Divorce or separation is a crisis — a crisis of change: change in family, identity, roles, security and dreams for the future.

However, even during this crisis, we are called to make important decisions. How we make decisions can be influenced significantly by the way we think and feel.

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    • Like any crisis, divorce/separation unleashes potential for opportunity and innovation. With loss and change come opportunities for rebuilding, strengthening, renewal and re-creation.
    • Divorce/separation may also set into motion a lifetime of limitation and negativity—with a danger of trapping ourselves in bitterness, resentment, angry and rigid thoughts—thoughts that prevent us from growing and finding joy on the other side.
    • We choose which way we go—consciously or unconsciously. And guess what?
    • Your children are going through a crisis as well. They will need your help learning to manage their emotions and by leading the way you can model for your children not only how to grieve but also how to find possibility in the face of change.

The more equipped you are to work with and understand your own emotional experience, the more capable you’ll be at working with and helping your children understand theirs. Humans create meaning together—it’s in relationship that context and meaning emerge. Your children will look to you as parents to make meaning out of what is happening in their family and glean cues to what will happen in the future.

Just as if you were on an airplane flight experiencing turbulence, you might look to the flight attendants to see if there was reason to be worried or reassured. You read facial expressions, listen for their words of direction and watch their actions as the plane navigates the bumpy air. Similarly, your children look to the two of you.

That doesn’t mean that you deny or fail to acknowledge there is something sad or difficult facing your family—children don’t want to be alone in their sadness or difficulty with the separation/divorce. But realize that to feel safe, your children also need to witness confidence, hope and resiliency.

Sound like a big job? It is, but you can get there by taking some basic steps to reduce the interactions that trigger big emotions, separate partner-level thoughts and emotions from parenting children, and learn to care and support yourself from the inside out.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE PARENTING PLAN HANDBOOK.


About Karen Bonnell

Karen has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: https://www.unhookedmedia.com/#home.