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 overcame 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.
Judith S. Wallerstein is widely considered the world’s foremost authority on the effects of divorce on children. The founder of the Judith Wallerstein Center for the Family in Transition, she is a senior lecturer emerita at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author, with Sandra Blakeslee, of the national bestsellers The Good Marriage and Second Chances, and with Dr. Joan Berlin Kelley of Surviving the Breakup. Julia M. Lewis is a professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University where she is Director of the Psychology Clinic and Coordinator of the Clinical Psychology graduate program. She is a co-principal investigator of the 25 year Children of Divorce Project. Sandra Blakeslee is an award-winning science correspondent for The New York Times.
Read more about Judith Wallerstein’s class work on Wikipedia.