Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Review :The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

I finished this book this week after digesting it for over a month. It was recommended to me by Rob Hildebrand, the youth ministry professor at Multnomah. The book originates from a long-term study conducted by Judith Wallerstein on the effects of divorce on children. Wallerstein intended to complete the study at the 10-year mark, when many of the children were in high school or college. But after reconnecting with one of her subjects many years later, she was awakened to some unexpected long-term effects. Divorce is so complex, but the book intelligently deals with many of the questions brought up by the subject. Would it have been better/worse if the parents had never divorced? What are the implications for future relationships between parent and child? Stepparent and child? Adult-child and romantic interest? How do children of divorce view the world compared to children in intact marriages? These are some tough questions that Wallerstein deals with.

One of the strongest aspects of the book is the comparison between divorced families with intact families with poor marriages. This hits home with me, because while I know many people from families of divorce, I also have experienced unhealthy marriages that remain intact, but don't model a healthy relationship. It was so absorbing to read this book and recognize myself in the accounts. It added a lot of clarity to some of the questions I've been asking myself about marriage and our divorce culture.

This book was extremely important for youth ministry, because the majority of adolescents are growing up in homes affected by divorce. So many parents assume that because divorce is the norm nowadays, that youth will simply "get over it" after awhile and move on. It's simply not true. Divorce creates wounds and affects children's worldviews in radical ways. Most of the people interviewed in the book said that the day their parents divorced was the day their childhood ended. Youth affected by divorce are unprepared and ill-equipped to create their own healthy marriages. Many of the young adults in the book complain that "we were never taught or modeled how to have a healthy relationship." Wallerstein suggests that churches and other social agencies help train adolescents to have healthy romantic relationships and deal with the wounds from their families. Churches can also encourage parents to love their children well, teaching them how to listen to their children and sacrificially meet their holistic needs.

Overall, the book was very insightful. I would highly recommend it to anyone going through a divorce, a child of divorce, or anyone working with families and/or youth. As the church, we are called to be a people who take care of orphans and widows, to bind up the brokenhearted, and love the marginalized. There is an entire emerging generation of young people orphaned and widowed by divorce. We are called to love them. You can find the book here.

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