Winnie's Blog

November 2011

Protecting the Children of Divorce - Part Two

Intuitive Parenting

One of the most important and yet, most difficult things for a parent facing a divorce or separation is being intuitive to your children?s needs. This is particularly hard if the parent did not initiate the separation. You are swamped with your own emotions or grief, loss and anger. Getting through one day can be a chore. Seeing your children?s emotions may not even be on your radar- understandably so. However, keeping in tune with your children from the very beginning willsave all of your greater problems down the line and is well worth the effort, no matter how tiring it is.

Often times children don?t want to add to your burden and find it difficult to share the feelings of abandonment, loss and anger they are facing. Rightly or wrongly, they may be processing feelings of anger or sadness directed at you. They are also younger and less mature and often cannot really understand the feelings that are washing over them. Since they may not be able to tell you, it is important to watch for changes in behaviour as cues to what they are feeling.

The feelings and behaviours of children will vary. They may be more quiet, sad, angry or confused. Some become defiant at times, getting into bullying behaviour to vent their anger. Others become despondent, withdrawn and weepy as a means of coping. During this time of instability children may be more vulnerable to peer pressure, skipping classes, drugs/alcohol and sexual activity. Because they don?t always know how to vent or even understand their feelings, rebellious or acting out behaviour is a way to say, "I?m hurting and I don?t have a clue how to deal with it.? Kids want to know they are loved and that they belong somewhere. A divorce can shake their confidence in this area and make them vulnerable to sexual activity because "Well, at least someone really loves me.?

As difficult as these times are, if managed carefully with intuitive parenting and love, kids can recover from the difficulty of divorce and separation. If you or your family is going through this and need a little help with the process, consider visiting a marriage and family therapist in your area.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald
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Protecting the Children of Divorce - Part One


Separation and divorce is one of the most painful and difficult challenges a person can face. Although the trial facing the couple seems obvious, often the damage done to children in these families is overlooked. "People get divorced all the time, kids are resilient, their friend?s parents are divorced ? they?ll be ok,? are some of the myths that get passed around when couples part ways. The fact is children can heal from divorce, but their pain and loss needs to be taken seriously and managed with care.

One thing that needs to be considered is that often children will feel they are to blame for their parent?s break up. "Maybe if I just cleaned my room up a little more? or "Maybe if I would have listened a bit more? are common concerns for children facing divorce. Parents need to be very clear that the divorce was not because of the children and that the kids are not responsible.

Secondly, parents who are separating need to "read between the lines? and see that their children?s actions more often than their words show their inner turmoil and grief. Some children become despondent and withdrawn while others might exhibit bullying-type behaviours in order to vent their anger. Parents need to be able to hear their children?s anger or pain and give them permission and help to voice these feelings. Parents cannot expect their children to go along with it, or "just get over it?. That doesn?t work. This is especially true if the parent suddenly introduces a new partner to the mix. Children need time and help to heal and move past their losses.

Finally, Parents need to find a way to communicate in a way that is child oriented. Mom and Dad simply cannot bad mouth the other parent in front of their children. Even when it is painful, they need to be able to hear from their kids that the new person their parent is dating with or living with is nice, without pressuring them to hate the new partner. For the sake of the child, parents need to be as amicable as possible. They should never pressure a child to like them more than their ex-spouse or use threats like, "If you don?t behave you can go live with your mother/father.? This is so detrimental to children!

See more next week in part two of Protecting the Children of Divorce.

 Written by: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald

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Battling Burnout

Battling Burnout

Burnout is a phrase people throw around all the time. In fact burnout is very real and more serious than simply being tired, stressed out or over committed. When experiencing burnout a person becomes so completely overwhelmed and exhausted emotionally and physically that they literally shut down. This can last a few days or in severe cases much longer, even leading to anxieties like agoraphobia.

One man, on his way to speak at a conference, all of a sudden sat on the curb of the sidewalk and began to cry. He simply couldn't go any further. He had no idea he was experiencing burnout. Another mother described her experience after an intense time of caring for an injured son. As soon as he recovered she "crashed? and truly couldn't move off the couch for a week. Other clients have described experiencing burnout because of workplace trauma, which took a very long time to heal. No, burnout is not a simple thing at all.

The first thing to consider when battling burnout is the suddenness in which it appears. This is something that often creeps up on you without you even realizing it. Generally speaking we are not very self-aware. We push ourselves too hard, force ourselves to "suck it up? and underestimate our emotional health. People who have experienced and are coping with chronic depression tend to have learned this lesson. They understand the patterns of thinking and behaviours that lead to burnout. For some they recognize physical symptoms like chronic neck or jaw ache, stomach upset or insomnia as a warning sign that should not be ignored. Yet, for many who experience burnout, these cues are not noticed ahead of time and ignored as the stress grows into something unmanageable. Learn to look for your own small symptoms and take them seriously. You may need to speak with someone to help you see the patterns you don't see.

Secondly, self-care is essential and often overlooked when we're busy caring for everyone and about everything. It sounds too simple, but eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise (even just walking) is the key to avoid the slippery slope of burnout.

Thirdly, learn to prioritize. Too often we spend our energy doing instead of living. Ask yourself: What do I value in life? What are my priorities? What are my goals? Write these things down. If the things you are spending your time and energy on don't align with what's in these boxes, either move them to the bottom of your to-do list or get rid of them completely.

Finally, give yourself permission to take some down time each day. Whether it is watching a documentary, reading a good book or playing the piano, take the time each day to quiet your heart and your mind and just rest. You'll be glad you did.

Written by: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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How Full is Your Cup?

Is your cup half full or half empty?

This is a tough question and truthfully can vary from day to day. However, an attitude of thankfulness can make all the difference in our relationships. What we ponder on, reflect on in our families, our work places and friendships has a way of coming home to roost.

For example, consider the parent of a teenager who is messy. There are only so many times you can walk by that towel on the floor or see that cluttered room (you've asked them to clean 100 times) before you can only see that child as messy, unorganized and ungrateful. While yes, this behaviour needs to be dealt with, a thankful heart also balances that frustration with the knowledge that this same untidy child is at times polite, has some good friends, is active in his/her youth group or extra curricular activity and is trying to make good choices. When you add those factors it changes the whole scenario doesn't it?

Do you spend the day thinking about the vacation you can't afford or feeling thankful for the warm and safe home you return to each day? Do you focus on how uncreative your job is or on the thousands of people who would feel like getting your job was like winning the lottery? Just a simple change of thinking can make such a powerful impact on every day of your life and every single relationship you share.

I'm not suggesting we should just swallow our troubles, but thankfulness can change the whole attitude of one's heart making those troubles much easier to face. Why not try making a list of what you are thankful for today and see what changes.

For those of you who are Christians think on this: One of our reminders comes from the Bible in Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.? What great advice.

Written By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald

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Principles for Real Living:

  1. I am responsible for my own attitude
  2. My attitude affects my actions
  3. I can not change others, but I can influence others
  4. My emotions do not control my actions
  5. Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
  6. Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world

Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008