Think for a moment about the story of your own family, your own beginning, that brought you to where you are now.

There may be themes of love or strife, lessons about commitment and hard work, emphases on people’s weaknesses and strengths. The stories that carry these memories and beliefs help shape how you see yourself, your place in this world, and your understanding of human nature.

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Our history gives us not only meaning about the past, but also context for how we see the present and our future. We create understanding and meaning by weaving together our experience with the words and actions of those closest to us, the ones who have traveled life’s path with us—our family—however “family” is defined.

Divorce or separation may not be a foundation for happy stories, but emerging from separation holds the potential for shaping the way children see and learn to navigate crisis and change. They provide a child’s window into parents’ capacity to navigate transition, struggle with emotion, accept loss, and grow through change. They catalog their own experiences of rebounding from a family crisis they have no control over, stabilizing their own lives, and growing in the face of uncertainty.

The task is not easy, but rich with opportunity. For many parents the biggest question is “how can I guide my kids when I don’t know myself what is happening?” While this is a very honest question, think about how you might react if you are lost in the woods on a hike with your children. Would you panic and begin expounding on the danger of bears, tragic stories of people lost for weeks starving in the wilderness? Of course not. You would most likely take a reassuring tone, find your strength and focus on the positive: you have plenty of snacks and water, people know you went out hiking in this area, and although it may be a while, you will be found. And in time, you will all be home safe and sound.

You would act as a guide and source of confidence/comfort. You would keep your head about you and make sound decisions; you would listen to concerns, answer questions if you could, and reassure when you had no answers. You would not dwell on blame, but focus on solving the problems ahead and instill faith and confidence.

In doing so you can help create a family life story for your children, which may include struggle but also includes hope and strength. Your children will experience sadness and fear—can they look to you as a source of help and comfort? Not in every moment because there are no perfect parents, but in the overall arc of family recovery, can they see you developing skills, growing, being there for them, and emerging from one of life’s difficult changes?

Editor’s Note: This piece has been taken from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK   For more information on Karen or her books, you’re invited to visit


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: