Cover image for We're still family : what grown children have to say about their parents' divorce
We're still family : what grown children have to say about their parents' divorce
Ahrons, Constance R.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2004]

Physical Description:
xix, 281 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Interviews with adult children from the divorced families originally studied in the author's The good divorce, c1994.
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
HQ834 .A675 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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 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 from 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."

Author Notes

Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., is professor emerita from the Department of Sociology and former director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Training Program at the University of Southern California. A senior scholar and founding co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, she is an internationally renowned lecturer, consultant, and workshop leader. Dr. Ahrons is director of Divorce and Remarriage Consulting Associates in San Diego, California

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1979, sociologist Ahrons randomly selected 98 pairs of divorced parents in Wisconsin for a five-year study. As she reported in 1994's The Good Divorce, while everyone handles the divorce process differently, "divorce doesn't destroy families," even if it rearranges and expands them to embrace new members. This reassuring viewpoint has been attacked by researchers like Judith Wallerstein, who argue that divorce's damage may not appear for a decade or more, when ACODs (adult children of divorce) struggle unsuccessfully to bond with partners. In response, Ahrons went back to her original research panel to learn how their children fared. Her team managed to interview an astounding 90% of the original cohort's children. Approximately three-fourths of these 173 "children" (now 30-somethings) thought their parents' divorces were a good idea, and that parents and children were better off than if they'd stayed together. Their comments on what made a difference to them when their parents were divorcing are instructive. Kids are very tuned into-and upset by-parental warfare, so "how parents relate to each other" is key. Parents battle over joint custody schedules, oblivious to how stressful the transitioning between parents can be. 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. More prescriptive than descriptive, Ahrons's supportive guidebook should aid anyone trying to make a "good divorce" better. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (June) Forecast: Ahrons's reassuring book will appeal to divorcees who want to be civilized and think positive. The author will embark on a four-city publicity tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The author of The Good Divorce uses nearly 200 interviews to show that the breakdown of a marriage need not damage the children involved. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



We're Still Family What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce 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' halfbrother]!" 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' halfsister, but many years ago my daughters told me firmly that that term "halfsister" 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' halfsister." 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? We're Still Family What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce . Copyright © by Constance Ahrons. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say about Their Parents' Divorce by Constance Ahrons All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Part I The Truth About Divorce
1. No Easy Answers: Why the Popular View of Divorce Is Wrongp. 3
2. The Adult Children Speak: The Real Legacy of Divorcep. 23
3. Lingering Memories About Their Predivorce Family: Adult Children Look Back at Their Parents' Marriages Before the Divorcep. 47
Part II Changes, Changes: What Our Kids Want us to Know About What Works and What Doesn't
4. Living Arrangements: What Kids Have to Say About Their "Best Interests"p. 65
5. Fathers: The Most Vulnerable Relationship and How Adult Children Work It Outp. 96
6. Reinventing the Brady Bunch: How Remarriage Changes Children's Livesp. 118
7. The Importance of Tribal Elders: Adult Children Tell Us How Parental Cooperation Mattersp. 160
Part III Strengthening Our Binuclear Families
8. Fostering Resilience: Helping Children Thrive in Their Postdivorce Familiesp. 193
9. Advice from the Front Lines: How to Script a Good Divorcep. 222
Postscript: A Call for Change: How Society Can Support Families after Divorcep. 239
Appendix The Researchp. 245
Notesp. 253
Selected Referencesp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 269
Indexp. 271