We’re Still Family: What Grown Children Have To Say About Their Parents’ Divorce
By: Constance Ahrons, Ph.D.
Reviewed By: Jon Henshaw, M.A.
Constance Ahrons has spent the last three-decades working with, and conducting research on, families of divorce. In her follow up book to "The Good Divorce," she's compiled the results of her landmark two-decade study of how divorce affects families, and adult children of divorce.
In the first section of the book, Dr. Ahrons strongly challenges the idea that the only healthy family is that of a traditional nuclear family. For example, she asks the reader if it's healthier for a child to live in a home where two parents are hostile and abusive, or in a single-parent home that's relatively void of those stressors. She also contends that children living with a single-parent doesn't necessarily mean that they're sentenced to live out a troubled life. In fact, she gives evidence to the contrary. The author believes that divorce can be a positive experience, and that divorce doesn't destroy families, it simply rearranges them.
Dr. Ahrons further dispels the many misconceptions that are often associates with divorce in American society. Those misconceptions include:
- Parents should stay married for the sake of the kids
- "Adult children of divorce" are doomed to have lifelong problems
- Divorce means you are no longer family
- Divorce leaves children without fathers
- Exspouses are incapable of getting along
- Divorce turns everyone into exfamily; in-laws become outlaws
- Stepparents aren't real parents
She explains how the misconceptions of divorce are distortions of reality, and she offers the reader strong evidence for why each view paints a false picture. Furthermore, she borrows from her research to challenge the stereotypes of what children of divorce really want and need. Results from the 173 participants showed:
- 76 percent do not wish their parents were still together
- 79 percent feel their parents' decision to divorce was a good one
- 79 percent feel that their parents are better off today
- 78 percent eel that they are either better off or not affected
Throughout her work with families of divorce, Dr. Ahrons has developed 3 types of marriages that often end in divorce. They include:
- Good Enough
- High Conflict
In her book, she goes into detail explaining each type of marriage, and how each one usually leads to divorce. She also discusses the impact these types of marriages have on children during, and after a divorce.
The second section of the book focuses on the adjustments and changes that occur during and after a divorce. Dr. Ahrons discusses important divorce situations, like joint custody, vulnerability of the father and child relationship, and the creation of blended families through remarriage.
She reserves the last section of her book to strengthening what she calls the "binuclear family." Dr. Ahrons lays out a simple, yet powerful formula for helping children survive and thrive in a post-divorce family. That formula includes the following items (with much greater detail given in the book):
- Be supportive and nurturing
- Don't involve the kids in your conflicts
- Stay involved in their lives
- Respect each other's rights as parents
- Communicate with each other about the children's needs
- Provide a stable and secure family environment
For me, the best insights in the book came in the last chapter. Dr. Ahrons posits two questions to her research participants:
- From your experience growing up in a divorced family, what advice would you give to parents who are divorcing?
- What advice would you give to other kids whose parents are divorcing?
The answers that follow are tremendously valuable to anyone (including children) who are experiencing, or have experienced, divorce.
I highly recommend this book to parents who are concerned about the impact that their divorce may have on their children, and to adult children of divorce who are struggling to understand how their parents' divorce has impacted their lives.