DivorceCare for Kids...the Interview

I recently interviewed Linda Jacobs.   Linda is the executive designer and developer of DC4K and one of the forefront leaders in the area of children and divorce.  I asked her how the church can more effectively minister to children whose parents are going through divorce.

What led you to create DivorceCare for Kids?
I had worked with children of divorce for years and could not find a curriculum that met all of the criteria for what I thought a divorce recovery for children should look like.  It is hard to think children might need a group support recovery program but that is exactly what they need when their parents are divorcing.  Plus because of the stress levels these kids experience, they need several different kinds of learning activities.  Simply talking or reading a story or drawing pictures isn't enough to meet their needs.

I had been experimenting with my own curriculum when Steve Grissom, with Church Initiative, called to ask if I’d be interested in developing a curriculum to go with their adult DivorceCare.  Bingo!  Kids would be in a support group while their parents were healing in their own adult group at the same time. (DC4K can stand alone as in an after school program.) 

What's the vision of DivorceCare for Kids? 
It's our vision that all children will have an opportunity to experience DC4K at least one time and come to know Christ as their personal Savior.  It is our belief that true healing can only come through a personal relationship with Christ.  But before that can happen many children need to understand their feelings and their belief in a heavenly Father.  Many of them have a distorted vision of the Father because of how they have been treated or disappointed by an earthly parent. 

What impact does divorce have on kids?
Divorce affects a child for many years to come.  Some experts, like Judith Wallerstien who wrote What About the Kids, believe it can take a child up to ten years to process the divorce.  If there is a remarriage and the child gets close to the stepparent and there is a second divorce, you are adding more years to the healing process.

Divorce impacts future generations in a family because for many families divorce is cyclical.  That is why it is important to help the child heal now while they are still children.

Divorce affects a child’s schoolwork.  Many will have to repeat a grade.  Many will drop out of school as teens because they are so far behind their peers in their learning ability.

Divorce affects personal relationships.  Girls in single parent homes are more likely to get pregnant as teens.  They may struggle with normal peer relationships.  The relationships with each parent is affected because the parents are no longer one unit caring for and concerned about the child.  The child of divorce is left on their own many times to try and understand adult problems.  Divorce also impacts relationships with extended family members.

Many children turn to substance abuse and yes, even elementary age children turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.  Many more teens of divorce succeed in suicidal attempts than the general population.  Suicide and suicidal attempts are occurring in younger and younger children.  In one DC4K group, we had an eight year old the DC4K leaders discovered was contemplating suicide.  The hospital said if the DC4K leaders hadn’t been astute this little girl would have succeeded in taking her own life by at least age twelve.

Divorce affects their health.  Many will be ill simply because of the stress and chaotic lives they are forced to lead.  Children of divorce are more likely to pull away from church as teens and adults.

There are so many ways divorce impacts and changes a child’s life.  I liken divorce to a tsunami in a child’s life.  It comes in destroying everything in its path and the landscape of the child’s life is forever changed.

Why do many churches struggle to minister effectively to children whose parents are going through divorce? 
Most church leaders simply don’t know what these kids are experiencing.  If you haven’t had some type of involvement with divorce, you don’t know what you don’t know.  We are having more and more Children’s Ministers who have experienced the divorce of their own parents when they were children.  They know and they want to help.  But many don’t know what to do to help.

This is why I have a passion to educate children’s leaders about divorce.  The church should be the place where these children can feel accepted and helped.  Children’s Ministers should be the very people these kids can count on.  The kids need and want mentors.  They want someone to listen to them.

Some leaders have told me they are afraid to say anything because they don’t want to cause problems or bring up unpleasant feelings or memories in the child.  But the reality is divorce is the elephant in the room and the kids are well aware of it.  It is okay to talk about it and say things like...
  • How was last weekend with your dad?
  • Did you and your mom do anything special when you were with her last week?
  • Want to make 2 valentines?  One for dad and one for mom?  I made sure we have enough supplies if you want to do that.
  • So what did you think when your dad didn’t come or call you on his weekend? (Please do not ask a child, “How did that make you feel?”  Most kids don’t know how they feel.  About the only answer you’ll get to that question is, “I don’t know.”) 
Other church leaders think all kids of divorce are out of control.  Many don’t know how to work with them so they avoid bringing them into the church.  It can be difficult to deal with these kids, but I ask leaders, “If a child came to your class in a wheel chair, wouldn’t you accommodate them?  Or if a child broke their arm, wouldn’t you make exceptions for them?  Can we not do the same for a child with a hurting heart?” 

