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.

[from the inside cover]

Wallerstein - The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

About the Author

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.

[from the inside cover]

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   ix
Preface xiii
Introduction  xii



When a Child Becomes the Caregiver    3


Sunlit Memories   14


Growing Up Is Harder   26


What If They'd Stayed Together--and What If They Can't   39


When There's No One to Set an Example   52


Setting an Example   71

                  LARRY AND CAROL


The Wages of Violence   87


Our Failure to Intervene  106


Order Out of Chaos  121


Family Ties  131


Undoing the Past  146



Growing Up Lonely  159


Court-Ordered Visiting, the Child's View  174


Sex and Drugs  186


Evolving Relationships  195


The Custody Saga Continues  204



The Vulnerable Child  225


The Stepfamily  236


Picking Up the Pieces, One by One  254



Is Not Fighting Enough?  269


Children of Divorce  282


Conclusions  294


Notes  327
Index  339

[from the hardbound edition]


"This book reads like a compelling novel. Judy Wallerstein and co-authors take us on a courageous and objective confrontation of the aftermath of divorce as it affects children from childhood to adulthood. A must for anybody dealing personally or professional with the issue of divorce."

--Paulina F. Kernberg, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry,
Weill Medical College of Cornell University

"This book shakes us all into recognizing the long-term effects on children of a broken family. It reveals the adult's myths about divorce and the adult's expectations for their children's outcomes. Studying children of divorce 25 years later destroys these myths, and gives us new, important insights."

--T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,
author of Touchpoints

"This book, both tough-minded and extraordinarily compassionate, unflinchingly lays out the difficulties, terrors, and hard-won achievements of young adults who are trying to make a good marriage without a model of how it's done. An absolute must-read."

--Judith Viorst
author of Necessary Losses and Imperfect Control

"Parents and children experience a different divorce, Judith Wallerstein shows, and our legal system and the parental behavior that it sanctions and generates only increase this difference. This remarkable, sobering book is must reading for anyone concerned about divorce and children."

--Nancy J. Chodorow, Psychoanalyst and
author of The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender and Culture

"Dr. Wallerstein knows more about the effects of divorce on children than anyone else. This book is invaluable to adult children of divorce, their spouses, judges and professionals who work with divorcing parents, and perhaps most important of all, to parents considering whether or not to divorce."

--Justice Donald B. King
California Court of Appeals (Ret.)

"Wise and profoundly compassionate...Because it compares the life prospects of the children of divorce with those who grew up in intact families, this book is required reading for parents confronting the question of whether to stick by their marriage vows for the sake of the children."

--Sylvia Ann Hewlett,
co-author of The War Against Parents,
Founder, National Parenting Association

"Judith Wallerstein had a simple, brilliant idea. As the divorce revolution began, she would begin listening to its children. Now these children are adults, and they have something to say. Judith Wallerstein has produced the first authoritative account of divorce's long-term effects on children. We are greatly in her debt."

--David Blankenhorn, President,
Institute for American Values, and author of Fatherless America

[from the back cover]

Read more reviews of this book on the website:
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce:
A 25 Year Landmark Study

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce on


When I began studying the effects of divorce on children and parents in the early 1970s, I, like everyone else, expected them to rally. But as time progressed, I grew increasingly worried that divorce is a long-term crisis that was affecting the psychological profile of an entire generation. I caught glimpses of this long-term effect in my research that followed the children into late adolescence and early adulthood, but it's not until now--when the children are fully grown--that I can finally see the whole picture. Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood--with the decision to marry or not and have children or not--is different. Whether the final outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual's life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience.

We have been blinded to this fact by the sheer numbers of people affected and by the speed at which our society has been transformed. Many people today think divorce is a perfectly normal experience. It's so common, children hardly notice it. No stigma. No big deal. After all, if half the child's schoolmates come from divorced families, how could divorce be so traumatic? And isn't it true, they say, that children raised in bad intact families are no better off? Everyone who grows up in America today is affected directly or indirectly by divorce, so everyone has the same worries. In other words, they argue that divorce places no special burdens on individuals (remember, it's a normal experience). Indeed, if researchers were to compare groups of eighteen-year-olds from divorced and intact homes and then groups of twenty-two-years-olds and so forth they would probably find that most children of divorce and children from intact homes often hold similar views. It's true that most young people are worried about similar things.

