Reflection: The Pathway to Empowerment

Reflection: The Pathway to Empowerment

A guest article by our member Diana L. Telfer

I was raised to work. My father’s mentality was “God helps those that help themselves.” While my childhood friends enjoyed watching Saturday morning cartoons, I had my weekly chores to complete: cleaning my room, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming and dusting the living rooms and hallways, and then weeding. Growing up in California, weeding was year-round and I hated it. Holidays were also spent working. I vividly remember a Thanksgiving where my parents told my brother and I that if we finished weeding the garden, which was no small job with flower gardens surrounding our home and an overrun juniper garden encircled by our driveway, we could “earn” ourselves a brand-new color television. I also remember my father saying when I was a teenager, “You are my only hope for a successful daughter.”

Roots of Work Ethic. So it is no surprise that I started working at the age of 16 and never stopped. Much of my self-worth has been unconsciously tied to working. After graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in psychology, not the most useful degree, I started out as a secretary moving up to a paralegal. Once I became the director of the legal department for a software company, I decided to go to law school. After law school, I worked for the Third District Guardian ad Litem’s office, started my own firm, then joined a downtown Salt Lake law firm where I was co-chair of the Family Law section. After 12 years at that firm, I fed my entrepreneurial drive and started my own family law collaborative divorce and mediation firm. 

Struggles and Successes. While I’ve done well professionally as an attorney and business owner, I struggled personally. I had two failed marriages and essentially raised two daughters as a single parent. As a result of being a stressed out mother, my relationships with my daughters can be challenging at times. Had I accepted who I was when I was in my twenties rather than trying to change my core self to satisfy others, my children would have had a very different mother and a much easier childhood.

Reflection and Awakening. I previously wrote about this but after the demise of my second marriage, I was emotionally destroyed. Both marriages were unhealthy. I did not want to repeat this pattern so I began what became 8 years of self-reflection and asking curious questions. I dived deep into exploring the beliefs that I held, questioning whether those were my beliefs versus beliefs that were instilled in me. I questioned whether those beliefs still served me in a positive way. I explored my spiritual beliefs, beliefs about myself, and beliefs around what family relationships should be. I studied different religions. I studied Carl Jung, Marion Woodman, Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon Salzburg, Wayne Dyer, Caroline Myss, Judith Orloff, and many others. I read biographies of female trailblazers. After years of study, I finally started getting a glimpse of who I really was and not being ashamed of that person. I am a direct communicator and a strong advocate that can, at times, come across as “a bull in a china shop," as one male colleague called me.

During my self-reflection period, I changed the way I practiced as a family lawyer and how I ran my law practice. It was a struggle since my model was different than my other law firm partners. I could no longer just focus on the legal aspects of divorce. I recognized the importance of addressing the other aspects of my cases that were the “elephants in the room” and influenced decision making including the emotional fears, spiritual values, and financial concerns of the divorcing or separating couples. I wanted to help my clients see that the challenging situation they found themselves in could be an opportunity of transformation like it was for me. However, the only way to accomplish that was to provide opportunities of insight for my clients.

Evolution. It is for this reason that I offer a resource called “Our Family in Two Homes” and “Our Family in Few Homes” for divorcing or separating couples with adult children. This resource is a tool for my clients to thoughtfully prepare for negotiating their settlement. Prior to offering this resource, I would spend time with my clients asking similar questions but the clients paid for the time they met with me. Now my clients can accomplish the same on their own time.

Insight Resource. The “Our Family in Two Homes” workbook allows my clients to really think about their responses, determine what is most important, understand better where conflict arises with their partner, and think about how each of them shows up when conflict arises. The workbook helps clients figure out the values that influence their decision making process and their partners since these strongly impact the settlement negotiations. Not only does it explore the areas of trust that have been broken but the areas that have not been broken, which can be the starting point for healing the areas of trust that have been broken. All these aspects are critical in consciously creating a settlement that supports the future envisioned by my clients.