This book reports the results of several research projects conducted by Wallerstein to investigate recovery from divorce. As divorce statistics were mounting in the 1960s and 1970s, conventional wisdom held that divorce was rough on spouses and children, but after one or two years, most people got over it and moved on. Wallerstein and her team decided to see how true this was. They interviewed spouses and children who happened to live near their offices in California during the early 1970s and who were going through a divorce at the time. Then they found the same people a year later and interviewed them again to see how many had recovered from the divorce, and to what extent. At the time of the second interview, they were surprised to find out how many people hadn't recovered yet, so they checked back again with the same people after five years to see when the recovery happened. They were quite surprised to find that most people still hadn't recovered after five years, so they found the people again at ten years, and some of them even after fifteen years, and were dismayed to find that most people never really do recover completely from divorce. Some of the spouses, often who originally sought the divorce, came out ahead, but most of the children were devastated by the divorce and hadn't recovered even by the fifteen year mark, when many were already young adults and forming families of their own.
Important results from Wallerstein's research include:
--Women who are older (40+) when they divorce are much less likely to ever remarry than men who divorce at a comparable age. Women who are younger at the time of divorce often remarry.
--The age of the children plays a very important role in how well they adjust to the new family structure. Boys are especially vulnerable if they are between the ages of five and seven when their parents divorce. Girls who are young when their parents split up may suddenly need stronger connections with their fathers when they become teenagers.
--Joint custody didn't seem to be any better for the eventual development of the children than traditional single-parent custody arrangements- -but some parents enjoyed the regular time away from the kids.
My husband's parents divorced when he was three. We've been together twenty years, but until reading this book, I never was truly aware of how devastated he was by the divorce. I knew that the divorce still disturbed him, but I never understood how much or why, or why it was still so sad for him forty years later. The book also got me thinking back to my best friend in middle school, whose parents got divorced. I knew she was very upset about the divorce at the time, but I couldn't understand what she was going through. Her family decided on joint custody, and for a while, it seemed every time I would call her house to ask her to come over, her mother would tell me that she was staying at her father's. Since neither of us were old enough to drive, we stopped getting together as often as before, and eventually, I stopped calling. We found that we couldn't maintain our closeness with all of her bouncing from house to house, and we drifted apart just at a time when she needed close friends the most. After reading this book, I began to understand that to a child, divorce seems to be like amputating a limb- -if someone loses an arm or leg, they generally learn to compensate within a year or two, but they are never completely whole again.
The information and depth of research represented in this book is very good, but the story is not quite complete. In order to determine whether the continuing problems that the children had were due to the divorce or to chance, the study would have much better if Wallerstein had included a control group of similar families who did not divorce. It also would have been good to compare the children of divorced families with children who have lost a parent through death, and adopted children, and children who are raised in single parent families from birth. Designing a study to include all of these groups would be unwieldy, but it would have been nice to at least see for comparison results from other published studies that covered these groups. Overall, though, the book is quite well done, and extremely thought-provoking.