The Unexpected Legecy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study Hardcover – Sep 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. See all Product Description
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My children have continued to experience divorce related issues as they have moved into adulthood. Maturity, relationships, marriage, and parenting have been catalysts for the emergence of feelings that were buried and denied. Judith Wallerstein's excellent book provides the context and structure for my adult children to explore and understand their "new" feelings (and behaviors) enabling them to move-on, happier and emotionally healthier.
My children, their spouses, and I have all read "Unexpected Legacy of Divorce." We have and will continue to use the book as a resource in our on-going effort to get closure. We have all come to understand that the feelings and behaviors that are surfacing are not unique but, rather, are quite "normal" for children of divorce. This has been of great comfort for them - allowing them to cleanse the shadows of divorce and move forward with greater confidence that they are not weird.
Wallerstein has conducted a longitudinal research study of divorce dating back to the late 1970's. "Unexpected Legacy" is the third and most recent book based on the study. In previous books, she has studied the effects of divorce, not only on children, as she has in this book, but also on the divorcing parents. All of the books are "must reads" for those who are considering divorce or have divorced.
Over the years, I have had a number of people confide in me that either they or their spouses were considering divorce. My advice has always been to read Wallerstein's series to learn the variety of outcomes that can arise post-divorce and the strategies of those who faired best. Those considering divorce are all well advised to "do their homework."
These books are also a must read for anyone involved in family and/or divorce counseling - religious or secular counselors.
In "Unexpected Legacy of Divorce," the authors address the myth that the children will do fine if the parents are happy - divorced. Children, no matter how amicable and settled the parents are after divorce, suffer greatly. They lose their family, they lose control of their life (to the whims of parents and rules of courts), and they lose their childhood. All of these combine to provide a series of struggles as they move into adulthood and beyond.
Important subject areas covered in this book include:
* The ghosts of childhood - the bottomline after 25 years
* The exploitation of children by divorcing parents
* The development path to adulthood being thrown out of sync
* Pushing a child's real feelings and thoughts underground by being busy
* Children trapped by real feelings and thoughts of the break-up
* Children dealing with the loss of THEIR nuclear family; the family that created them just vanishing - a loss that will be quietly or openly mourned throughout their lives.
* Why children turn on a parent(s) years later
* Children living with and coping with chaos
* Children and low self-esteem
* The missing father or mother after divorce
* Children growing up lonely
* Relationships with the "steps" (step-parents)
* The loss of mom - whether or not she is physically available
* Court ordered visitation and its disruption of a "real" life for the children to make mom and dad complete
* Children of divorce taking the leap in relationships and marriages - the return of the relationship ghost
* The role of an intact family for modeling and shaping children whether their parents marriage is filled with joy, or loveless, or abusive
* Other residues of divorce for children - fear of loss, fear of change, fear that disaster will strike, especially when things are going well
* And the need for all involved in divorce, directly or indirectly, to be educated on all the issues that emanate from the divorce for children over their life as well as in the short term.
This will not be an easy read for many. It was not intended to be. Nevertheless, the journey this book provides will be fruitful.
I recommend this and Wallerstein's other books highly. These are an important books which will not diminish in value over time. These are classics.
And the effects of divorce don't end there. In addition to losing the familial home, and (often) being forced to relocate, change schools, make new friends, etc (another traumatic event for children), the child is then often exposed to another series of transitions as one or both parents try out a rotating shuffle of new dating and/or live-in partners. If/when the parents settle on new marital partners, then the child faces yet another transition of trying to integrate the new adult/s (and possibly assorted children) into the new family. The complexity of this process increases logarithmically if stepchildren are involved. Particularly in the case of the non-custodial parent, this often means that parental investment drops still further, as the parent focuses his/her attention on building a new family with the new mate. Even in the case of the custodial parent, parental investment may suffer. Stepparental investment usually cannot substitute for this, for various reasons, not least of which is that from the child's point of view the stepparent is an interloper and imposter stealing the parent's attention from the child and taking the place of the other parent; this is particularly likely to happen if the stepparent attempts to assert authority too soon or in a high-handed way. ("You're not my real dad!" is a valid complaint.) Too often, as the adults involved rebuild their lives, children end up feeling (in Wallerstein's evocative phrase) like "leftovers from a marriage no one wanted."
Problems of adjustment are further exacerbated by rigid joint-custody arrangements which are often negotiated around the needs of the adults and do not take the children's growing and changing life patterns into account, so that children's ability to engage in afterschool activities and cultivate friendships are often curtailed by being rigidly marched off to the other parent without regard for such things as baseball games, birthday parties or practices (one child in this situation complained that she felt like a "second-class citizen"). Parents in this situation are often surprisingly deaf to the children's needs (Wallerstein presents several examples of parents who, when faced with complaints of three, four and five-year-old children, responded with, "Everyone has to make sacrifices and they do too.")
