“Where there is no father…”
Ms. Ingrid Albuquerque Solomon
Presenting the children of single parent divorced mothers and its implications for the mission/ministry of the Church
My intention is to describe precisely the impact of divorce on children, so I am confining the scope of this article to the children of single mothers who are divorcees. By doing this, I am attempting to throw into light the specific nature of the problem that might otherwise go unnoticed, which makes children of single parent-divorced mothers face a higher risk of deviant behavior – such as violence, crime, and sexual immorality caused by personality disorder.
The purpose of my reflection is to consider the role of the Church of Christ in the lives of mother and children of single parent families. I invited several single mothers and their children to my house for tea. The children had fun in one of the large bedrooms that had musical instruments and games, while the mothers and I discussed problems and solutions. Later, the mothers established newfound friendships with one another while I spent time with the children. I also interviewed pastors and priests to understand church policy and practice to see how it is aligned to Scripture that entreats the church to comfort, help, guide, protect, and otherwise support the fatherless.
Children experience intense deprivation when parents divorce. When the remaining parent is a mother who is often overwhelmed with financial and emotional worries, it has significant deleterious effects for children and adolescents.
When there is a death in a family, church and community members surround the widow and her children with care and comfort. As a rule, this does not happen when a divorce takes place, and children of the divorced mother are the worst sufferers. Combined feelings of being rejected and ostracized for reasons beyond their control can and have often resulted in deviant behavior and cases of Borderline Personality Disorders among such children.
Intolerance, women growing more aware of their rights, financial independence of women is some of the causes of the increase in the divorce rate in India, which, according to a WHO report of 1992, was estimated at 2 million divorces a year. You and I are equally aware that the situation has greatly intensified since 1992. In fact, the WHO 2000 website reported that each year one million additional couples go in for a divorce. This (when you consider that most Indian families have two children at least) means that every year, more than two million additional children of different ages and stages are going through the significant trauma of losing one important parent.
Link between Divorce, Single Parenting, and Juvenile Delinquency
Divorce changes the lives of all those who are connected with it. The divorcing couples usually become temporarily bitter and disillusioned with life, and the children are likely to be filled with insecurity and misery. Parents of the divorcing partners may be forced to take sides, and often find themselves pulled out of their retirement rest, to help out a divorced child who is struggling with children (their grandchildren). Friends in and out of the church, feel compelled to take sides when they do not want to.
Children of single-parent divorced-mother families are placed at high risk by their parents breaking up. To comprehend the developmental antecedents and adult adaptations of rapist subtypes,’ a survey of 108 rapists undertaken by Raymon A. Knight and Robert Prentky revealed that 60 per cent came from homes headed by divorced mothers, 70 per cent of those described as ‘violent’ came from female-headed homes, as did 80 percent of those motivated by ‘displaced anger’.
Divorce and Crime in India
I believe that the effects of divorce are currently greater in India because despite it being a sociologic reality, the government, church, and society are yet to wake up to the reality of its incidence. In most countries, the increase in violence and crime has always come on the heels of large-scale marital breakdown. Hence, in India, despite the fact that there are no national statistics for the number of children of divorced mothers, a look at the figures of crime increase released by The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) showed that in 2002 the juvenile IPC crimes increased by 12.5%; from 16,509 crimes in 2001 to 18,560 cases in 2002.
Can this downward spiral straight to hell be arrested?
Church more equipped than Government
The Government of India is trained to think politically and practically, not spiritually. If the number of marriages breaking up are adding and multiplying at the same time, our government’s solution is to increase the number of family courts that grant the divorces. This is how divorce is gradually trying to claim validity and authentication.
Let us face it; we cannot expect the Government to make policies based on spiritual considerations.
So many millions of children are facing the adverse impacts of marital breakdown. It includes a complete upheaval and reorientation of their lives! This is not a fragment f a figure; it is a significant number of souls, many of them not more than little children loved so dearly by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Responses of Single Parent Divorced Mothers
I did a random survey among around 20 divorced moms about their life, and the mother-to-mother procedure I used for the common discussion resulted in heartfelt answers from participants. The mothers were divided into groups of two; they exchanged life stories, then each presented the others to the group.
Shobna as a “mother who’d obtained divorce by mutual consent” presented Jyothi who described her husband would constantly humiliate her before the servants and children, all because “he had a complex I was earning more than him.” At that point, another mother – Rupa (name changed) – said she had faced the same problem because she happened to have come from a family that had enjoyed a higher status than the family her former husband had hailed from.
One mother came and hugged me, saying emotionally, “Thank you for allowing me to come to this get-together. It is the first time I have been able to talk about what happened.” When asked if talking had helped, she said it had, and that what she appreciated most was that for the first time she realized she was not the only one struggling through the paces of single parenthood. The knowledge that there were many like her made her feel “less as if I have a horn in the head,” apart from which she had also made new friends for the future.
Cause of divorce was mostly a husband falling in love with another woman, but not the only reason that led to marital breakdown. The mother-interviewing-mother procedure uncovered several other factors that had led to the divorce – violence, drug addiction, lack of communication, mental cruelty, and financial instability were some of the other reasons stated by mothers.
The divorce itself was painful and filled with bitterness. These were some of the statements made about the ‘divorcing period’:
“I was so angry, I wanted to kill someone.”
“I had never dreamt a day would come when I would be in a divorce court. I have been brought up in such a traditional home.”
“I thought of suicide, but then thought of my seven-year-old son.”
“It made me feel there is not justice in the world.”
“I kept hoping it was simply a bad dream and that I would wake up and find everything normal.”
Most of the mothers said the relationship with the absent spouse was bad because the court-ordered child support was given erratically and in some cases not given at all.
