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If your parents are divorced or separated, you might feel that it’s taboo to talk about the negative impact it’s had on you, and you might think nobody understands what you’re going through. These beliefs are very common in adults with divorced or separated parents, but a new ministry seeks to respond to these thoughts with a message of acceptance, compassion, and deep understanding.
Dr. Daniel and Bethany Meola are the directors and founders of Life-Giving Wounds, a ministry for “anyone who’s lost the love of their parents together” to meet with “God’s healing, encouragement, and accompaniment,” Daniel said in an interview. The ministry is offering an online retreat that will take place on Thursday evenings from October 1 to November 12, 2020.
It’s a resource that is greatly needed. Adults with divorced or separated parents are not exactly rare. Considering that each year about one million children experience their parents’ divorce, and a quarter of young adults have divorced parents, this describes a significant sector of the population. But as the Meolas discovered through their work in the areas of Catholic marriage and family life, resources to support and minister to this group are sadly lacking.
“There’s so much out there for divorcees, but nothing for children of divorce,” Daniel said. While studying to earn his doctorate degree in Theology of Marriage and Family at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, he took part in research about pastoral outreach to children of divorce, and found that very little was available.
Meanwhile Bethany served the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for 7 years in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, where she had something of a birds-eye view of marriage and family ministries. “She noticed a glaring hole of no ministries for adult children of divorce,” Daniel said.
Both found the lack of resources for adults with separated parents to be very troubling. Daniel was haunted by a statistic in a book about the inner lives of children of divorce: “In a national survey of thousands of young adults, two-thirds said that no one from their church or synagogue reached out to them about their parents’ divorce, either during the process or after it occurred.” He said,
My heart breaks because the Church isn’t reaching out to this group. It’s not surprising that they leave and become disaffiliated, because they don’t think the Church is taking seriously the deepest wound in their lives. We need to get better at ministering to these gaping wounds in so many people’s lives, that are going unnoticed and unaddressed for all kinds of reasons.
Bethany pointed out that ministering to adults with separated parents is an important part of building a stronger Church with happy marriages and families. “Anyone who cares about building strong marriages and families should care about this issue,” she said. “Children from divorced homes much more likely to divorce, but this is a way to help them heal, so they have the courage to say ‘Yes’ to the lifelong gift of marriage that they might be fearful about, or to have good, strong marriages no matter what happened in their lives previously.”
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Founding this ministry was not just a matter of pastoral necessity but a deeply personal mission for the Meolas, especially for Daniel. Both have experienced their parents separating, and while Bethany’s parents ended up reconciling and remaining married, Daniel’s are divorced. His research and outreach on healing as an adult child of divorce draws directly from his own experience:
Many children of divorce are very silent and reticent to talk about it. They worry about rejection, or what peers might think of them, or offending their parents. But when you talk to them and share your experiences, so many say, “That’s what I went through too.” Seeing that great need in my own life for healing made me want to do this ministry.
Although the wounds of parental separation are often pushed to the side, the need to heal comes to the forefront when a young adult is seeking to establish a healthy dating relationship or marriage. Healing is an important part of building strong relationships, and that process can help a person to bring renewed awareness and conviction to relationships. “These wounds don’t start out as life-giving, but we hope they become that way,” Daniel said.
The ministry’s weekend retreats facilitate healing for participants, and the upcoming online retreat is designed to fulfill the same purpose. After the retreat, adult children of separation and divorce can “move forward with greater hope, joy, purpose and identity,” Bethany said. “This pain doesn’t necessarily go away; it impacts a person for their whole life because that’s their family for their whole life. But they can find ways to carry that cross and have the joyful, settled, stable life they’re looking for.”
Daniel points out that a key part of the retreat’s healing power comes from peer support and community. “The retreat is led by adult children of separation, people who get it from the inside, and they’re presenting these truths from their own path of healing,” he said. “It’s transformative and powerful for so many people.”
Above all else, the Meolas hope that their ministry can give a voice to adult children of divorce, who so often feel that they can’t talk about the wounds they carry from their parents’ separation. “We are a space for all children of divorce and separation to find healing, and to have a voice,” Daniel said. “Just know that you have a space to grieve with us, a space to find Christ and what can bring healing and wholeness to this area of your life, with peer support, especially if you feel broken and without a blueprint for going forward.”
The retreat cost is $75 early bird price, $100 (after Sept. 20), $50 for college students, and includes a retreat guide and journal. More information can be found here.
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