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What is the real legacy of divorce?  Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., author of the highly praised The Good Divorce, decided to find out by expanding her landmark study to include in-depth interviews with 173 grown children whose divorcing parents she had interviewed twenty years earlier.  What she has learned is both heartening and significant.

In We're Still Family, Ahrons challenges the myth that children of divorce are troubled, drug abusing, academically challenged, and unable to form adult relationships.  Instead she provides new evidence that the legacy of divorce is not as devastating as some researchers have suggested.  Major findings show that:

  • Most of these young adults emerged stronger and wiser in spite of--or perhaps because of--their parents' divorces and remarriages.

  • The majority were very clear that their parents' divorce had positive outcomes, not only for their parents but for themselves as well.

  • More than half felt that their relationships with their fathers actually improved after the divorce.  While their new families of stepparents and half-siblings may look different than other families, the majority of these young adults feel connected to the family members who make up their world.

Divorce is never easy for any family, but it does not have to destroy children's lives or lead to family breakdown.  By listening to the voices of these grown children, divorcing parents will learn what they can do to maintain family bonds.  They will find helpful road maps identifying both the benefits and the harms to children postdivorce.  Parents need to be comforted by the truth about divorce and not threatened by alarming misinformation and overblown worst-case scenarios.  And they need to believe that after all is said and done, their children will look at their post divorce families and say with conviction, "We're still family."

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Praise for We're Still Family

 

“A more nuanced picture of divorce, one that defies sound-bite conclusions…Constance Ahrons is generous, wise and pragmatic.”                                                                                          

- San Francisco Chronicle

  We’re Still Family will comfort divorced parents and their children—and discomfort those who believe divorce is consistently negative for kids.”                                                                             

 - USA Today 

 “‘We're Still Family’ makes a strong case for divorce being a complicated experience, one that children, given help, can cope with.”

- Boston Globe

“Ahrons reminds parents it's not the quantity of time they spend with their child, but the quality of relationship they establish: reliability, consistency and genuine interest in their lives are what matter most to children . . . Ahrons' supportive guidebook should aid anyone trying to make a "good divorce" better.”

- Publishers Weekly

“This essential book challenges the common view that divorce destroys families and irrevocably harms children. Dr. Ahrons, a skillful therapist and gifted researcher provides a new, more accurate vision that shows us how real families shape their lives after divorce. The voices of grown children speaking about their parents’ divorce are compelling, and this practical book is filled with good advice for helping divorced parents and two household families tap into unanticipated strengths.” 

-Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Author of Fear and Other Uninvited Guests; The Dance of Anger

“This book is a gift.  If you are a parent involved in a divorce, go out and buy a dozen copies. Give one to every person who persists in urging you to stay in a dead marriage for the children's sake–and ask him or her to read it and support you in ensuring that your children grow up feeling secure and loved by both parents.  With her long-term unbiased research, Ahrons has shown that it can be done.”

 - Mary Catherine Bateson

Author of Full Circles, Overlapping Lives

“Here is the REAL story of divorce for today's rearranged families.  Filled with solid research, it will hopefully put to bed the incorrect conclusion that divorce results in the demise of the family.”

 -Vicki Lansky

Author of Divorce Book for Parents and It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear

“ Insightful, wise and honest, this longitudinal study is an important addition to our understanding the family after divorce.”

 -Warren Farrell, Ph.D.

Author of Father and Child Reunion and Why Men Are the Way They Are

 “A genuine tapestry of life following divorce. Woven into the fabric, we discover the resilience of grown children and expanded definitions of the meaning of family.  This is required reading for those contemplating divorce, recently divorced, or long-divorced; adult children who experienced divorce; clergy, mental health practitioners, teachers and policy-makers.”

-Evan Imber-Black, Ph.D.

Editor, Family Process and
Director of the Center for Families and Health, Ackerman Institute for the Family 

“This engaging, eminently readable book is not only a contribution to current debates over the long-term impact of divorce, but an important piece of social history that will be consulted by scholars for many years to come."

-Stephanie Coontz

Author ofThe Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

“Drawing on her landmark, two-decade long study of the adult children of divorced parents, Dr. Ahrons, one of this country's foremost authorities on marriage and family therapy, offers sound, sensible advice about how divorcing couples can promote their children's well-being after a marriage dissolves.  Invaluable reading for anyone who has been divorced or who has experienced their parents' divorce.”

-Steven Mintz

John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History, University of Houston and
Author of
Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life

"A welcome surprise for contemporary families who will learn that divorce does not have to destroy families nor damage children.  Without the usual stereotypes or clinical biases, Ahrons documents the complexities of divorced families from the responses of the children of divorce, now grown up with families of their own, and tells us what works and what does not." 

-Pauline Boss

Professor, University of Minnesota and
Author of Ambiguous Loss

“Grounded in scientific research and years of clinical experience, a leading authority on divorce presents a compassionate and refreshing antidote to doomsayers who exaggerate the perils of divorce.  It is filled with insights and advice that will pay huge dividends to divorced parents and their children.  If you want the best for your children, read this book.”

- Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D.

Clinical Professor of Psychology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and
Author of Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex

 “With clarity, compassion, insight and humor, Dr. Ahrons gives us a blueprint to follow so that children can thrive and even flourish as they emerge from divorce, become adults and start their own families.  We're Still Family beautifully presents solid research that answers questions that have plagued families and clinicians alike!”

