Cover image for The unexpected legacy of divorce : a 25 year landmark study
The unexpected legacy of divorce : a 25 year landmark study
Wallerstein, Judith S.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxxv, 347 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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HQ834 .W356 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HQ834 .W356 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Twenty-five years ago, Judith Wallerstein began talking to a group of 131 children whose parents were all going through a divorce. She asked them to tell her about the intimate details of their lives, which they did with remarkable candor. Having earned their trust, Wallerstein was rewarded with a deeply moving portrait of each of their lives as she followed them from childhood, through their adolescent struggles, and into adulthood. With The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce , Wallerstein offers us the only close-up study of divorce ever conducted -- a unique report that will change our fundamental beliefs about divorce and offer new hope for the future.Wallerstein chooses seven children who most embody the common life experiences of the larger group and follows their lives in vivid detail through adolescence and into their love affairs, their marriage successes and failures, and parenting their own children. In Wallerstein's hands, the experiences and anxieties of this generation of children, now in their late twenties to early forties, come to life. We watch as they struggle with the fear that their relationships will fail like those of their parents. Lacking an internal template of what a successful relationship looks like, they must invent their own codes of behavior in a culture that offers many models and few guidelines. Wallerstein shows how many over-came their dread of betrayal to find loving partners and to become successful, protective parents -- and how others are still struggling to find their heart's desire without knowing why they feel so frightened. She also demonstrates their great strengths and accomplishments, as a generation of survivors who often had to raise themselves and help their parents through difficult times.For the first time, using a comparison group of adults who grew up in the same communities, Wallerstein shows how adult children of divorce essentially view life differently from their peers raised in intact homes where parents also confronted marital difficulties but decided on balance to stay together. In this way she sheds light on the question so many parents confront -- whether to stay unhappily married or to divorce.The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce should be essential reading for all adult children of divorce, their lovers, their partners, divorced parents or those considering divorce, judges, attorneys, and mental health professionals. Challenging some of our most cherished beliefs, this is a book that will forever alter how we think about divorce and its long-term impact on American society.

Author Notes

Judith S. Wallerstein is a senior lecturer emerita at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

"The sobering truth," the authors declare, "is that we have created a new kind of society." Their new kind of society offers many adults more freedom and opportunities, but it harms other adults and most children. Wallerstein and her associates have been researching the effect of divorce on children since the early '70s. This volume offers structured interviews with some of the young people her team has been working with since 1971, and the authors have used a comparison group of peers in intact families (happy or unhappy) to suggest the cumulative impact of divorce. The authors challenge two myths: that, if parents are happier, children too will be happier; that "divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts its most harmful effects at the time of the breakup." For the half-dozen individuals discussed here, divorce has major consequences in adulthood, particularly as these children of divorce seek to form adult relationships. This is a nuanced analysis that includes suggestions, in the final chapter, about how parents, courts, and social workers can help children cope with the end of their parents' marriage. Wallerstein, an active guest on the talk-show circuit, is the coauthor of several national best-sellers, including The Good Marriage (1995) with Sandra Blakeslee. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

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). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Psychologist Wallerstein follows her two best sellers on the effects of divorce on children (Surviving the Breakup, 1980; Second Chances, 1989) with this third study of 93 adults whom she first interviewed as children 25 years ago. Her findings are presented through five very readable case studies interwoven with other data. When possible, she has interviewed a comparison group of adults from the same neighborhoods whose parents did not divorce, and she partly bases her conclusions on differences between the two groups. Foremost in her findings are that children view divorce differently from their parents (what is intolerable to parents may not be to children) and that the effects of the breakup are long-lastingDnot temporary. Wallerstein also reveals that in many cases divorce's long-term outcomes for these children have been positive: they have battled demons, but many have come to terms with their past and are building satisfying lives, although often at a later age than the comparison group. Her conclusions call for everyoneDparents, counselors, teachers, judges, mediatorsDto pay greater attention to children's needs. A preface, an introduction, appendixes, and notes well explain her study methods and resources. Highly recommended for all libraries.DKay Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In the sequel to her 1989 best-selling book Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce (CH, Jun'89), Wallerstein, along with her two coauthors, brings the longitudinal study of the effects of divorce on children up to the 25-year mark. Organized around the life course of five prototypical adults raised in divorced families, this study is drawn from in-depth, face-to-face intensive interviews interlaced with findings from current research and Wallerstein's own formulations. These are juxtaposed for comparable purposes with several life stories of carefully matched adults from intact families. Wallerstein finds that children of divorce take from their parents' failed married relationship a template that, in most cases, continues to shape their lives. This leads her to conclude that divorce is bad for children and that it is cumulative--"its impact increases over time and rises to a crescendo in adulthood." The author makes several suggestions on how to alleviate these problems, from strengthening marriages to improving the judicial system. This is an important and controversial book that should be read by anyone interested in contemporary social problems. All libraries. E. W. Carp; Pacific Lutheran University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Introductionp. xxi
Part 1 Parallel Universes: Karen and Gary
1 When a Child Becomes the Caregiverp. 3
2 Sunlit Memoriesp. 14
3 Growing Up Is Harderp. 26
4 What If They'd Stayed Together--and What If They Can't?p. 39
5 When There's No One to Set an Examplep. 52
6 Setting an Examplep. 71
Part 2 The Legacy of Divorce: Larry and Carol
7 The Wages of Violencep. 87
8 Our Failure to Intervenep. 106
9 Order Out of Chaosp. 121
10 Family Tiesp. 131
11 Undoing the Pastp. 146
Part 3 The Parentless Child: Paula
12 Growing Up Lonelyp. 159
13 Court-Ordered Visiting, the Child's Viewp. 174
14 Sex and Drugsp. 186
15 Evolving Relationshipsp. 195
16 The Custody Saga Continuesp. 204
Part 4 The Vulnerable Child: Billy
17 The Vulnerable Childp. 225
18 The Stepfamilyp. 236
19 Picking Up the Pieces, One by Onep. 254
Part 5 My Best Case: Lisa
20 Is Not Fighting Enough?p. 269
21 Children of Divorcep. 282
22 Conclusionsp. 294
Appendixp. 317
Notesp. 327
Indexp. 339