Does Divorce Hinder Sticky Faith in Kids?

Kara Powell | Mar 20, 2013

As a daughter of divorce, I’m not unfamiliar with the ramifications of divorce. Both because of my own background, my experience in ministry, and my heart for young people, I’ve long been interested in the effects of divorce, not only on the parents but on children. I’m so glad we at FYI have already explored this question in the blog, How and Why Divorce Impacts Kids and podcast, Children of Divorce.

But until recently, I wasn’t aware of any data on the effects of divorce on Sticky Faith. Yet Baylor University’s research has found that children who had two religious parents who get a divorce are twice as likely to become estranged from their church as those whose parents remained together.

Lead researcher Jeremy Uecker describes the effects of divorce “When both parents are religious, the effect of divorce has a negative effect on religiosity. They might think their parents’ marriage was ordained by God or something and that breakup can have more of an effect on their religiousness in adulthood.”

Now it’s possible that spouses who get divorced are perhaps less religious to begin with. It’s also interesting to note that these effects cut across religions and weren’t relevant only to Christianity.

If you know a young person whose parents are experiencing, or have experienced, a divorce, our research suggests the importance of:

  1. Giving them a space and place to talk about their feelings. Their mom and dad might be too busy and/or too emotionally focused on their own situation to be a safe place for the child to talk about their feelings. Perhaps as another caring adult, that becomes your role.

  2. Surrounding them with a team of adults who love them unconditionally. One of the primary themes in our Sticky Faith research is the importance of connecting kids with caring adults. As Chap Clark link here has well explained, those adults need to be adults who love kids without agendas—without trying to get kids to perform or measure up to certain standards.

  3. Helping them verbalize any doubts they might have about God, especially why God would allow this to happen in their family. Our Sticky Faith research indicates that it’s not doubt in and of itself that’s toxic; it’s unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic. Many of young people’s doubts are very personal related to the hardships they themselves have experienced. As developmentally appropriate, help young people ask aloud, “Why would God not stop this from happening to my family?” When (not if, but when) they ask a question you can’t answer, that’s OK. Tell them, “I don’t know” and either point them to what you do know about God or partner with them to get a bit of clarity (perhaps by talking to other believers you respect).

What other ideas have you tried to help children of divorce?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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