Islands of Connection: Family Events in Separating and Divorcing Families

Family Events in Separating and Divorcing Families- Possible islands of connection orpainful quicksand

As spring arrives you will be thinking about the many family occasions, holidays and events that need to be planned.   Graduations, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, birthdays sprinkle your calendar.  However this year is not like other years.  Notice how you are feeling reading this – a pit in your stomach, ache in your heart, clenched jaw in reaction to your feelings about the changes in your family.  Who comes to mind, your children’s faces, the past events that were fun and easy, the picture you have had in your mind about how you thought this would be like?

Many other families have lived through these difficult moments.  We have learned from the many families before you who have approached these changes and report on how they turned out.  The goodnews is that with careful planning parents can craft these events so that they can be at least ‘doable’ for your children and yourselves or even better.

Take a specific event coming up, for example a high school graduation of one of your children.  There may have been older siblings who have graduated and the whole family has a memory of the events and how the family celebrated this important moment is the graduate’s life.  It is very important now to imagine how you want this experience to be like for your son or daughter.  Do you imagine it being warm, easy and where the focus is on their life accomplishment?  Memories of shared meals, pictures of cap and gown clad kids with their siblings and family around?

It is possible to keep your intention be your guide in planning this day(s) and event(s) even though it is different than ‘last time’ or what you had imagined.  This may make you sad or angry or disappointed even reading this.  Of course.  These important moments in a family’s life are powerful.  Separations and divorces create feelings of grief of what has been lost or changed.  Of course.

You and you spouse can work together with your coach to start now to plan these events so they are as positive as possible.  It may take some work to sort through which traditions in the case of holidays and birthdays can be kept and which ones need to be changed.  Do your best to be both flexible and realistic about what you can tolerate emotionally.  For example one caring parent realized that sharing 8 hours together at Christmas was too long to be cordial with her separated spouse, but 2 hours of opening presents and sharing the traditional breakfast would have been possible .

Your children, as you know will have their own feelings and wishes.  They may say or act as if ‘things are the same’ expecting hugs and kisses between you and lots of pictures together to give them the feeling that it is the ‘old days’.    Ask your kids which parts of the holiday/family traditions are most important.  Let them know compassionately that you know things are different this year.  Let let know what is the same and what will be different.  

If this is the first year after a separation why don’t you think about it as, “this year let’s try….. to make it easier.”  This takes the pressure off the parents andchildren to ‘know’ how things will be next year.  Let your kids know you’ll be planning with the other parent and get back to them with some plans.  Most children I have talked to mostly want their parents not to fight and have the divorce dominate the event.

After checking in the with kids, let them know what the two of you propose emphasizing that you both want them to have this go well.  If it is one child’s event i.e. a performance, graduation , bar/bat mitzvah you want to let them know this is their day and want this to be the most important thing.  You want them to not be stressed by their worries about their parents.

Working together on this current family issue can help stabilize things for your children and built trust between you for the many post-divorce family events ahead of you. 



Each child reacts to their parents’ separation in their own way because they have unique temperaments which are part of their biological make-up. Even siblings in the same family can have very different reactions to their parents’ separation because of these temperament differences.

Of the nine generally recognized temperament traits, the ones that will have the strongest contribution to how your child reacts to your separation are adaptability, intensity and sensitivity.

Adaptability describes how much your child needs routine and structure and how well she does with transitions.

Intensity describes how expressive your child is to either positive or negative situations. High intensity children show you exactly how they are feeling while low intensity children will be less expressive outwardly but may have stomach or head aches.

Sensitivity describes how your child reacts to his environment. High sensitive kids notice and are impacted by their physical and emotional environment.

Knowing your child’s temperament can help you plan for how to best help them manage the changes of a separation.

Children who are less adaptable will benefit more than other children from having very predictable custody schedule and even the same routine at each parents’ home. Young children can benefit from a picture calendar showing when to expect a transition from one home to another.

While high intensity children will definitely let you know how they are feeling, children with low intensity may need help expressing how they are feeling about all the changes in their lives.

Children with high sensitivity will be more impacted by your emotional upset then children with lower sensitivity. Practicing mindfulness meditation techniques can help you feel calmer as you negotiate this transitional time and protect your children from your upset feelings.

You can find out your child’s temperament at (The preschool questionnaire and assessment is valid to age 8).


Dealing with Disappointment and Divorce -- Facing the New Normal

                Dealing with Disappointment and Divorce -- Facing the New Normal

When divorce is discussed or in process, every member of the family experiences many difficult feelings: sadness, anger, confusion as well as disappointment.

As a coach and child specialist, I have witnessed the challenges faced by separating parents. Parents and children often struggle with new schedules, ideas, new ways to parent children, new ways to think about their parenting, their identity, and their future.  Many of the day-to-day events are shifting and unpredictable (outside) as are the feelings and thoughts (inside).

What we as humans all have in common is that we often wish this wouldNOT be the way it is, we often struggle with change, wish that things possibly stay the SAME, or be the way we had HOPED things would turn out.

Your children’s desire for stability, their hopes, dreams and preferences are important and it’s important to be aware of them.  Parents need to hear from their children about their hopes and dreams and yes, their disappointments. It is also important to understand and accept your own (and your spouse’s) wishes for stability, your (and your spouse’s) hopes, dreams and preferences.

Families start with the sweetest and highest of hopes.  The good news is that we all have faced things that aren’t exactly the way we had planned or wished.  As little kids we were helped to tolerate (although maybe not enjoy) being the oldest or youngest sibling, tallest/shortest kid in class, running out of our favorite ice cream flavor or having our birthday party rained out!  Life is generous in offering us opportunities to learn from disappointment.

It is likely that you already know how to turn toward difficulty but not have it DEFINE you.  All is not ruined.  We teach our children to face challenges and disappointments with courage, determination, and renewed clarity of purpose.  There is a growing sense of confidence when we do difficult things and learn something new.  When avoiding the complicated and unpleasant feelings and situations we risk feeling less competent and strong.


When upset and disappointed we can remember to acknowledge the upset, take a few minutes to breathe before finding the best response i.e. take action to change a bad situation, discuss the problem, decide to accept the situation for now, reframe it as a way to learn something new.

We find many new ways to get through difficulties together, with humor, friends, a deep breath, a walk in nature or perhaps a good book. Remember how you have done this in the past, for in those experiences are your resources and skills.

All the best to you all.