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The Way We Really Are: Coming To Terms With America's Changing Families Hardcover – April 3, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 3, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465077870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465077878
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #626,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Once again, as in her groundbreaking study on the American family, The Way We Never Were, Coontz cuts through mind-numbing nostalgia and rigid righteousness that has made the debates about the American family's decline even more volatile. Coontz asks if we can learn from history. Never one to disavow the complexity of today's socioeconomic issues and their impact on families, she tackles a gamut; a few of them are: working mothers, the future of marriage, the well being of children in gay and lesbian families, the strengths and weaknesses of single-parent households, and the significant lag between our new social realities and the values, behavior, and institutions struggling to adjust. Coontz calls not for oversimplified analyses or tweaked consensus, but the sensitive assessments of problems unique to the day.

Stressing the importance of using history and sociology as tools to generate solutions to today's problems, she reframes our perception of certain crises. In a discussion, for example, of the classic clash between teens and adults, she isolates the adolescent's lack of role and purpose in society as the major culprit. Finding themselves in a myriad of double binds, "what we often call the youth culture is actually adult marketers seeking to commercially exploit youthful energy and rebellion." What's the point of framing problems in the larger historical context? A larger view diffuses tensions and can place blame in its appropriate baskets. Ultimately, it leads to a kinder way of judging one's circumstances. And it is less lonely.

The Way We Really Are grew out of the discussions, speaking engagements, talk-show gigs and interviews that followed the publication of The Way We Never Were. What do people miss about the '50s, our favorite decade? "Nostalgia for the 1950s is real and deserves to be taken seriously," Coontz writes, "but it usually shouldn't be taken literally." Families seemed more cohesive then; indeed, family life seemed easier to shape and hold. Coontz reviews the evolution toward this unprecedented ear of privilege that was the '50s from post-World War II through the end of the "fifties experiment."

Perhaps not as innovative as The Way We Never Were, this volume is nonetheless thoughtful, somber, and realistic. It's impossible not to agree that grieving for a misremembered past dulls our wits and incapacitates our imaginations. Coontz asks us to quit kvetching and face the music. "With 50 percent of American children living in something other than a married-couple family with both biological parents present, and with the tremendous variety of male and female responsibilities in today's different families, the time for abstract pronouncements about good or bad family structures and correct or incorrect parental roles is past." A viable future for the American family can be generated based on accepting the truth of where we are today. --Hollis Giammatteo

From Library Journal

In chapters like "Working with What We've Got," Coontz provides an antidote to Dan Quayle's "new consensus on the importance of the traditional family." She argues that the traditional family is not the only model; there is also the two-parent primary breadwinner model, a historically new form that is possibly giving way to a postmarriage culture. For Coontz, it is important to go beyond sound bites and ensure that history, sociology, and economics are used, that new consensus thinkers do not invoke selective data or simplified conclusions or create "quack family medicine"?laws in taxation, housing, zoning, divorce, and childcare that favor married couples only. A family historian at Evergreen State College, Coontz references such data as the established correlations between a mother's educational attainment and her children's success, which are not cited by critics of nontraditional families. Although this is Coontz's fourth book about families, her voluminous notes display all recent research. Zestful and pointed; for all social science collections.?Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book describes factors playing for and against the well-being of families in the US today. The book seems to have 3 simultaneous goals: to describe and contrast the economic conditions of single- and two-parent heterosexual families, to provide self-help, support or guidance for two-parent families in crisis, and to suggest government policies to help American families thrive. Some of the topics covered in the book include: the idealization of the 1950s, working mothers, the future of marriage, divorce, traditions that should be abandoned, who's to blame for families in crisis, societal change and risk for kids, and the strengths and vulnerabilities for today's families.
The title of the book misled me a little. With a title like "The Way We Really Are", I expected the book to detail the kinds of families that exist in the US today. I was interested in learning how many families consist of adults with their own children, or with step children, or with no children, and how these numbers are changing. And how many families consist of homosexual couples with children, and is this number growing? How many families are nuclear families, and how many extended families do we find in the US today? Are there differences in these statistics according to race or ethnic background? What about family units that consist of divorced or widowed adults and in-laws, step-parents, or aunts or uncles? But that's not what this book is about. Most of the book deals exclusively with the economic well-being of single and two parent heterosexual nuclear families. Homosexual families are mentioned briefly in a few paragraphs towards the end of the book, and extended families receive no mention at all.
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23 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed Ms. Coontz's previous book but found this one a disappointmet. "The past wasn't what we think it was and anyway we can't go back", is a useful starting point for debate on any social topic. The question on everyone's mind then becomes, "So what should we do now?". And unfortunately the author never addresses the fundamental of what might make for a good family. Why do people look back at the 50s as a golden age? Forget every television image and false theory, concentrate instead on two variables: parental involvement as measured by time and continuity of environment.
If Ms. Coontz had confined herself to these I think she would found her answer to why many people think children today are being shortchanged. Forget the question of whether such families are led by gays, lesbians, single parents, people who have remarried, etc. The fact is parents spend much less time today with their children, by all measures, and there's much less continuity whatever the situation.
"This is how things are today, deal with it", is not a solution or even a very sophisticated description of the problem. If one can imagine a world of diverse families it still stands to reason that the basic needs of children are probably similar and the author might spend some time spelling out what they are. That book has yet to be written. There's no reason a progressive couldn't write such a book but he or she would need a lot of courage.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The sad part of reading this book is the realization that, for the most part, this is still the way we really are. Dr. Coontz offered numerous suggestions on ways to deal with the problems of the new family but hardly any have been implemented in the US. The writing is clear and easy to understand despite your level of knowledge on the subjects discussed. The author's later writings have been equally knowledgeable and accessible to laymen and experts alike. "Marriage, A History" is perhaps the best book available for a factual look at marriage from the beginning of human civilization till today. Dr. Coontz's authority on the subjects of family life and marriage has been well established. She provides an unbiased look at who, what, where, when, why and how. The what to do about it part is her gift with purchase. We need to pay attention.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth A. Root on June 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
'Initially, Ms. Coontz builds a pretty impressive case for her point of view, backing it up with studies and statistics. Alas, about two thirds of the way through she begins to fall down: there is much more opinion and much less evidence. In most controversies, there is a large middle-of-the-road (MTR)contingent that forms the "swing vote" and sympathizes to a certain degree with both the extremes. Coontz seems to lose any understanding that she may have had of these people and her arguments accordingly become less likely to sway them. At this point I felt that she wasted all the good that she might have done.

Most people that I know see a difference between, for example, a family needing help because they have lost a bread-winner and one created by parents who not in a position to support their children from the beginning. The first family is seen as having played by the rules and suffered a misfortune and worthy of assistance. The latter parents are sometimes seen as cheats who did not make a reasonable effort to be self-sufficient and suffer the consequences of their actions. The MTRs may accept that it is wiser in long run, particularly given that children are involved, to assist these latter families, but balk at being asked to conceal their disapproval. I think that Ms. Coontz, and many of her colleagues in the social sciences, need to read up on evolutionary psychology and game theory. Even if one doesn't accept that human psychology is largely genetically determined, it does help explain the social uses of a lot of behavior. I can recommend Steven Pinker's
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