But I have found what I think are deeper truths to this superficial impression. First, each child experiences divorce single file. Just because others are suffering does not reduce their suffering. Would it lessen a widow's sorrow to have five other widows on the same street? Would that make her feel less pain? Numbers provide no consolation for children or adults in many of life's traumas. People who believe that numbers mute the individual child's suffering have simply not talked to the children. Each child in a classroom half full of children of divorce cries out, "Why me?" Moreover, by following the life of one child of divorce, and then another and another, from early childhood through adolescence and into the challenges of adulthood, I can say without a doubt that they have worries apart from their peers raised in intact homes. These worries are reshaping our society in ways we never dreamt about. That is the subject of this book and a challenge to all of us in coming years.

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study
pages xxvii-xxviii

What prompts so many children of divorce to rush into a cohabitation or early marriage with as much forethought as buying a new pair of shoes? Answers lie in the ghosts that rise to haunt them as they enter adulthood. Men and women from divorced families live in fear that they will repeat their parents' history, hardly daring to hope that they can do better. These fears, which were present but less commanding during adolescence, become overpowering in young adulthood, more so if one or both of their parents failed to achieve a lasting relationship after a first or second divorce. Dating and courtship raise their hopes of being loved sky-high--but also their fears of being hurt and rejected. Being alone raises memories of lonely years in the postdivorce family and feels like the abandonment they dread. They're trapped between the wish for love and the fear of loss.

The amalgam of fear and loneliness can lead to multiple affairs, hasty marriages, early divorce, and--if no take-home lessons are gleaned from it all--a second and third round of the same. Or they can stay trapped in bad relationships for many years. Here's how it works: at the threshold of young adulthood, relationships move center stage. But for many that stage is barren of good memories for how an adult man and woman can live together in a loving relationship. This is the central impediment blocking the developmental journey for children of divorce. The psychological scaffolding that they need to construct a happy marriage has been badly damaged by the two people they depended on while growing up.

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study
pages 32-33

Mothers and daughters can become stuck in the relationships they have at the breakup. We see this most often when the mother cannot absorb the shock of the divorce and go on to rebuild her life in a different direction. Fully identified with their mothers' pain, the daughters cannot break away emotionally to establish truly separate lives even if they live three thousand miles away.

Problems begin when the adolescent girl, who for years may have been her mother's most stalwart supporter, begins to move away from her mother's orbit. She needs to try her own wings, to be proud of her femininity, to be independent and strong. For all children, the adolescent years involve moving out and away. Here the daughter's dilemma becomes increasingly acute as she approaches young adulthood. Her problem is this: How can I leave my mother who has no one but me? Who will take care of her in her loneliness? Who will comfort her? The Old Testament tells the story of Ruth, a young woman who loses her spouse and devotes herself to her mother-in-law. The mother, Naomi, is grief-stricken. Ruth captures the passionate relationship between the two women when she says, "Whither thou goest I will go." This ancient story translates easily into the love and compassion that daughters of divorce feel for their mothers who are grieving and alone. They are bound by the golden strands of love and compassion. Negotiating the separation is a heroic task for the daugther when the mother is lonely. Lisa sobs as she contemplates her mother's plight and wonders what she should do. Another young woman told me that when she closes her eyes, she sees the figure of her mother "for the sad, repressed woman that she is and I cry and cry and feel that I'll never stop crying." Another said, "It used to be that I wasn't sure where she left off and where I began. I feel more separate now but I pity her and I worry about her." Another said, "My mother is a fettered person. She has the right tools but she can't make the shift since the divorce. She's wandered around in chains." Most said that they don't want to be like their mothers because that would be courting failure. They think of their mothers as women who have not been able to keep their dad's love or to capture the love of another man. And they are terrified of growing up to be like them. The mother evokes an extraordinary mix of love, compassion, and frightened rejection.

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study
pages 283-284

[from the hardbound edition]

Read more about this book on the website:
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce:
A 25 Year Landmark Study

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study on

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce:
A 25 Year Landmark Study

Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee's book
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce:
A 25 Year Landmark Study

may be purchased through

Buy Judith Wallerstein's Book

Other Books by
Judith S. Wallerstein

Learn more about these books also written by Judith S. Wallerstein:

Second Chances:
Men, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce

Surviving the Breakup:
How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce

The Good Marriage:
How & Why Love Lasts

Return to Divided Heart Books

Design © 2001 by Insight Web Design
All Rights Reserved