ALL THE HAPPY FAMILIES by Paul Bohannon

ALL THE HAPPY FAMILIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

. . . are not intact nuclear families, or two-parent households. So say both anthropologist Bohannon and family therapist Minuchin (below)--each aiming, in a different way, to foster broad, positive thinking about the current revolution in family forms (reflected throughout this issue, even in the maxims of Judith Martin/ Miss Manners). Bohannon, dean of Social Sciences and Communications at the U. of Southern California and author of related works (Love, Sex, and Being Human; Divorce and After), wants us to think of marriage and divorce in a sociohistorical context, and to give as much attention to preserving the post-divorce family as we now do to divorce. The resulting book is composed of several disparate parts--and may baffle or frustrate many readers. There are two major sections, ""The Divorce Industry"" and ""Well Families""--plus a finale, ""Toward a Well-Family Industry."" ""The Divorce Industry"" starts by decrying the many professions and businesses that ""profit from divorce""--but goes on to point out, for one, the dramatic recent improvement in court handling of divorce cases. Then we have ""A Short History of Marriage and Divorce in the Western World""--from the ancient Hebrews through recent changes in American divorce law--to make the point that marital breakdown causes divorce, not vice versa, and ""a high divorce rate does not have to mean an unstable family."" There follows a look at ""Other Kinds of Marriage""--polygynous (a considerable section on the Mormons) and polyandrous (among the Toda and Kota of India). ""The important point is that the family changes with time and culture."" Then comes ""The Stations of Divorce""--mostly restating the disputable findings of Abigail Trafford's Crazy Time and Elizabeth CauhapÉ's Fresh Starts. The section ends, more auspiciously and centrally, with two chapters on children, largely based on the fine work of Wallerstein and Kelly (Surviving the Breakup), to point up children's needs and what constitutes, for them, ""a successful divorce."" The second section, on ""Well Families,"" brings some concrete guidance--but first on the causes of marital breakdown; then, chiefly from Robert Weiss' excellent Going It Alone, on one-parent families; subsequently and most rousingly, on ""the disjointed family"" (sole custody, with the non-custodial parent still involved), ""the binuclear family"" (joint custody), and the stepfamily. These latter chapters urge various measures that may be summed-up in the terms ""co-parenting"" and ""multiple family membership."" (Underlying all is a stress on the father-child bond, irrespective of marriage.) Some instructive historical material (especially recent US), some insight into new families, and a laudable point-of-view--but who will find the parts? who will read the whole?

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
Publisher: McGraw-Hill