When I was 13 years old, my parents’ divorce was the most emotionally painful event to occur in my life. I felt abandoned, betrayed and very angry and continued to carry these feelings well into adulthood. At age 25, with the help of NFRC and regular counseling sessions, I broke through my confining wall of pain. Additionally at NFRC, I learned the emotional and cognitive skills to become a confident, goal-setting, and genuinely happy adult.”
“Without a doubt, parents and children need the resources and program opportunities that NFRC provides in order to heal their families. Rather than go from agency to agency or become embroiled through the legal system, NFRC provides counselors and child specialists who are collaborative and knowledgeable about the needs of children and families in transition.”
Pam Blackwell, M.Ed., LCPC, the former Director for Student Services for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) from 2000 – 2012, has worked alongside the National Family Resiliency Center for many years now and has personally witnessed the influence their services have on transitioning families. NFRC has worked closely with the HCPSS staff through participating in their professional development day, serving as a vital resource and consultant in the community, and working as an active participant their Student Services Advisory Committee (SSAC). However, Pam’s involvement with NFRC did not stop there.
“Once I retired from the HCPSS, I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of the impactful and important work the NFRC was doing with parents and children in transition,” Pam said. After departing from her vital role at HCPSS, she was selected to work as a Parent Educator and Seminar Presenter for the NFRC, through which she teaches the Healing Hearts: Regaining a Sense of Family After Family Transitions, parenting seminars held monthly in Howard and Prince George's County.
During the parenting seminars, Pam also gets to work closely with NFRC’s peer counselors. She has been able to interview the elementary through college-aged peer counselors and hear about the significant impact NFRC has had their lives. “Through the interview questions, the children have shared their pain and told me about their worries during the transition. They have shared how the NFRC programs, such as KidsConnex and individual therapy groups, have positively impacted their lives by helping them share their feelings and giving them tools to cope with parents who were in conflict,” she explained.
While Pam has not provided direct, individual therapy to the peer counselors, she has witnessed much of their growth and development over the last few years regarding the acceptance of their parent’s transition and growing into strong, confident teenagers and young adults.
Aside from teaching NFRC’s Parenting Seminars, Pam’s influential involvement with NFRC continues to grow. She has presented to the NFRC peer counselors, accompanied NFRC Executive Director Risa Garon when meeting with judges, lawyers and other community agency representatives, and met with high school counselors to recruit additional peer counselors. “I believe developing collaborative relationships with the court system; mental health providers in the school system and in the community; educators; the faith community; and parent/grandparent organizations, is the best way to share the information about all that NFRC has to offer,” Pam explained.
Pam encourages parents to learn as much as possible from NFRC about successful co-parenting and its benefits to the emotional, mental and general well-being of their children. “The process requires them to commit to putting the love for their children before their adult marital conflict.” She explains to parents in transition that while they may disagree on many issues, choosing to co-parent their children is something they should agree upon as it will more than likely result in their children being happier, feeling less rejected, feeling more attached and loved, generally doing better in school, being better adjusted and less likely to be involved in risky behavior. They can certainly agree that these results are what they would both want for their children.
“I personally don’t know what I’d do without NFRC. As child-focused advocates, they are a huge resource our clients and our practice are lucky to have.”
Jolie Weinberg, LLC of Weinberg & Schwartz Family Law Firm has over twenty years of experience working with the National Family and Resiliency Center (NFRC). Founding President of the Howard County Collaborative Professional group, past President of the Maryland State Women’s Bar Association, member of the Section Council for Alternative Dispute Resolution, and member of the Maryland Judicial Nominating Commission, Jolie has been named a Maryland Super Lawyer and Top Attorney in Maryland by Baltimore Magazine from 2010 – 2015, and named Top 50 Women Lawyers in MD in 2013 – 2015. As a valuable asset to NFRC’s extended family, we sat down with Jolie for a Q & A session regarding her personal experience with our services
Q: Why is NFRC special to you?
Jolie: Because of what I do – working with families all the time and trying to help people move forward from their divorces and separations – I think NFRC is special because they are unique in our community. They’re a resource that we are lucky to have available to us and our clients. They are very child-family focused. Their mission is to try and work towards resolutions that work for the kids and not just for mom or dad – an objective third party, not someone who’s trying to get a one-up or has an agenda.
Q: When we interviewed one of your clients, she said that you portrayed NFRC as the next necessary step in the divorce process. Do you send all your clients to NFRC?
Jolie: Yes, I would say that my clients who have children always touch NFRC somewhere in the process of divorce or separation – definitely through the parenting seminars. Nine times out of ten, I refer parents to NFRC whether to enroll their children in an NFRC peer group or I recommend that the parents sign up for the family, individual, or group therapy sessions. I often recommend that they consider going for family counseling as well.
