5 Guidewords for Change and Transition

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There is an epidemic of change occurring in the world today. From economic markets to political regimes to the fabric of our families, change is everywhere.

And as change brings stress and stress brings heightened levels of anxiety and worry, I understand why it feels like everything is tentative and upside down in our world. While I am concerned about the larger-scale effects of transition upon our global communities, I find myself mostly concerned about the every-day effects of transition upon my children and me. We have sailed into uncharted territories with huge upheavals in our life, and I am finally looking outward for help in navigating these waters.

My personal world collapsed last year, and I’m struggling through a high-conflict divorce without financial resources, and my four children and I have moved in with my parents, as the choice was either my parent’s home or my car. I spend a lot of nights staring out into the dark wondering what I am going to do. I’m in the “get-a-job” portion of my metamorphosis and have been sending out resumes and networking: I’ve applied at numerous companies to be told I’m over-qualified, under-qualified, or not-even-close-to-being qualified.

Funny thing, as I’ve shared my story, I’ve had more women open up to me about their own wide-awake, middle-of-the-night insomnia.

I heard a story last week of a woman whose husband died unexpectedly at 52 and left her with 2 middle-school-age children and a pile of debt she didn’t know about. She had to borrow money for his funeral. It hit me that the individual reasons each of us has for coming to this point in our life is less important than the collective “Now what?” question we all are asking ourselves. Whether divorce, personal or family illness, military deployment, job loss, or financial ruin, perhaps we can find strength in our bond as women, as mothers, and as new leaders in this time of transition.

I reached out to my good friend, noted physician and psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel J. Kostalnick. “Dr. K” has a large practice in the San Francisco Bay area and specializes in transition, rebuilding, and healing with an emphasis on adolescents, adults, and families who find themselves in the grasp of change. As an expert in women’s and family issues, I asked him to come up with some advice for women facing a transition knowing that most of us are good at putting on a brave face and keeping the emphasis on our children.

He gave me his “Five ‘S’ Guidewords for Change and Transition”:

1. SAME – Try to keep things as close to the same as possible for one year. Do not move, do not throw yourself into a new relationship, do not throw out everything.

2. SIMPLE – With your children, keep the messages simple. Answer their questions with age-appropriate answers. Remember, the truth is that your children do not want to know every detail or possible scenario that might happen. They just want to know they are safe and loved.

3. SAVVY – Use your parenting savvy – your intuition. Maybe what a book or friend advises doesn’t feel right. Lead with your gut. You feel like your kids need to stay home from school to bake cookies with you? Let them. You sense that your kids want to have one giant sleepover in your bedroom? Do it. At the end of the day, remember this is your unique family and use your savvy to do what is best for your family.

4. SILLY – Don’t forget your sense of humor. Humor is one of our higher-order defenses so don’t be afraid to laugh…even if you think it is a bit off-color to making jokes or finding humor during such a time of stress and seriousness.

5. SELF – Keep yourself in the equation. Women tend to put every other need in front of their own, but during a time of great transition, you need to make certain you take care of yourself. Yes, get your nails done. Yes, go for a run. Absolutely, go see a movie. Make sure you are allowing yourself time to process and feel what it going on in your life. You will have more to give to others if you take care of yourself first. It’s the classic “airplane oxygen mask” scenario: Place the mask over your nose and mouth first, and then help your children. You are no good to anyone if you unconscious to your own needs.

I took his list and thought about my last year. I’ve always used guidewords in my life because the concept is easy to reflect in prayer and mediation. I have two words, Faith and Family, that have gotten me through the tough days, but I’m always up for new inspiration.

Looking at Dr. K’s list, I see that I intuitively follow the Savvy, Simple, and Silly advice, so I’m good there. I also see that I’ve completely blown the Same concept as everything in my life has changed: from big issues like my entire community to small issues like my favorite coffee cup as everything I own is in storage. So what am I left with? Self? I take a moment to pause at this word as this concept continues to be a theme for me: take care of yourself.

The truth is I’m not sure I know how. I have been a wife and mother for what seems longer than I’ve been me.

So this is going to be my work in moving forward: find me and find my new path so I can, in turn, be a guide my children.

Do you use guidewords? If so, what words lead you? Join the conversaton below.

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