The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting, and Society / Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustments (2Nd Ed.)

By Biblarz, Timothy J. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting, and Society / Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustments (2Nd Ed.)

Biblarz, Timothy J., Journal of Marriage and Family

Book Review Editor's note: Copies of the book, The Postdivorce Family, were inadvertently sent to two individuals for review. Both reviews appear below.

The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting, and Society. Ross A. Thompson & Paul R. Amato (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 1999. 272 pp. ISBN 0-7619-1489-7. $55.00 cloth, $26.95 paper.

Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment (2nd ed.). Robert E. Emery. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 1999. 160 pp. ISBN 0-7619-0251-1. $49.95 cloth, $21.95 paper.

The Postdivorce Family, edited by Ross Thompson and Paul Amato, and Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment, Second Edition, by Robert Emery, share two fine qualities: (a) they present work that cuts across disciplines (primarily psychology, sociology, and law); and (b) they share an interest in the intersection of social science research and family policy. Hence, these books will be useful both to social science researchers who want to learn more about how decisions involving children and divorce are made among policy makers and in courtrooms, and to practitioners and legal representatives who want to learn more about major findings in social science research. The texts also will be useful to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the field.

The Postdivorce Family contains eight articles from a multidisciplinary symposium held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It begins with two chapters on the consequences of divorce for children. Robert Emery's opening review paints a fairly daunting picture of the stressors that accompany divorce: Behind children's resilience are subtle psychological costs. By contrast, Emery's approach is characterized by an appreciated balance: Yes, divorce creates problems for children that need to be carefully studied and addressed, but the majority of children who experience their parents' divorce turn out much as do those who grow up in two-parent families in the long run. The heightened risk of lowered child well-being that is associated with divorce is partly explained by changes in children's relations with the resident parent, conflict between the parents, changes in the family's economic standing, and children's relations with the nonresident parent.

Emery extends these themes in his hook, Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment. Chapters 4 and 5 inventory the dimensions of children's lives (social behavior, academic performance, intimate relationships in later life, etc.) that are and are not strongly associated with parental divorce and then analyze the most important family processes (parental conflict, childrearing behaviors, economic factors, etc.) that may lie behind many of these divorce effects. Across both books reviewed here, the greatest theoretical development comes in Chapter 6 of Emery's ( 1999) book in which the author presents his model of the process whereby divorce heightens risks for children (also Emery, 1994). The model proposes, in part, that divorce disrupts the understood boundaries of intimacy and authority around the relationship between parents and around each parents relationship with the child. These boundaries must be renegotiated and redefined following divorce, hopefully in ways that allow effective coparenting.

The second chapter in The Postdivorce Family, by Alan Booth is written in a more personal style, reflected in the chapter's subtitle, "Reflections on Recent Research." After discussing causes of the long-term increase in the divorce rate, Booth identifies three research directions that are of particular importance. First, divorce effects may reflect a preexisting lack of competency at family life among parents, or what Booth calls "poor marriage material." Second, under conditions of high marital conflict, children do better if their parents divorce; in a context of relatively low marital conflict (the majority of divorce cases), children do worse (see also Amato and Booth, 1997; this finding deserves further replication and testing).

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