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.
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 and separation may not be a foundation for happy stories, but emerging from it 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, re-stabilizing their own lives, and growing in the face of uncertainty. The task is not easy, but rich with opportunity.
Take a moment and ponder how this child has started his “family life story” about divorce and separation:
Mattie, age 10: “I don’t know really what happened. One night Dad was here and the next morning he was gone. When I went downstairs for breakfast, Mom was in the living room, crying. I didn’t want to ask her what happened. I didn’t like to see her like that; it made me scared. I still don’t know what happened because Mom and Dad don’t talk about it, so I don’t ask. I see Dad now, but he lives in a different house. The house I live in with my Mom feels sad now.”
This story illustrates the power that parents have in creating their child’s understanding of what is changing in their family and what remains the same — what they can count on and how being able to talk about their experience and ask questions helps them piece together an upset present and ultimately build a secure and loving future.
For many parents the biggest question is “how can I guide my kids when I don’t know myself what is happening?” This approach we call “the loving guide” and while nothing fancy, it is a significant task to find your own confidence, a strong voice and sure footing on a journey that is scary and confusing for you.
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?
Create a healthy family life story. A story of personal resilience and family resilience for your children. The practices and protocols are here as a compass — pointing you in the direction of constructive coParenting, leading you forward out of those moments when you feel lost in the woods — emerging into two-home family life safe and sound.
By Karen Bonnell, ARNP, MS, Co-Parenting Coach with Kristin Little, MS, MA, LMHC, Child Specialist. Authors of The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two Home Family from Little Ones to Young Adults. Photo by Kiran Foster