We're Still Family

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2004-05-12
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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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 Biography

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

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
The Truth About Divorce
No Easy Answers: Why the Popular View of Divorce Is Wrongp. 3
The Adult Children Speak: The Real Legacy of Divorcep. 23
Lingering Memories About Their Predivorce Family: Adult Children Look Back at Their Parents' Marriages Before the Divorcep. 47
Changes, Changes: What Our Kids Want us to Know About What Works and What Doesn't
Living Arrangements: What Kids Have to Say About Their "Best Interests"p. 65
Fathers: The Most Vulnerable Relationship and How Adult Children Work It Outp. 96
Reinventing the Brady Bunch: How Remarriage Changes Children's Livesp. 118
The Importance of Tribal Elders: Adult Children Tell Us How Parental Cooperation Mattersp. 160
Strengthening Our Binuclear Families
Fostering Resilience: Helping Children Thrive in Their Postdivorce Familiesp. 193
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
The Researchp. 245
Notesp. 253
Selected Referencesp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 269
Indexp. 271
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


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 aglorious autumn garden, my young grandchildren and I waitedpatiently for their Aunt Jennifer's wedding to begin. The whitecarpet was unrolled, the guests were assembled, and the harpistwas playing Pachelbel's Canon.

A hush came over the guests. The first member of the bridalparty 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 herway down the aisle, pausing occasionally to greet family andfriends. A round of applause spontaneously erupted. She hadtraveled 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 thegroom's three brothers. Proudly, he made his way down the aisleand took his position, ready to be at his brother's side. Then thetwo maids of honor, looking lovely in their flowing black chiffongowns, made their appearance. My grandchildren started to wiggleand whisper: "It's Aunt Amy [my younger daughter]! AndChristine [the longtime girlfriend who cohabits with UncleCraig, my daughters' halfbrother]!" As they walked down theaisle and moved slowly past us, special smiles were exchangedwith my grandchildren -- their nieces and nephew.

Seconds later, my youngest granddaughter pointed excitedly,exclaiming, "Here comes Mommy!" They waved excitedly as thenext member of the bridal party, the matron of honor -- theirmother, my daughter -- made her way down the path. She pausedbriefly 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 hisright. The happy threesome joined the processional. Divorcedfrom each other when Andrew was a child, his parents beamed inanticipation of the marriage of their eldest son.

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

When I told friends in California I was flying to the EastCoast for a family wedding, I stumbled over how to explain myrelationship to the bride. To some I explained: "She's my exhusband'sdaughter by his second wife." To others, perhaps to beprovocative and draw attention to the lack of kinship terms, Isaid, "She's my daughters' sister." Of course, technically she's mydaughters' halfsister, but many years ago my daughters told me firmly that that term "halfsister" was utterly ridiculous. Jenniferwasn't a half anything, she was their real sister. Some of myfriends thought it strange that I would be invited; others thoughtit 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 violatingmy daughters' dictum, but not knowing how else to identify ourkinship, I answered, "She is my daughters' halfsister." A puzzledlook. It was not that they didn't understand the relationship, butit seemed strange to them that I was a wedding guest. As wetalked, a few guests noted how nice it was that I was there, andthen with great elaboration told me stories about their own complexfamilies. Some told me sad stories of families torn apart bydivorce and remarriage, and others related happy stories of howtheir complex families of divorce had come together at familycelebrations.

At several points during this celebratory day, I happened to bestanding next to the bride's mother when someone from thegroom's side asked us how we were related. She or I pleasantlyanswered, "We used to be married to the same man." Thisresponse turned out to be a showstopper. The question asker wasat a loss to respond. First and second wives aren't supposed to beamicable or even respectful toward one another. And certainly,first wives are not supposed to be included in their exhusband'snew families. And last of all, first and second wives shouldn't bewilling to comfortably share the information of having a husbandin common.

Although it may appear strange, my exhusband's untimelydeath brought his second and first families closer together. I hadmourned at his funeral and spent time with his family and friendsfor several days afterward. A different level of kinship formed, aswe -- 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 offamily.

You may be thinking, "This is all so rational. There's no waymy family could pull this off." Or perhaps, like the many peoplewho have shared their stories with me over the years, you arenodding your head knowingly, remembering similar occasions inyour own family. The truth is we are like many extended familiesrearranged by divorce. My ties to my exhusband's family are notclose but we care about one another. We seldom have contactoutside of family occasions, but we know we're family. We hearstories of each other's comings and goings, transmitted to usthrough our mutual ties to my daughters, and now, throughgrandchildren. But if many families, like my own, continue tohave relationships years after divorce, why don't we hear moreabout 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.

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