonderful family traditions. (Even a home-baked box of cookies mailed at certain times of the year can became a cherished childhood memory that lets a child know they are always loved.)
- Be a good listener. Your grandchild may be surrounded by chaos and angry adults; you may provide the only place where they can really feel heard. You are someone who has the time to listen without trying to "fix" it. A loving ear can get a child through a lot!
- Set up your expectations for their behavior before they arrive. You will probably have different rules than their parents do; children can adapt so long as these rules are specifically stated (writing them down is a great idea). A household where there are five compliments to every directive (i.e. "get your feet off the coffee table") is an environment where children will thrive. A reward based "star chart" can help make this easier.
- Become the unbiased, non-judgmental confidant children need in a loving authority. Their parents may be too wounded emotionally and unable to be unconditionally present for them. A special relationship with a grandparent can make all the difference to a child facing change.
- Don't sabotage agreements set up by either parent. If one parent has made arrangements for the child to attend a special class (dance, soccer, etc.) make your plans accordingly. If the child knows they must finish their homework before they can go out to play, don't let them off easy just because you feel sorry for them in their situation.
- Let your grandchildren know however they are feeling is OK. Many children are told that they "shouldn't" feel this or that, or adults feel guilty that a child is in pain so they try to talk them out of it. This only adds to the child feeling unheard. Even wanting their parents back together is a normal desire for children in this circumstance.
- Tell your grandchildren stories about challenges you have faced and overcome in your life. Help them see you as someone who believes things will be all right and that they are safe. Focus on the positive.
- Share your spiritual beliefs with them in a fun non-judgmental way. If you find rejuvenation in nature take them for a walk or to the beach. If you find tranquility in music share that love with them. Help your grandchildren connect to the quiet place inside themselves.
- Read together during a quiet time before they go to bed or in between activities during the day. Reading children's books about feelings or how other children have coped with the upheaval of divorce will help them find words to ask you the questions they need to have answered.
Divorce Ministry for Parishes
Divorce Ministry INFORMS
- parishioners of Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce.
- separating couples on programs available that can help their failing relationship.
- the divorced on what the Catholic annulment process is and is not.
- the divorced where to find Christian Counseling for self and family.
Divorce Ministry INVITES
- the divorced family into full participation of parish life.
Divorce Ministry ENCOURAGES
- healing through Christ’s love and understanding by providing healing services, special masses, workshops, programming, and publications for the divorced.
- the divorced to remain connected to their faith community.
Divorce Ministry AFFIRMS
- that the divorced family is still family and is holy.
- and recognizes the unique needs of single parents and their children.
Divorce Ministry LISTENS TO AND RECONCILES
- families who have experienced divorce or who are in irregular marriages following a divorce and who feel excommunicated and alienated because of their circumstances.
Divorce Ministry PRAYS
- with and for the divorced and their families, specifically including them in the mass petitions.
- with the divorced before and during their annulment process, asking Christ’s healing through it.
The Moral and Spiritual Experience of Children of Divorce
Beginning in the late 1960's and 70's, each year this country saw a growing increase in the number of marriages ending in divorce. The number of divorces per year stabilized in the early 1980's at its present rate of almost one in two marriages, meaning that as many as half of the people in their twenties and thirties today have experienced the divorce of their parents. Yet, with the exception of Judith Wallerstein's pioneering work, very few researchers have demonstrated an interest in the inner lives of children of divorce. More specifically, despite the predominance of divorce in family life today, no one has asked significant questions about the moral and spiritual experience of children of divorce, especially as it develops over a lifetime.
There are at least two reasons why we must inquire about the moral and spiritual experience of children of divorce. First, due to the high divorce rate (and the rising rate of children born outside of marriage) it is now more common to grow up without an intact family than with one. Second, the experience of children of divorce is often quite different from that of children in intact families. There are substantial bodies of literature on moral and spiritual development in children and how these factors influence the kinds of adults they become. Yet, this literature almost universally assumes an intact family experience — that a child grew up in a single home with a married mother and father with whom the child had some kind of daily interaction. However, removing a father or mother from a child's daily experience changes the way a child interacts with his or her parents, extended family, and the wider world.
With regard to their moral experience, I suggest that children of divorce who grow up seeing both of their parents are like travelers between two lands. In each land the child is both an insider and an outsider. The child is an insider because he or she shares physical and personality characteristics and experiences with a parent. At the same time, the child is an outsider because at times he or she looks, acts like, or shares experiences with the parent in the other land. In each land the child has a realm of experience the other parent usually knows little about. When the child grows up, there may be a whole thread of experience that the other parent knows practically nothing about. Each land also has different rules and customs and it is usually up to the child, not the adults, to assimilate and negotiate between them.
With regard to their spiritual experience, it is clear that the primary experience for the children of divorce is loss. If a child continues to see both parents then he or she still "has" them, but it is never the same. To be with one parent automatically means not being with the other and this is a constant, yet ever-shifting experience in the lives of children of divorce. In addition, a divorce often causes children to lose such things as their home, neighborhood and more — even family friends and extended family may disappear.
One theological metaphor that allows rich description of this experience is the Judeo-Christian story of the exile. Children of divorce experience a kind of exile, with the attendant emotions of loss, grief, anger, and fear. Yet, in the Biblical tradition the story does not stop with exile. God promises a return, a deliverance from fragmentation to a state of wholeness. The role of the Church is to help children of divorce in their journey to find home and wholeness.
Today, many church leaders are asking how they can attract and welcome young adults into the full life of the Church. The phenomenon of divorce directly affects as many as half of the young adults in the populations and it deeply impacts all young adults as they wonder whether they will be able to form stable, lasting families of their own. If the Church can recognize and speak to this experience, these young people are likely to respond favorably. In addition, if the Church can adequately minister to the young children among them who are affected by divorce, these children will be much more likely to grow in the faith and consider the Church their spiritual home for a lifetime.