Book Reviews -- Redefining Families: Implications for Children's Development Edited by Adele Eskeles Gottfried and Allen W. Gottfried

By Bahr, Kathleen S. | Family Relations, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- Redefining Families: Implications for Children's Development Edited by Adele Eskeles Gottfried and Allen W. Gottfried


Bahr, Kathleen S., Family Relations


Gottfried, Adele Eskeles, and Gottfried, Allen W. (Eds.) (1994). Redefining Families: Implicaitons for Children's Development. New York: Plenum Press. 235 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-306-44559-X, price $34.50.

The editors announce in the Preface that families are changing and "new family arrangements are forcing redefinitions" of what families are and do. This book aims to push ahead the redefinition process. Its chapters, mostly literature reviews but sometimes with original data, are devoted to the proposition that alternative family structures are not bad for children. The argument of specific chapters, usually supported by research of quite limited generalizability, is: that children are not impaired, and may be benefitted, if their fathers are the primary caregivers; that maternal employment has no negative influence on children (there is also the more provocative claim that the number of hours a mother works does not matter); that no child-custody arrangement is optimal-what works depends on a complex system of factors; that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are at least as good for children as heterosexual parents, if not better; and that grandparents with custody of grandchildren enjoy grandparenting less and are more stressed than other grandparents.

The book's strong points are Norma Radin's fine cross-cultural review of research on fathers as primary caregivers and Charlene Depner's authoritative essay on the policy implications of the child custody literature. Its most serious weakness, aptly stated by Depner with reference to the custody literature, but obviously and thoroughly applicable to Redefining Families as a whole, is that "the dominance of advocacy scholarship ... undermines the credibility of some investigations. ... Post hoc speculation is cited as data, and estimates of prevalence are drawn from small convenience samples that were never designed to generate population statistics" (p. 110). The editors criticize bias and prejudgment, yet, in the absence of definitive data, they consistently favor interpretations and speculations that support their underlying thesis.

As they stress that complex dynamics are involved and warn against single-variable interpretations of multiple-variable processes, one might expect the editors themselves to avoid dogmatic statements. Instead, in unqualified assurances about what they know is not so, their science shades into ideology and advocacy scholarship. …

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