Q: So what impact have you personally seen NFRC services have on your clients as individuals?
Jolie: I have a lot of those stories where my client’s feel like without NFRC their kids wouldn't be healthy, and that they wouldn't have learned the tools they need to move forward. Just overall, the fact that NFRC helps them think beyond “today” is essential. Usually when clients walk into our office “today,” they’re going through the worst times of their lives. So when NFRC starts getting them to think about the future then it’s not as difficult.
Q: When we spoke to one of your previous clients it came up that one of the most beneficial experiences was when NFRC coaches advocated for and represented each child. How often do families engage in this collaborative environment, and how do you think NFRC’s presence helps the situation?
Jolie: I do a lot of mediation where the children are not part of the process. When I work in collaborative case, the concept is that the children have the support in the room by having a child specialist. Especially when they’re early on in the divorce they learn how to master the process and gain the skills to not get entangled in the fighting. The coaches are there to help redirect the parents and support the children. It’s a great service to keep the kids out of the court process and the adult issues.
Q: So how do you think we can get the word out about NFRC more to other lawyers?
Jolie: I think in Howard County, everyone who deals with domestic lawsuits knows about NFRC. I honestly feel like it’s become a household name. I don’t think there are domestic lawyers out there in the area that don’t know about NFRC. I’m not sure everyone knows the depth and breadth of the services that NFRC provides. It is important to make sure attorneys understand that there are support groups, that work with men, women and children, and that they offer family counseling. I think most people in Howard County know about NFRC, but what you have to realize is that more and more people are self-represented and they don’t have lawyers, so those are the people you’re probably going to have to be reaching out to because they won’t know about NFRC unless they have friends or neighbors that are aware of the services.
Q: What else would you like to say about NFRC?
Jolie: I think one thing I’d say is that I’ve known Risa Garon, Executive Director of NFRC, for maybe twenty years, and – to me – Risa is the role model of what people should be like. She has taught me so much with my work and even about raising my own kids. She might share a strategy with me about a case she’s working on, but I’ll be like “Oh my gosh, that’s such a great idea. I should do that in my own family.”
Risa has always reminded me, “You have to be a role model for your clients. People learn by watching,” and I always think about that – no matter how badly people behave, you have to maintain and impress upon clients that anger will not solve the problem and that clients need to “let go” for their own well-being. Risa just has that “knowing” personality. I’ve been on some pretty ugly cases with her and she’s always done a wonderful job. I just think she’s a pillar in our community and she’s done so much for families.
“NFRC is one of the touchstones in my life that reminds me that all of what’s best for me is best for my daughter. It was not only a place that helped my family, but a place that taught me how to take good care of myself.”
Christine and her one-year-old daughter moved in with her parents after she left her former husband for the final time. She had left a few times prior, but this was different – things were bad and she needed to get out. After hearing about Christine’s story, her parent’s neighbor, a Howard County Social worker, urged Christine to go to NFRC. “I trusted her,” Christine said, “so I went to the women’s group at NFRC.” Immediately finding solace in being surrounded by women experiencing similar transitions as she, Christine felt relief. “I was able to see a new life outside of this messy situation that was inherently good.”
At the time of Christine’s separation and divorce, all of her friends were either single or married with kids. “They could be as fabulously supportive of me as they were, but that didn't change the fact that I felt different in their presence now that I was a single mother,” Christine said. “When I was in NFRC’s women’s group I didn't feel different – and that is hugely valuable.”
Christine started with the NFRC women’s group, and soon after she and her daughter both received individual counseling. She later expanded her role and became a peer counselor. Now, almost ten years later, Christine’s daughter is participating as a peer counselor as well. NFRC remains a part of their healthy, happy lives.
“I decided in the very beginning that every decision I make would be in the best interest of my daughter,” Christine says of the start of her journey. But what does that mean? How do we learn how to actually implement that lifestyle? “When I look back and see what NFRC really helped me with, it’s figuring out how I was going to live that philosophy, that belief, that commitment.”
Christine also described how this guiding principle evolved throughout her journey with NFRC and served as a way to measure her own personal growth. “In the beginning it was everything from the jobs I took, to the people I dated and didn’t date, to the way I spoke about my daughter’s father, to exercising and taking care of my health. All of those kinds of decisions where I learned to care for myself, to handle my anger, my sadness, my fear – all of that was to make good decisions that were in her best interest.”
A powerful example Christine provided of this was when she turned down a promotion she has received simply because it wasn’t right for her daughter at the time – a promotion that would have prevented her from having to continually work three jobs. “It had to be right for us. From those kinds of things, to where we decided to live, to the very deliberate way that I created a support community around us were always with the idea of my child’s best interest in mind.”
