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We're Still Family

What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce

We're Still Family by Constance Ahrons
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What is the real legacy of divorce? To answer this question, Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., interviewed one hundred and seventy-three grown children whose divorcing parents she had interviewed twenty years earlier for her landmark study, the basis of which was the highly acclaimed book The Good Divorce. What she has learned is both heartening and significant.

Challenging the stereotype that children of divorce are emotionally troubled, drug abusing, academically challenged, and otherwise failing, Dr. Ahrons reveals that most children can and do adapt, and that many even thrive in the face of family change. Although divorce is never easy for any family, she shows that it does not have to destroy children's lives or lead to a family breakdown. With the insight of these grown children and the advice of this gifted family therapist, divorcing parents will find helpful road maps identifying both the benefits and the harms to which postdivorce children are exposed and, ultimately, what they can do to maintain family bonds.

HarperCollins; October 2009
304 pages; ISBN 9780061982026
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: We're Still Family
Author: Constance Ahrons

Chapter One

No Easy Answers

Why the Popular View of Divorce Is Wrong

"Everyday meat and potato truth is beyond

our ability to capture in a few words."

-- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

It was a sunny, unseasonably warm Sunday morning in October.

In a quaint country inn in New Jersey, surrounded by a

glorious autumn garden, my young grandchildren and I waited

patiently for their Aunt Jennifer's wedding to begin. The white

carpet was unrolled, the guests were assembled, and the harpist

was playing Pachelbel's Canon.

A hush came over the guests. The first member of the bridal

party appeared. Poised at the entry, she took a deep breath as she began her slow-paced walk down the white wedding path.

Pauline, my grandchildren's stepgreat-grandmother, made her

way down the aisle, pausing occasionally to greet family and

friends. A round of applause spontaneously erupted. She had

traveled fifteen hundred miles to be at her granddaughter's wedding, when only days before, a threatening illness made her presence doubtful.

Next in the grand parade came the best man, one of the

groom's three brothers. Proudly, he made his way down the aisle

and took his position, ready to be at his brother's side. Then the

two maids of honor, looking lovely in their flowing black chiffon

gowns, made their appearance. My grandchildren started to wiggle

and whisper: "It's Aunt Amy [my younger daughter]! And

Christine [the longtime girlfriend who cohabits with Uncle

Craig, my daughters' halfbrother]!" As they walked down the

aisle and moved slowly past us, special smiles were exchanged

with my grandchildren -- their nieces and nephew.

Seconds later, my youngest granddaughter pointed excitedly,

exclaiming, "Here comes Mommy!" They waved excitedly as the

next member of the bridal party, the matron of honor -- their

mother, my daughter -- made her way down the path. She paused

briefly at our row to exchange a fleeting greeting with her children.

Next, the groom, soon officially to be their "Uncle Andrew,"

with his mother's arm linked on his left, and his father on his

right. The happy threesome joined the processional. Divorced

from each other when Andrew was a child, his parents beamed in

anticipation of the marriage of their eldest son.

Silence. All heads now turned to catch their first glimpse of

the bride. Greeted with oohs and aahs, Aunt Jennifer was radiant

as she walked arm in arm with her proud and elegant mother,

their stepgrandmother, Grandma Susan. Sadly missed at that

moment was the father of the bride, my former husband, who

had passed away a few years earlier.

When I told friends in California I was flying to the East

Coast for a family wedding, I stumbled over how to explain my

relationship to the bride. To some I explained: "She's my exhusband's

daughter by his second wife." To others, perhaps to be

provocative and draw attention to the lack of kinship terms, I

said, "She's my daughters' sister." Of course, technically she's my

daughters' halfsister, but many years ago my daughters told me firmly that that term "halfsister" was utterly ridiculous. Jennifer

wasn't a half anything, she was their real sister. Some of my

friends thought it strange that I would be invited; others thought

it even stranger that I would travel cross-country to attend.

The wedding reception brought an awkward moment or two,

when some of the groom's guests asked a common question,

"How was I related to the bride?" With some guilt at violating

my daughters' dictum, but not knowing how else to identify our

kinship, I answered, "She is my daughters' halfsister." A puzzled

look. It was not that they didn't understand the relationship, but

it seemed strange to them that I was a wedding guest. As we

talked, a few guests noted how nice it was that I was there, and

then with great elaboration told me stories about their own complex

families. Some told me sad stories of families torn apart by

divorce and remarriage, and others related happy stories of how

their complex families of divorce had come together at family


At several points during this celebratory day, I happened to be

standing next to the bride's mother when someone from the

groom's side asked us how we were related. She or I pleasantly

answered, "We used to be married to the same man." This

response turned out to be a showstopper. The question asker was

at a loss to respond. First and second wives aren't supposed to be

amicable or even respectful toward one another. And certainly,

first wives are not supposed to be included in their exhusband's

new families. And last of all, first and second wives shouldn't be

willing to comfortably share the information of having a husband

in common.

Although it may appear strange, my exhusband's untimely

death brought his second and first families closer together. I had

mourned at his funeral and spent time with his family and friends

for several days afterward. A different level of kinship formed, as

we -- his first and second families -- shared our loss and sadness.

Since then, we have chosen to join together at several family celebrations, which has added a deeper dimension to our feelings of


You may be thinking, "This is all so rational. There's no way

my family could pull this off." Or perhaps, like the many people

who have shared their stories with me over the years, you are

nodding your head knowingly, remembering similar occasions in

your own family. The truth is we are like many extended families

rearranged by divorce. My ties to my exhusband's family are not

close but we care about one another. We seldom have contact

outside of family occasions, but we know we're family. We hear

stories of each other's comings and goings, transmitted to us

through our mutual ties to my daughters, and now, through

grandchildren. But if many families, like my own, continue to

have relationships years after divorce, why don't we hear more

about them?

  • News
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Tue, 19 May 2015 12:21:26 -0700
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Fri, 16 Jul 2004 04:37:25 -0700
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