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The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study Hardcover – September 6, 2000
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During the last 40 years, our society's views on how families are created and how they operate has undergone a tremendous shift. In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, authors Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee have assembled a variety of stories from people of different ages and life stages. Some are children of divorce, some are from families that stayed unhappily intact, but all of them offer valuable information important to all of us as parents, children, and members of society at large. Separate chapters focus on the different roles children take on in the event of a divorce or unhappy marriage, ranging from positive role model to deeply troubled adolescent. In many cases, the people interviewed continue to define themselves as children of divorce up to 30 years after the occurrence; this is described by one subject as "sort of a permanent identity, like being adopted or something."
Both encouraging and thought-provoking, the final chapter questions how we maintain the freedom made possible by divorce while, at the same time, minimizing the damage. The authors' response to this question begins with pragmatic suggestions about strengthening marriage--not bland "family values" rhetoric but practical how-to ideas combined with national policy initiatives that have been making the rounds for years. With fascinating stories and statistics, Wasserstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee have illuminated the improvements within reach while our society experiences these massive changes in it's most fundamental relationships. --Jill Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Twenty-five years ago, when the impact of divorce on children was not well understood, Wallerstein began what has now become the largest study on the subject, and this audiobook, which McIntire reads with compassion and warmth, presents the psychologist's startling findings. By tracking approximately 100 children as they forge their lives as adults, she has found that contrary to the popular belief that kids would bounce back after the initial pain of their parents' split, children of divorce often continue to suffer well into adulthood. Their pain plays out in their relationships, their work lives and their confidence about parenting themselves. Wallerstein argues that although the situation is dire, there is hope to be found at the end of good counseling and healing. Unfortunately, in her desire to communicate a lot in a highly accessible format, Wallerstein verges on oversimplification at times. Nonetheless, hers is an important contribution to our understanding of what is a central social problem. Based on the Hyperion hardcover (Forecasts, July 17, 2000).
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The difficulty of writing this article is that one can only make a few comments on a book and subject, the full consideration of which would take us very far. The first paragraph in the introductory chapter recounts a Sesame Street episode in which Kermit the frog interviews a little bird enquiring where she lived. The bird’s response is that she spends half her time happily playing in her mother’s nest, and the rest of the time frolicking in her father’s nest.
This little story illustrates one of the many assumptions that this book comprehensively dispels. Many parents and policy makers assume that as soon as the marriage is dissolved, and parents attain their freedom from an unhappy union, that their children’s lives will exactly be as they were before. This book destroys this notion, and clearly shows the lasting effects of divorce on the children, and how it later shapes and even ruins their lives.
The book represents the voices of these children. They have now grown up, and some have families of their own. They narrate their difficulties in dealing with the loneliness, anger, depression, drug abuse and even the violence in their own lives that followed the break-up of their families. They talk about the unpleasantness of hopping from one nest to another, often having little choice of how to spend their time, and feeling inferior to children from intact families. They are now forcing society to pay more attention at their interests.The book is written in five parts, like five short stories, with each section demonstrating the very unique challenges encountered by these children.
Part one is about Karen James, a child forced by divorce to be a care-giver early in her life and continued to put the needs of others above her throughout her growing years. Her life is compared to Gary, a child of parents who decided to stay together despite their difficult marriage.
Karen’s father was a successful dermatologist, and her mother worked in a floral shop. She regularly yelled at husband for not paying enough attention to the family. He also barked grievances at her. The situation got worse when Mrs. James lost her mother in an accident. Her husband became the principal target of her anger, as Mrs. James rapidly sunk into depression. Eventually and inevitably their marriage ended in divorce, as they continued their savage feud with their children looking on.
With her father meeting and marrying someone else, Karen’s mother floundered from one relationship to the next. Karen, at a very young age, became a substitute parent for her siblings, and even for her mother. Her own childhood had ended early. She continued this habit of parenting others into her personal relationships: always feeling responsible for the problems of others.
Her story is juxtaposed to that of Gary, who grew up in a home where the parents were unhappy with each other, but toughed it out despite their difficulties. Gary grew up, got married and had a family of his own. His parents had been a model for him of how to keep the family together, their unhappiness with each other notwithstanding.
