Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family

Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family

by Albert R. Gore, Tipper Gore
     
 

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"Over the past two generations, new economic pressures, profound cultural changes, and rapid demographic shifts have fundamentally altered the way we live our lives. The work week is longer, balancing work and family is harder than ever, and finding high-quality child and elder care is getting increasingly difficult. But if American families can no longer rely on many… See more details below

Overview

"Over the past two generations, new economic pressures, profound cultural changes, and rapid demographic shifts have fundamentally altered the way we live our lives. The work week is longer, balancing work and family is harder than ever, and finding high-quality child and elder care is getting increasingly difficult. But if American families can no longer rely on many of the traditional landmarks by which they formerly steered their course, they are finding creative new ways to define, enrich, and honor their commitment to the most essential of all relationships." As they explore the changing nature of the contemporary family, the Gores introduce us to a dozen families they have come to know over the years. Among others, we meet a blended family with six children born to four sets of parents; an interracial family navigating an increasingly accepting world; a gay couple raising two adopted boys; and a divorced couple who organize their lives around caring for their disabled son. The Gores also share stories drawn from their own experiences, and in chapters on such issues as communication, money, play, and resilience, they provide invaluable insight into the ways families are responding - often with astonishing courage and grace - to the extraordinary challenges they face every day.

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Editorial Reviews

Mary Pipher
This ambitious and hopeful book radiates faith that ordinary people can build strong lives and good communities.
Isabel Allende
An extraordinary achievement. The Gores' experience and vision, plus their comprehensive research, make Joined at the Heart a must . . .
Robert Putnam
This engaging book is serious in intent and playful in execution.
Arlie Russell Hochschild
Warmly appreciative of the diversity of ways we are joined at the heart . . .
Barbara Kingsolver
This book . . . addresses the concerns that truly matter to healthy family life, and is honest about our culture's strengths . . .
Pepper Schwartz
This is a warm and wise exploration of the new terrain of family life . . .
Robert Coles
Here is America's heart and soul embodied in the connected lives of its families — stories of our citizens told sensitively . . .
Juliet Schor
A remarkable blend of personal memoir, ethnography, and research findings . . . inspiring, heartwarming, and compelling . . .
Written by the former vice president and his wife, this book concerns itself with the challenges that beset the modern American family. Drawing on an array of (often familiar) studies, punctuating the text with the real-life tales of ordinary people making contemporary lifestyle choices, and spicing the whole with charming insights into their own family dynamics, the Gores examine what it means to love, work and play in today's world. Perpetually opting for the anecdotal over the theoretical, the book feels like a long article in a popular magazine, a pleasant recitation of things one has heard before. Readers are told, for example, that "people who feel that their lives are somehow empty of meaning become vulnerable to all kinds of addictions." Likewise, "We feel strongly that everyone should think seriously about the role of television in their family and set limits for their kids." While there's nothing groundbreaking in the book, this is nonetheless a homey, accessible volume whose authors' commitment to their family and to the lives of others feels genuine and absolute. Author—Beth Kephart
Beth Kephart
Written by the former vice president and his wife, this book concerns itself with the challenges that beset the modern American family. Drawing on an array of (often familiar) studies, punctuating the text with the real-life tales of ordinary people making contemporary lifestyle choices, and spicing the whole with charming insights into their own family dynamics, the Gores examine what it means to love, work and play in today's world. Perpetually opting for the anecdotal over the theoretical, the book feels like a long article in a popular magazine, a pleasant recitation of things one has heard before. Readers are told, for example, that "people who feel that their lives are somehow empty of meaning become vulnerable to all kinds of addictions." Likewise, "We feel strongly that everyone should think seriously about the role of television in their family and set limits for their kids." While there's nothing groundbreaking in the book, this is nonetheless a homey, accessible volume whose authors' commitment to their family and to the lives of others feels genuine and absolute.
Publishers Weekly
