In recent years, two friends from different parts of my life told me they were part of a ministry I had never heard of before – an outreach to adult children of divorce.
It is a commonly known statistic that approximately half of marriages now end in divorce, with second and third marriages dissolving at an even higher rate. This leaves an increasing number of adult children with wounds that they rarely have a chance to recognize, let alone heal from. Yet, Dr. Daniel Meola, himself a child of divorce, and his wife Bethany, answered a call to accompany people in their healing process. After many years of ministry, the Meola’s recently authored Life-Giving Wounds: A Catholic Guide to Healing for Adult Children of Divorce or Separation (Ignatius, 2023).
A light to anyone who suffers a deep wound
Neither my husband nor I are children of divorce, so I wasn’t sure I’d have much to glean personally from this newly released book. I was wrong. Life-Giving Wounds speaks directly to men and women who have suffered from the rupture in their family, but I quickly realized that it is a light to anyone who has a deep wound in their life, especially one that is not often acknowledged by others. It is a particular gift, naturally, to adult children of divorce, their spouses, and others who are a support and encouragement in their lives (priests, counselors, friends, etc.).
The book acknowledges the wounds that the reader may have experienced when their parents divorced. Perhaps they were told (or felt they were being told) to “just deal with it” or even that “it wasn’t a big deal”. The Meolas validate the experience that children have of their family splitting and the identity questions it may have caused: “who am I?” and “how do I belong?”
Starting from acceptance
The Meolas make the case for accepting the wound, not trying to hide it away, forget about it, or pretend it doesn’t matter. With acceptance comes the possibility of grieving, a precursor to healing.
Topics are wide-ranging, including recognizing the effect parents’ relationship has had on you; figuring out how divorce has impacted your own approach to intimacy; and learning both how to forgive and how to establish healthy boundaries. Each chapter is grounded in psychology and also a Catholic understanding of the human person.
What makes this book such a needed resource is the authors’ comprehensive coverage of divorce and the relationship to adult children’s faith. They acknowledge, for example, how divorce may have caused them to doubt and wonder if God was abandoning them or why their community of faith was ignoring this rift in their lives. In other words, one of the ongoing wounds that many adult children of divorce suffer is a spiritual one.
A belonging that defines us all
The resounding takeaway from this book, however, is that our Catholic faith has the answer to these questions of identity and the healing salve to the wounds we suffer. We can know with certainty that if we feel abandoned, we belong to Christ, forever when we are adopted at our Baptism. If we don’t know who we are, we can embrace that we are a Son or Daughter of God. These are not pious platitudes to learn and quickly forget, but life-changing truths that the Meolas share about from research as well as their professional and personal experience.
This book is the fruit of many small groups that have sprung up for adult children of divorce who are seeking healing. It is, I think, a hopeful sign that we as a Church recognize the wounds that people silently carry and walk alongside them, knowing that redemptive suffering is an inescapable part of human life as well as a way towards healing and hope.