Part two is about Larry, a child raised in a family blighted by domestic violence, and the rage that tormented his life following the break-up of his parents’ divorce. He is compared to Carol, a young who like him witnessed scenes of parental violence without their breaking up.
Part three is about Paula, who suffered from intense loneliness after the divorce when her mother took up studies and continued to work at the same time. Divorce brought about an economic nightmare for both her parents and her mother to make ends meet had to study and work at the same time. This not only led to the loss of structure in Paula’s life but also the constant presence of one of her parents. She was both fatherless and motherless.
Part four is about Billy, a vulnerable child with special medical needs because he was born with congenital heart disease. Billy’s health made it difficult for him to adapt to the changed family environment. His mother quickly remarried and focused on her new family. His father was pre-occupied with sport and his business. Neither seemed sensitive to the time and attention required for Billy.
Part five is about Lisa, who was raised in a family where every effort was made to ensure harmony. Her parents were determined after the divorce not to worsen their child’s suffering and often co-operated with each other. Lisa’s case leads to the question: Is not fighting enough? Does absence of conflict between divorced parents protect the child from suffering? However even this did not stem Lisa’s rage, even though she seemed to have adapted better than others following her parents’ divorce.
Although her father was apparently happily remarried, there was a vast distance between Lisa and her parents than when her family was intact. She had to adapt to the two families, as she continued to hop from one parent to the other. As she grew from a child to a woman in her thirties, she still harboured fears about marriage.
Her life mirrored those of many children of divorce (40% of them) who decide remain single as adults. Some of them like Lisa were co-habiting, others hop from one affair to another, and a few led very solitary lives. Lisa’s story illustrates that although the impact of divorce is immediately felt by children, it is in adulthood that they suffer the most: especially when they venture out in search of love.
The book is an eloquent narrative of the aftermath of divorce and seeks to make us understand the long term impact on the children. The authors warn us that though we have a created a world where there is greater freedom for adults that this carries considerable and hidden costs. The authors wisely point out that their book is not a pronouncement against divorce. They are aware of the acute suffering of adults trapped in failed marriages. They are also equally aware that very few adults take the decision to divorce without due consideration. But they only wish to point out that while divorce may be beneficial to the parents, the consequences for the children are often dire. This book also seeks to assist those who are affected by divorce to rebuild their lives.
This book is also for the policy makers: the judges and a whole array of other stake holders in the legal system: it urges them to pay more attention to the interests of children during and following a divorce. Wisely the authors conclude while it is necessary to improve the post-divorce culture, much more effort must be put in strengthening the institution of marriage.
As a child of divorce, this book touched on a lot of psychology I have and clearly identified numerous root origins of why I feel and act the way I do in so many situations. It was extremely validating. Although the author mentions some of the stories are composited from the sample, there were numerous times she described exactly how I felt growing up and into adulthood. The whole "expecting catastrophe because things are going too well" has been a constant belief for me through my entire life. I can't express the feeling when 30 years of confusion suddenly made sense. The whole scanning faces in a crowd, intense loneliness as a kid despite outwardly happy social behavior, dogged determination to not fail like my parents, check, check, check.
Now, as a father of three boys facing an unwanted divorce after 12 years, despite firmly believing it was something I would never allow to happen once I had kids, this book was simultaneously disheartening and motivational. After reading this, I have fundamentally changed my strategy on approaching parenting arrangements with my ex who is so dead set on divorce. I will now unquestionably devote every resource I have to spending as much time and love on my kids as possible to give them the most consistent, safe and secure presence I possibly can for as long as possible.
For the few critical reviews that mention lack of stats and scientific methods used, did you miss the appendix in the back? Of the divorce studies I've been looking at, this is by far the most grounded and analytical long term work I've come across.
I also agree with other comments that you should not expect this book to offer advice, and to criticize it on those grounds is a disservice. It is a study. It presents findings and strong evidence for uncomfortable truths. It's up to you to decide what to do with that information.
Bottom line: Everyone considering having children at any point in their life should read this book, before getting married and certainly before getting divorced. If you are a child of divorce at any age, you need to read this book. If you are close with any child of divorce, you need to read this book. Basically, if you are a human that gives a s*** about other humans, you need to read this book.