"For us, as for most Americans," write the former vice-president and his wife, "family is our bedrock, and we believe the strength of the American family is the nation's bedrock." But the American family has changed substantially in the last half century and so have the cultural and economic conditions under which it exists. The families the Gores have encountered in a decade of research reflect these changes: one couple has children from the husband's three different relationships, a gay white couple adopts two black children, a single mother struggles with poverty. The couple add stories from their own marriage and consult with historians, sociologists, psychologists and educators, giving the American family the same comprehensive treatment Al's Earth in the Balance gave the environment. Al and Tipper examine subjects as diverse as the increased divorce rate, the parent-teen gap, dual-income households and the health problems associated with sleep deprivation. They divide the book into themes, including love, communication, work, play and community, and show how these factors influence one another, taking a holistic approach to the underlying problems affecting today's families. Yet although they declare America should "provide every possible support to those most important to us," they make very few firm recommendations on government policy; those reading with an eye toward identifying planks in another Gore presidential campaign will have their work cut out for them. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Coauthoring this very readable work, the Gores affirm their respect and support for culturally and structurally variant American families, loving individuals committed to each other's welfare. Based on personal experiences and interviews with others in traditional and nontraditional relationships, the authors offer a sampling of caring individuals struggling to balance family, work, play, and community to support one another, adults and children, together with the future of this country. The Gores relate these families' experiences to the environments in which they live, offering a critique of the social programs needed to support successful family life: affordable shelter, reliable and competent child care, pre- and post-school time supervised activities, employee family-leave provisions, well-run community facilities, and services for all age levels. They argue that it is increasingly critical to maintain and grow our country's various sources of "social capital," to understand and support families, the too often unacknowledged vital units of our American society. This convincing, multiresourced work is recommended for public and academic library purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02; also released this November is The Spirit of the Family, a photography book edited by the Gores.-Ed.]-Suzanne W. Wood, formerly with SUNY Coll. of Technology at Alfred Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The former veep and his wife examine the American family and its metamorphosis since 1960. In the last two generations, the Gores write, the classic American nuclear family has undergone a number of changes. Families are forming later, they’re more diverse, the divorce rate has doubled, and a higher percentage of mothers are working outside the home. The Gores profile a different family at the opening of each chapter and cite complementary examples from existing scholarship. The study works best when they let the families reflect on their experiences. While creating a garden in an abandoned North Philadelphia lot, Lily Yeh gained a nontraditional "family" made up of artists and community activists, a mosaic of "the people that nobody wants, the disenfranchised," she remarks. Other profiles include John Coon and Josh Tuerk, who have adopted two baby boys and define family as "Love. Sharing. Responsibility. Contentment." In the section on "Play" (all the chapter titles are similarly broad), the Gores draw on their own history. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Al appeared on Larry King Live. Watching from her hotel room while campaigning in another city, Tipper called the show, disguising her voice, and told Al he "was really cute and would he go out on a date with her?" After Al’s jaw dropped and Larry began to stammer, Tipper told them who she was. This pleasant anecdote about the importance of play is swiftly overwhelmed with quotes from Plato, opinions from clinical psychologists, and advice from dozens of academics. The format quickly becomes wearying. We are offered a "history of family" that begins with the evolution of the species on the African savannah and ends approximately20 pages later with American settlers. Perhaps The Spirit of Family, a collection of photographs they selected and that is being published simultaneously, has more personality. Doesn’t add anything to the existing literature and feels like promotional material for the Gores’ annual Family Re-Union conference.
From the Publisher
"This ambitious and hopeful book radiates faith that ordinary people can build strong lives and good communities." -Dr. Mary Pipher, author of TheMiddle of Everywhere and Reviving Ophelia

"An extraordinary achievement. The Gores' experience and vision, plus their comprehensive research, make Joined at the Heart a must for families." -Isabel Allende, author of Daughter of Fortune

"This engaging book is serious in intent and playful in execution." -Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone

"In this wise and clear-eyed book, Al and Tipper Gore see all families-single parent, blended, gay and lesbian, dual-earner, and breadwinner-homemaker-as works in progress."-Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind

