25-January-2013 -- EWTNews Feature |

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Divorce puts kids' faith at risk, report finds

A new report says family breakdown has a significant impact on the religious practice of children, with its authors urging churches to reach out more to the children of divorce and unmarried parents.

"There are many reasons grown children of divorce appear overall to be less religious, including stories they tell of not feeling understood at church when their parents were splitting," the report's lead author Elizabeth Marquardt said Jan. 16.

"But whatever the reasons, we now have a chance to draw upon their wisdom and get it right for the next generation."

The 77-page report "Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?" is from the New York-based Institute for American Values' Center for Marriage & Families. It draws on 13 papers from leading scholars on religion and family life.

About 25 percent of young adults are grown children of divorce. Compared to those who grew up in intact families, the report says, "they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in the regular practice of a faith."

More than 33 percent of those whose parents are married currently attend religious services almost every week, while only 25 percent of those whose parents divorced do. After a divorce, Catholic and moderate Protestant children of divorce are more than twice as likely to stop religious practice altogether, while conservative Protestants are three times as likely to do so.

The report suggests that children of divorce who are alienated from religious practice suffer a "second silent schism" in their connection to a religious congregation and religious faith in addition to the rupture in their parents' marriage.

Sociologists Jeremy Uecker and Chris Ellison, using data from the General Social Survey, found that parents' divorce "most impacts the religious identity of offspring, including religious disaffiliation and switching."

One study participant grew up in a "very religious" family but said the divorce caused the loss of a "religious framework."

"I saw my family as a sacred entity and then it was shattered," the person said.

Another unnamed study participant, a Catholic, had married parents who divorced when he or she was five and then he or she suffered through another divorce at age 20 when the mother and a stepfather divorced.

"I believe God has a plan but it is hard to convince yourself (of) that at such tragedy," said the person.

Two-thirds of young adults who grew up with married parents say they are very or fairly religious, compared to only half of those who grew up in divorced families, the Center for Marriage & Families report said.

The religious lives of parents are the greatest predictor of the religious lives of youth. Scholars suggest that married parents may provide "more effective religious socialization" and may be better able to support religious practice.

Divorced fathers are "especially influential" in whether their children will continue to be active in church.

Children of divorce were less likely than children of married parents to agree that their mother encouraged them in prayer or the practice of a faith, and far less likely to say the same about their fathers.

The report suggests that some congregations may be more welcoming to two-parent families and themselves are not prepared to deal with divorce.

One study found that only 25 percent of young adults whose parents divorced said they remember a clergy member or congregant from their church or synagogue reaching out to them during their parents' divorce, while two-thirds said that no one from their church or synagogue did.

At the same time, parents undergoing a divorce are sometimes reluctant to reach out to their congregations.

Some children of divorced parents do become much more religious after their parents separate and are "surprisingly likely" to think they are more religious than their parents were.

The findings suggest that a "good divorce" in which parents stay involved in a child's life and minimize conflict is still not the best for children. These children are less likely to report an absence of negative experiences of God than those raised in happy, intact marriages. Their own marriage success is less likely than children whose parents divorced with high-conflict.

The report said that the idea of a "good divorce" is an "adult-centered" vision that divides a child's world into two parts.

The divorce rate for married couples with children has returned almost to levels of those before the 1970s. However, cohabitation is on the rise and is increasingly driving a rise in family instability, as these relationships are almost twice as unstable as married relationships.

By the age of 15, 40 percent of U.S. children will witness the end of a parent's marriage or cohabiting relationship. Out of wedlock childbearing has also increased as a percentage of U.S. births.

"The de­cades-long phenomenon of family change in America—with so many young people having grown up without their mother and father in their daily lives—is a call to faith communities," the report said.

The report recommends that pastors, youth ministers and others create a "safe space" for children of divorce and listen to these children and allow them to question and struggle. The report says these children need faith role models, especially from married people.

"Know that acknowledging the trauma or wound of divorce in a young per­son's life can be a prophetic role that opens a space for healing and hope," the report said.

The report said that both young and grown children of divorce should know that both God and churches care about them and their family

Read more: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/US.php?id=6903#ixzz2J1dDAR43

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