What the children revealed
After leaving the mothers to bond with each other, I went into the children’s room and children under 14 (older children did a face-to-face interview with me at a later date) were given a ‘fun form’ to fill which had lead-in queries:
The responses I received was like a peep into their souls. Though all the replies are interesting, some are not of significance to this article, so I will present only the revealing strands with age brackets following remark:
What makes me happy: “My family” (12) … “Acting/Spying” (14)… “Studying” (10) “Jokes of my brother” (10)
What makes me sad: “When I let my friends down” (12) … “When I see somebody better than me” (14)…? “When there is no one to play with” (7)… “When my mother beats me or scolds me”… “When my brother hits me”(10)… “When my brother fights with me”(12)… “When my mother and teacher shout at me” (9)
I get angry when: “People make small unnecessary mistakes”(13)… “I am scolded for no rhyme or reason”(12)… “When someone disturbs me”(7)… “My brother irritates me”(10)… “My sister bosses me and makes me do her work”(12)…
I am afraid of: “People scolding me”(10)… “The stick my mother beats me with”(9)… “Robbers”(8)… “Becoming very poor”… “Nothing”(14)…
What do you think of adults: “Very kind people” (8)… “They are always trying to correct”(11)… “I don’t bother about them”(14)… “I like them”(7)… “They are people who scold and hit me”(11)… “They are okay”(12)…
The younger children thought of the future in focused terms. They had specific careers in mind. Three wanted to be doctors; two wrote, “Engineers”; three wanted to handle “computers and games”; one wanted to be a singer, and one simply wrote he wanted to “see the world.”
All the respondents believed in God, with descriptions running from “He is good”… “I respect him”… “He is always there to help me”… “He gives me strength”… “He can see everything, what bad people do”… One respondent wrote, “I like Jesus”
If I won a lottery of 10 lacs, I would. “Be so happy”(10) … “Buy some animals” (9)… “Give it to mama”(12)… “Buy a house for my mother”(7)… “Build a church”(14)… “Buy chocolates”…
Church & School Responses
When asked at the outset how many such families are there in the church\school, each one started out by saying, “Not many.” Then, as we ran through membership lists and registration files, it was discovered there were a considerable number – 12 single parent families headed by divorced mothers in the school; four in Pastor A’s church, 6 in Priest V’s parish, 12 in the church run by Pastor B before he moved on to the post of director in a radio station, 21 in Pastor N’s church and 7 in Priest L’s parish.
Pastor B says, “What I am giving is the visible number. However, there are dozens more where the couples may not have officially divorced, but for every practical purpose, as even the children can see, they are separate, there is no communication at all between them. Children in such families face the same if not a worse trauma than the children in families where the couples have been divorced.”
Church involvement with single parent families is directly connected with the church stand on divorce. Priest V felt, “We know from Scripture that God hates divorce. But if there is abuse in a relationship, or desertion or sustained adultery, how can you go on saying, ‘Don’t divorce.’” Pastor A’s church applies the Scriptural principles wherein there are two Biblical allowances for divorce in Matthew 5 and 1 Corinthians 7.
When students from Principal B’s school are in such a situation, he and his loyal band of teachers “demonstrate concern and reach out to them” because “we are responsible for their holistic development” and also because “children who come from disturbed homes cannot actualize their full academic potential.” However, apart from providing counselors in the school, they have not been able to do much because “as it is the school is faced with academic and extra-curricular pressures.”
All admitted there is a difference in the treatment meted out to widows. “Widowhood inspires compassion, but divorce is presumed to be the result of character flaws so there is less compassion,” said Pastor B. “A widow can counsel, teach at Sunday school, be part of the hospitality ministry. However, a divorcee cannot be a leader, she is not allowed to speak. In my opinion, they are the same in the eyes of the Lord, because the Lord has compassion on all He has made; but this is how the church views them and we cannot deny it.”
My husband abandoned us in the 1990s, placing our three children and me in the vanguard of the armies of single parent families. The children aged 16, 14, and 11, were angry and troubled; they began to suffer from a vague and abiding sadness that colored their moods and diminished their self-esteem. It was extremely difficult for me to rise above my own adult agony to see my children’s pain. We discovered that our spirituality had to be one of humility, courage and trust in God because we constantly felt condemned by everybody.
I had to work at a full time job to support the family; try to be two parents and run the household; take care of outdoor and car maintenance; plan the family budget; take care of tax returns, drop the children at school; attend PTA meetings, cook the meals for the day after helping the children with their studies. The fatigue and consequent depression are indescribable to anyone who has not been through it. It was difficult not to become bitter, resentful, and discouraged due to the demands of the situation, the loneliness, and the insensitivity of those who tried to alternately ostracize us or impose on us. There is no denying that prayer helps. However, when one is exhausted, prayer does not come very spontaneously.
The future loomed before us large and terrible and one can remember one frightening day when one actually sat and contemplated a suicide pact for the children and I because I could not think of how we would make it. Mercifully, the grace of God intervened and the moment passed.
The grace of God and the ministry of the church
In ‘church’, I include the mainline church and the protestant fellowship we had subsequently joined. When I received a work transfer from Mumbai to Bangalore, it was the Cardinal from Mumbai, who wrote letters to the principals that secured admission for the children and good schools and colleges. In Bangalore, it was the pastoral family of the church I attended that supported and strengthened us, spiritually and emotionally. The pastor and his wife were always there – especially during the teenage years of rebellion – to guide the children in important decisions relating to life, career, and relationships.
Today all three adult children (two are married) are working out God’s calling in their lives in healing ministries –two as media activists, one as a Christian community manager.
The church was there with us, which is why this article is founded on the objective of seeing the Church of Christ providing a bay of shelter, healing and restoration for many single parent families.