What we need to understand is the hurting child’s behavior is their voice.  I don’t know many adults who would be able to cope with the following dizzying scenario.
  • The single mom rushes into the child’s room and says “Get up.  I have to be at work early today.  You have to go to the neighbor’s this morning before school.”  You are rushed over to the neighbor’s house before you can get dressed, brush your teeth or eat breakfast.  After an hour at the neighbor’s house, she takes you to before school care in the school cafeteria.  This is your third care arrangement and it’s not even 7:00 a.m. yet. 
  • After an hour or so, you are released to go to class where they are different rules and expectations.  After school, it’s back to after school care where there are usually different adults.  Grandma picks you up until dad can get off work.  You eat dinner at dad’s home and then he takes you to Awanas or some other program at church.  As he leaves he says, “Mom will be here to pick up later.”  You wonder if mom will remember to pick you up.
Yet we expect these children to not only cope, but also do it with a smiling face.  I don’t know about you, but I wonder if I might not be a little out of control at church if this were my schedule on a continuing basis. 

The other fact is divorce is messy.  Plain and simple – it is messy.  Many ministers have so much on their plates it is hard to deal with messy.  Some worry about getting caught in taking sides or being accused of taking sides.  We have to remember though that it is the kids who are hurting and who need our help. 

How can churches support children and families who are going through divorce?
Of course you know I’m going to say, use DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) curriculum to help the children.  Other helpful ideas are...
  • Always provide nursery and child care for church events.
  • Encourage the divorced parent to attend a small group such as DivorceCare.  Even if you don’t have that at your church, look for churches in your area where you can send your divorcing parents.  Go to DivorceCare.org and put in your zip code in the search engine.  It will bring up all the churches in a hundred mile radius of your zip code.
  • When a divorced child misses on Sunday, send them a text, card or give them a call.
  • Stay in touch with the single divorcing parent.  Most of the younger parents prefer texting.  It’s quick and you can get a short message across.  My single parents will text me when they are going to be late or can’t make it to our Bible study group on Sunday.  They text me when they have gotten a new job or they are having kid problems.  Great tool for busy single parents.
  • When you first hear about an impending divorce, take in a meal or ask your bereavement group to take in a meal.  Divorce is the death of a once intact family.
  • Provide parenting resources about parenting alone.  It is different when you are parenting alone.
  • Find someone to attend school concerts, soccer games, etc. with the single parent.  Have any idea how difficult it is to continually have to show up alone at these kinds of events?
  • Provide mentors or pair up single parent families with healthy functioning two-parent families. They can share holiday meals together and exchange child care/babysitting services.
  • Get creative in services and helps your church can provide.  The main thing is to let single parents and their children know they are loved, accepted and you want them in your church family so they too can learn about the love of God and come to know His Son, Jesus Christ, as their personal Savior.
  • Ask the single parents what they want from you.  This might mean you send out surveys or meet with them.
How have you seen DC4K help children and parents who are going through divorce? 
It is amazing the experiences I’ve had just in the groups I’ve run.  Multiply this by hundreds of groups and it boggles the mind.  DC4K programs are up and running all over the world.  Some of our most active groups are in South Africa.

Personally, I’ve got to witness kids coming to know Christ.  Kids have opened up to me and shared their deepest hurts.  With help, they’ve learned how to craft conversations and talk openly with their parents.  They have reported how they have learned about forgiveness and have forgiven their parent(s).

I think one of the most often revelations we see is for children to finally realize divorce is not their fault.  “Hey it is NOT my fault.  I thought my dad left because of me.”

Kids have reported their grades have gotten better.  I love it when a kid comes in with a big smile on their face and shows me their recent spelling test that has a big red “A” on it.

I’ve seen kids connect and create community within the DC4K group.  They form friendships with other kids who are going through the same thing they are.  They are no longer alone in their journey.

I’ve seen them go from very sad to joyful, from angry to acceptance and from despair to hope. 

How can churches start a DivorceCare for Kids program? 
Go to www.dc4k.org and click on “Start a DC4K Group”.  You can order the complete kit online.  Or you can call the Church Initiative offices at 800-483-7778.

The DC4K kit includes training videos, a Leader’s Guide, children’s Activity Books, DVD dramas, a hand held puppet and other tools to help any church run a successful DC4K group.  Plus we have many online tools once a church orders the kit and each church has their own free DC4K consultant who is available to answer questions. 

Thank you, Linda, for taking time to share with our readers.  I know this is a huge need among churches and I appreciate your heart to equip the body of ChristWe use the curriculum at our church and I can personally attest to the impact it makes in kids' lives.