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Family Law with Carrie Campbell; During a separation hold space for your children's emotions



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Carrie Campbell


I’m all about receiving messages in my life, and the beginning of this week certainly focussed on kids. I’ll share two experiences. Have you ever seen the movie Southpaw? Although it came out in 2015, I just saw it this week. For those of you who haven’t seen it, actor Jake Gyllenhaal plays a boxer, Billy Hope, who suffers tragedy in his life and, as a result, hits rock bottom. I loved the movie, and was pleasantly surprised to find important lessons in child rearing embedded in the story line.


I won’t spoil the plot, but you can imagine that in hitting rock bottom, Dad was separated from his daughter. There is a scene when Dad shows up to see his daughter and he appears full of emotion – distraught – incredibly sad and angry – full of grief. The supervisor asks him a number of questions, which he finds very frustrating, as he just wants to see his daughter. The supervisor then asks him if he is ok, to which he scoffs, replying he is a “mess”. She asks him if he really thinks it’s appropriate to see his daughter when he is a “mess”. Silence…. As parents, we often forget the impact we, and our emotions, can have on our kids. We expect a lot from these little people. They can see us at our worst, and it’s so important to be mindful that if we are struggling with emotions as adults, how are they handling, not just their own emotions, but being exposed to ours? The second powerful scene for me took place with Forest Whitaker, who offers Dad a cleaning job, as Dad begins to climb from rock bottom. Dad mutters to Forest that his daughter doesn’t want to see him anyhow. Forest reminds him that his daughter is a separate human being, with her own feelings, and timeline needed, to work through her feelings. As parents we want our kids to be ok and we want them to feel ok about the choices we make as adults. It’s so important to accept, however, that they may not feel ok, at the moment, about our choices – whether it’s the separation, a new partner, a move etc. Can we allow our children to feel – to hold space for them, without imposing our expectations of what they should be feeling? Easier said than done I know!! I do believe, however, that if we are aware of our children, accept their individuality, hold space for them, truly listen to them and apologize to them when we mess up, it’s a great start.

And to assist parents in their communications, I am happy to share that a new tool, designed to assist in creating Parenting Plans, has just been released for parents who have separated, and professionals who help to create such plans. This tool was created by the Ontario Chapter of an amazing organization called AFCC, and it is available free of charge. You are able to download the Parenting Plan Template and Parenting Plan Guide in both Word and PDF at https://afccontario.ca/parenting-plan-guide-and-template/. I have now had the opportunity to review these resources and they are excellent. Using this tool will remind you of topics you may wish to canvas with the other parent, either directly, or in mediation, in order to avoid conflict in the future. The tool certainly emphasises the importance of communication between parents. And remember, if you are struggling with your communication, I recommend sitting with a mediator to learn new ways to approach your communication going forward.

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