Westmont Magazine Helping Kids and Parents Deal with Divorce
Parents in the process of getting divorced are mad when they show up for class with Georglyn Pannel Rosenfeld ’61. They’re angry with their spouses and they’re furious that Arizona law requires them to attend — and pay for — parenting classes before they can be legally divorced.
But after 35 minutes with Georglyn and her daughter, Natalie Cawood, the anger begins to subside. Some parents even cry. Georglyn softens their hearts by sharing her own pain as a divorced mother who lost custody of her children for awhile. She shows them pictures by youngsters filled with knives, nooses, tears, and broken hearts, and Natalie shares a child’s perspective. Parents finally begin to understand the trauma they are inflicting on their children.
Georglyn asks the class what they are modeling. “Whatever else divorce is for a child, it is at least a major learning experience,” she notes. “Divorcing parents often give their children effective lessons in the energy-draining art of hate. When you’ve learned how to use hate, you don’t need any other weapon.”
However, adults can also teach their children positive lessons.“If parents can get together and set aside their personal grievances for the sake of their children, they model love and kindness, even in the face of catastrophe. Love can be a feeling or a behavior. The feeling of love can follow a behavior rather than precede it,” she notes.
Georglyn’s major message is the importance of forgiveness. “While hate and resentment might be innate to humans, forgiveness is something we learn,” she explains. “A child who is not shown how to forgive grows up not knowing how. A parent’s every movement, attitude, and reaction will be observed by his or her children. It is important to do everything possible to heal your resentment and practice forgiveness.”
Georglyn and Natalie only offer their class in evangelical churches and urge parents to get involved in a church. They see much anger and resentment diminish as parents change their hearts and begin to forgive and put their children first. About 70 percent of the parents pick up free Bibles.
Georglyn thinks Christians experiencing divorce have special needs. When Westmont President David Winter discussed his own divorce 12 years ago, she didn’t feel comfortable sending in information about her book “Divorced Kids.” She believes other alumni shared her reluctance. “Christians must deal with difficult theological issues as well as pain,” she notes.
Fortunately, divorcing parents don’t have to live in Arizona to benefit from Georglyn’s wisdom. She has written a book with Laurene Johnson, “Divorced Kids” (Fawcett Crest, 1992). It explains how divorce affects children and gives positive and practical advice for handling visitation problems, disciplining children, and helping them cope. The book also lists exercises for parents, from working out to keeping a journal to helping others.
Georglyn has created a Web site which is rich with information: www.DivorceandKids.com. Parents can fill out a survey online to explain why their marriage broke up. This information will provide the basis for Georglyn’s next book.
Their own experience with divorce motivates Georglyn and her daughter, a Wheaton College graduate and child welfare specialist who earned a master’s degree in social work. “We could not have done this for people without going through all the pain ourselves,” Georglyn states. After her divorce, she lost custody of Natalie for six months and was separated from her son, Nathan, from the time he was 10 years old. She lived in Phoenix, Ariz., and he lived in Seattle, Wash.
Georglyn, who was the first woman to major in business at Westmont, didn’t expect to end up teaching parenting classes. Although her professors told her she would never get a job with her business degree, she proved them wrong time after time. Her first position was teaching business to high school students, and she went on to earn twice as much as the administrative assistant to the chairman of the board of an insurance company. She then taught management and marketing at a number of colleges, including Westmont. She also went back to school and earned an M.B.A. and a master’s degree in psychology.
Her career took a different turn at the Center for Executive Development at Arizona State University where she designed customized training programs for corporations. Later she became director of research and development for an international sales company. When her second husband became ill and she needed to stay home and care for him, she started her own consulting business, creating training programs for corporations. She has also helped motivational speakers develop seminars, books, and tapes.
In her class, Georglyn draws on her personal and professional experience. Her goal is preventing the kind of trauma described by one 9-year-old who wrote: “Divorce is like two lions in a den attacking each other. You know somebody is going to get hurt real bad. All kids can do is sit behind a window and watch it happen.”