In highlighting the power of the NFRC community throughout her transition, Christine talked about the benefit of being able to continually speak her story. “Noticing that I’m not angry about my divorce any more and knowing that all of those deliberate steps I’ve taken over the years helped me to become who I am today.”
Christine realizes that doing what is best for her and her daughter is not always easy, but NFRC helps validate the difficult decisions she has to make. “Sometimes it’s hard. I can get resentful when I don’t have child support coming in so things get tight, or the fact that I have to work three jobs, all of that stuff. But the bigger reality is life gets better.” Through these tough times Christine said that having a separate third part, like NFRC, teach her what it meant to make good decisions was a pivotal part of her transition. “NFRC is a great place to figure out how my daughter and I could create this incredible life together, even if it was not the life I had envisioned years ago.”
“NFRC brought a blanket of calmness and order to my life, and most importantly my kids’ lives, at a time when we were desperately seeking both. I am not sure I could have survived the transition into being a single parent without the resources that NRFC provided. I am forever grateful.”
Brent was completely blindsided when his wife of 14 years, and mother of his three children, told him that she wanted a divorce. Like all couples, they had had their rough years coping with raising three young children, juggling demanding careers, and the difficulties of keeping their love life afloat. While Brent saw these challenges as normal family challenges, there was much more going on under the surface of these issues. His former wife had fallen out of love with him and decided she was ready to exit the marriage.
Panic gripped Brent as he and his former wife struggled with how to navigate their divorce. They acknowledged that their young children, ages 12, 10, and 8, needed them more now than ever, but how could they juggle that? Soon after, they found NFRC.
Brent and his former wife first used NFRC’s divorce coaching services at their mediation sessions. There, Brent was allowed to voice his emotions about his divorce in a free space. “It was so powerful having someone acknowledge my needs and my emotions at that time – a time when my wife, who had been at my side for 14 years, was no longer playing that role,” Brent said.
As a child of divorced parents, Brent’s top priority was to be able to raise his children in a “traditional” dual-parent household. Therefore, when his wife came to him wanting to separate, Brent was terrified of the outcome. “I was scared. Scared almost to paralysis of being a ‘single parent’ of three great, growing and adventurous kids.” Losing the partnership of a spouse is often the most difficult part of a divorce because it results in the loss of the only person with whom to share the parenting experience.
However, when Brent’s marriage did fall apart, NFRC helped him realize that with the help of a good Parenting Plan his children could still have a normal and loving upbringing despite having separated parents.
Not only did NFRC help Brent’s family initially with transition, but also remained a guide and reference for years after. Almost 10 years after the separation, Brent’s younger daughter had come to him and told him that she was worn down with the back-and-forth shared custody model with him and her mother. Immediately, Brent, his daughter, and his daughter’s mother met with NFRC to develop a revised plan to accommodate her needs. Their services have become life-long tools.
At its core, NFRC strives to give families happy endings. Brent’s biggest piece of advice to others in similar positions: “You will survive. Let NFRC drive the building of the foundation. They have experience and know how to make this happen. You are not alone.” Brent has found happiness in a new relationship and still refers back to NFRC’s Parenting Plan to help guide him along the way.
“Walking into NFRC, I realized for the first time that I was not alone in my divorce.”
When Liz and her former husband decided to separate, she felt as though her entire family system was imploding from within. After many years of struggling with her marriage Liz felt lost trying to navigate the unfamiliar divorce process alone.
As a stay-at-home mom, much of Liz’s sense of self stemmed from her roles as a wife and mother. When she and her former husband began the divorce process she was overwhelmed by the fear that the dissolution of their marriage meant that she had failed her family. “It was devastating and I blamed myself completely for the pain I felt I was inflicting on my children,” Liz said of her then-crumbling world.
Through counseling and coaching from NFRC Liz was able to gain the confidence and perspective to be the strong parent her children needed. Participating in almost every service NFRC provides, including creating a customized Parenting Plan, individual coaching/counseling for Liz and her former husband, along with both group and individual therapy for all three of her children, Liz found the support she needed to help her family remain intact. “We had no idea how to navigate our divorce other then wanting our children to be in best emotional place as possible. NFRC always kept that as the focus. It was what fueled our commitment and success,” Liz said.
NFRC helped Liz and her family every step of the way during the transition process, especially during collaborative meetings with their divorce lawyers to ensure that every voice was being heard. There were even child specialists who represented each of her children’s perspectives, which was a real turning point and breakthrough for the parents. “It was surreal – my entire life was being presented in a room full of people whose goals were to take it apart and rebuild it in the best way possible to help my family.” Today Liz’s children are flourishing, and she and her former husband have a positive, working relationship to maintain a healthy family dynamic.
“Seeing through the difficulties of divorce and realizing that what matters most is not just the individual, but the family unit in this new form – well, NFRC did that for us, and my gratitude is eternal.”