-Lois Braverman

President American Family Therapy Academy and
Author of 
Women, Feminism, and Family Therapy

 "We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce, by eminent researcher and therapist Constance Ahrons, is a wonderful book.  It is based on the author's highly regarded longitudinal research on divorcing families and is enriched further by her extensive clinical experience.  This book should be required reading for all divorcing and divorced parents and the professionals who work with them."

- Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.

Author, Mom’s House, Dad’s House

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Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

No Easy Answers

Why the Popular View of Divorce Is Wrong

"Everyday meat and potato truth is beyond
our ability to capture in a few words."
-- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

It was a sunny, unseasonably warm Sunday morning in October. In a quaint country inn in New Jersey, surrounded by a glorious autumn garden, my young grandchildren and I waited patiently for their Aunt Jennifer's wedding to begin. The white carpet was unrolled, the guests were assembled, and the harpist was playing Pachelbel's Canon.

A hush came over the guests. The first member of the bridal party appeared. Poised at the entry, she took a deep breath as she began her slow-paced walk down the white wedding path. Pauline, my grandchildren's stepgreat-grandmother, made her way down the aisle, pausing occasionally to greet family and friends. A round of applause spontaneously erupted. She had traveled fifteen hundred miles to be at her granddaughter's wedding, when only days before, a threatening illness made her presence doubtful.

Next in the grand parade came the best man, one of the groom's three brothers. Proudly, he made his way down the aisle and took his position, ready to be at his brother's side. Then the two maids of honor, looking lovely in their flowing black chiffon gowns, made their appearance. My grandchildren started to wiggle and whisper: "It's Aunt Amy [my younger daughter]! And Christine [the longtime girlfriend who cohabits with Uncle Craig, my daughters' half-brother]!" As they walked down the aisle and moved slowly past us, special smiles were exchanged with my grandchildren -- their nieces and nephew.

Seconds later, my youngest granddaughter pointed excitedly, exclaiming, "Here comes Mommy!" They waved excitedly as the next member of the bridal party, the matron of honor -- their mother, my daughter -- made her way down the path. She paused briefly at our row to exchange a fleeting greeting with her children.

Next, the groom, soon officially to be their "Uncle Andrew," with his mother's arm linked on his left, and his father on his right. The happy threesome joined the processional. Divorced from each other when Andrew was a child, his parents beamed in anticipation of the marriage of their eldest son.

Silence. All heads now turned to catch their first glimpse of the bride. Greeted with oohs and aahs, Aunt Jennifer was radiant as she walked arm in arm with her proud and elegant mother, their stepgrandmother, Grandma Susan. Sadly missed at that moment was the father of the bride, my former husband, who had passed away a few years earlier.

When I told friends in California I was flying to the East Coast for a family wedding, I stumbled over how to explain my relationship to the bride. To some I explained: "She's my exhusband's daughter by his second wife." To others, perhaps to be provocative and draw attention to the lack of kinship terms, I said, "She's my daughters' sister." Of course, technically she's my daughters' half-sister, but many years ago my daughters told me firmly that that term "half-sister" was utterly ridiculous. Jennifer wasn't a half anything, she was their real sister. Some of my friends thought it strange that I would be invited; others thought it even stranger that I would travel cross-country to attend.

The wedding reception brought an awkward moment or two, when some of the groom's guests asked a common question, "How was I related to the bride?" With some guilt at violating my daughters' dictum, but not knowing how else to identify our kinship, I answered, "She is my daughters' half-sister." A puzzled look. It was not that they didn't understand the relationship, but it seemed strange to them that I was a wedding guest. As we talked, a few guests noted how nice it was that I was there, and then with great elaboration told me stories about their own complex families. Some told me sad stories of families torn apart by divorce and remarriage, and others related happy stories of how their complex families of divorce had come together at family celebrations.

At several points during this celebratory day, I happened to be standing next to the bride's mother when someone from the groom's side asked us how we were related. She or I pleasantly answered, "We used to be married to the same man." This response turned out to be a showstopper. The question asker was at a loss to respond. First and second wives aren't supposed to be amicable or even respectful toward one another. And certainly, first wives are not supposed to be included in their exhusband's new families. And last of all, first and second wives shouldn't be willing to comfortably share the information of having a husband in common.

Although it may appear strange, my exhusband's untimely death brought his second and first families closer together. I had mourned at his funeral and spent time with his family and friends for several days afterward. A different level of kinship formed, as we -- his first and second families -- shared our loss and sadness. Since then, we have chosen to join together at several family celebrations, which has added a deeper dimension to our feelings of family.

You may be thinking, "This is all so rational. There's no way my family could pull this off." Or perhaps, like the many people who have shared their stories with me over the years, you are nodding your head knowingly, remembering similar occasions in your own family. The truth is we are like many extended families rearranged by divorce. My ties to my exhusband's family are not close but we care about one another. We seldom have contact outside of family occasions, but we know we're family. We hear stories of each other's comings and goings, transmitted to us through our mutual ties to my daughters, and now, through grandchildren. But if many families, like my own, continue to have relationships years after divorce, why don't we hear more about them?


 

The foregoing is excerpted from We're Still Family by Constance Ahrons. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022


Imprint: HarperCollins; ISBN: 0060193050; On Sale: 06/01/2004; Format: Hardcover; Subformat: ; Length: ; Trimsize: 6 x 9; Pages: 304; $24.95; $38.95(CAN)