The above all mean that children from divorced parents have substantially different life experiences than children whose parents remained married. These different life experiences lead to effects that do not go away after a minor period of adjustment, but instead profoundly shape the way the child looks at the world, at romantic relationships, at parenthood, and at life in general. Children from divorced families are more likely to feel like nothing in life can be taken for granted, like nothing is ever secure (one of her informants speaks about how, even though she knows it's unrealistic, she feels like she can't ever be happy because she's always afraid that a huge catastrophe is waiting just around the corner to strike her and ruin her life). They are severely unsettled in their search for a mate by a lack of a model for building a lasting romantic relationship; instead they have the feeling that "my parents failed at this--" often multiple times, as they watched their parents try out and reject new lovers "--and therefore I will fail too. Failure is inevitable." Children of divorced parents have a much more difficult time dealing with the inevitable romantic conflict that comes with any relationship and may see very minor marital spats as a prelude to the "inevitable" divorce (so what that they think their marriage is a happy one? So what that they're in love with their spouse? Once upon a time, their parents were happy and in love too, and look how *that* turned out. The process had to have started *somewhere.*)
Although Wallerstein is far from being anti-divorce--her work with children has convinced her that in some marriages, particularly those characterized by physical violence, divorce to save the children is absolutely essential--although tragically enough the child often does not understand this and may miss the violent parent and be angry at the divorcing one--one of her main points is that in non-violent marriages, parents should seriously consider staying together for the sake of the children. What she calls the "trickle-down" theory of happiness--the idea that if the partners are unhappy the children are unhappy, and that if the adults are happy the children will be too--is not true. Children's needs and adult's needs are not identical, and children can be quite happy in a marriage where the partners are bored with each other, unhappy, or even completely miserable. If staying together for the sake of the children is simply not an option, then Wallerstein lays out some suggestions for softening the blow, including trying to minimize change for the child as much as possible--although she points out, this will only lessen the impact. It won't make the effects of divorce go away.
I have two main criticisms of this book, one specific and one personal. First, the specific one. Wallerstein has some very harsh words for the court system when it comes to custodial arrangements, and while I can see her point that the system is far from ideal, I feel that she doesn't give the courts enough credit. The courts take over when the parents involved cannot or will not come to an agreement on their own, usually due to anger at each other. Because of this, the parents are so caught up in their own emotions that they themselves will not put their child's best interests first. It then becomes the role of the courts to "lay the smack down" and force through a deal, but it has to be one that both parents will accept. How is a court supposed to *make* a parent put his or her child's interests first? Sadly, work trumps extracurricular activities--for good reason. Wallerstein also blasts the courts because she claims they make it difficult for parents to speak up for children's interests, since one parent that complains is often accused of harboring anger at the other, but the fact of the matter is, that this is a real problem. Children and custody can be and all too often are turned into weapons against the other parent. As someone once said, "Custody does an even better job than divorce of turning human beings into insects." Pretty often in Wallerstein's own examples, the custodial arrangements could have worked a lot better if either parent was willing to be a little bit more flexible, but sadly, neither of them were. I think it's telling that Wallerstein herself, for all her harsh words for the court system, is unable to offer specific suggestions for reforming things, besides one proposal (a very good one) that parents who seek some custodial rights after a prolonged absence from the child's life should take time to reintroduce themselves first and that some sort of advice should be provided on how to relate to children who have changed considerably since they last knew them. A second proposal--that custodial arrangements should be renegotiated on a year-by-year basis--sounds good, but I am somewhat dubious; if parents were unwilling to put the child's needs first at the time of the initial agreement, I see no particular reason to think they would later on, especially as both of them move on to form new lives with new mates.
The personal criticism is more of a wish: Wallerstein deals with children who were very young at the time of the divorce and who resided with their mothers after custody. I was in my teens during my parents' divorce, and the father had custody. While a great deal of what Wallerstein said resonated with me, I would still have liked to see more about children in my situation. It would seem obvious that near-adult children of divorce would not be affected as strongly, but I'm not at all sure this is true, and I would like to see more about it. Still, this is a *very* useful book for children of divorce, in figuring out what the effects on their lives are and why. Well done, Wallerstein.
In addition to the compassionate voice of the authors, the real benefit of this book is the longevity of the studies undertaken. The passage of time in these children's lives and the lessons learned therefrom are a perfect counterweight to the impatient tendency of some parents who divorce to say "oh, the kids will adjust," and go right ahead doing what they think will satisfy themselves. In a tangential way, the book also opens for discussion the topic of who should be a parent, given the sacrifices and ability to put another above oneself that it almost always takes. It suggests that we ought to give brass tacks parenting tools to those people, married or divorced, who truly want to be parents, and that we ought to have more societal understanding for the foresight of those who genuinely choose not to be parents, realizing that though they love life and appreciate children, their true priorities lie elsewhere.
Two small criticisms of this book. The time format as far as when the children were interviewed is unclear, and at times possibly inaccurate. This may be to keep people from being identified, but it detracts from knowing precisely at what age certain conversations or events happened. I kept stopping to try to figure out, well if you saw him when he was 12, and then five years later, he would have to be 17, not 21....etc. Getting these details clearer would have increased the impact of the stories. Secondly, the book's concluding chapters seem underdeveloped, especially in light of the implications earlier in the book that "we'll talk about that topic later" and then not seeming to get around to address it. Perhaps a summary list of important conclusions would have helped.
Though not the final word on the critical subject of divorce, this is certainly a landmark book which I hope many will read and take to heart.
It seems that my generation also likes to find "shields" to hide behind: everyone seems to want to have some external reason for his or her behavior, so that there isn't any internal responsibility for it. I was pleased to see that the author didn't treat divorce as the reason for everything that happened to the people in the book, but rather as a contributing factor. Some of the people she writes about were able to rebuild themselves and put together a happy life; others are still struggling with issues from the past.
If your parents are divorced, you may find a lot of information in this book that will help you understand what you've been through. If you are married with children and considering a divorce, you should definitely read this - as the author points out, the needs of children are all too often ignored during the divorce process, so it will be up to you to make sure that their voices are heard. Finally, if you're involved with someone whose parents are divorced, maybe you'll gain some insight into some aspects of your partner's personality. In any event, this book is well worth the price.