"A warm and wise exploration of the new terrain of family life . . . Al and Tipper Gore's love of family is infectious, and their book makes us believe that we can all be joined at the heart." -Dr. Pepper Schwartz, author of Love Between Equals

"Inspiring, heartwarming, compelling . . . A remarkable blend of personal memoir, ethnography, and research findings." -Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overworked American

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805068931
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/12/2002
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 10.54(h) x 1.41(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

We started dreaming of having a family soon after we met, thirty-seven years ago. We were just teenagers then, and unlike most high school sweethearts these days, we somehow grew together instead of apart. Now, four children, two grandchildren, and thirty-two years of marriage later, we are looking beyond the family we have created together to write a book about the rapidly changing American family.

This work has taken on a deeper meaning for us over the two years we have devoted to it. In the months that have passed since the attacks of September 11, 2001, a lot of people have told us that they have been thinking long and hard about what is most important to them in life — and have concluded, as we have, that a big part of the answer is family. But where do you go from there? It's not enough to mouth clichés like "quality time." Most people have been reflecting deeply on why family is so important to them, and they want to make changes in their lives that truly reflect the commitments they feel in their hearts.

They are asking, as we have, what comes next? After making a decision to genuinely rededicate ourselves to our families, what can we do, in today's busy world, to follow through in good conscience? How do we deal with all of the extraordinary changes that American families have been going through in the last few decades? What does it mean to be a family today?

That is what this book is all about. We have written it because of our unshakable belief that a strong and successful family can bring new meaning and fulfillment to everyone's life. We want to help dispel a lot of the mythology about family that is sometimes promoted as part of some ideological agenda. There are all kinds of families — and no one has the right to tell you that your family isn't the right kind. The American family has been going through a lot of changes — some good, some bad, some just different — but individual families are responding to their problems with creative new solutions.

In many ways, the beginning of the twenty-first century is a disorienting, confusing time for American families. The ways we work, commute, communicate, and learn have all been revolutionized over the past few generations. And the rate of change is increasing all the time. The chaotic fragmentation and subsequent re-forming of every organization, tradition, habit, custom, and institution familiar to our great-grandparents a hundred years ago has left a new emotional landscape with few of the guideposts and landmarks by which families used to get their bearings.

Some families have had a tough time adjusting to those changes — sometimes with tragic consequences. But even as many families are feeling stressed and strained to their limits they persevere, and somehow, in the process, most are finding remarkable dignity and courage under pressure.

If we really care about families, we need to change our thinking about what they need, and how we as individuals, as communities, and as a society can help meet those needs. Valuing families means recognizing that families — in all their shapes and sizes — really are trying hard to do right by one another. Valuing families also means finding ways to nurture and support and strengthen families so that they can realize their best aspirations and provide a better future for their children.

Without strong families, we are all much more vulnerable to stress, despair, and unhappiness and their consequences. And worse still, families that malfunction and turn negatively inward can generate nearly unbearable emotional anguish. How we love, how we live, how we relate to other people, how we see ourselves — all this and so much more comes from the foundation of the families in which we grow up and the families we form ourselves. Families give our destiny its first momentum. In creating and shaping our families, each of us forms our own future. We must not take families, for granted: instead, we need to realize that for families to be able to nurture us, we need to nurture families.

We are all in this together. We are all feeling our way toward the future in an uncharted world. But new problems require new solutions. And the American family — in all its forms — is rising to that challenge in ways that no one could have predicted. We believe the real values that all American families aspire to are very simple: love, respect, honor, caring, nurturing, and doing everything in one's power to give our children a better world.

For the two of us, studying the American family and writing this book has been as much a personal journey as a professional one. As we have faced challenges in our own family life, we have thought deeply about what it is that makes families strong, what makes families fragile, and what makes families triumph. We have tried to understand the many complex challenges facing families and how families can best navigate those challenges.

We don't claim to be any more expert than millions of other Americans who have also worked hard to fit all of the moving pieces of family together. We do feel blessed in our own family life, and our good fortune began with parents — and grandparents — who cared for us very deeply. It continues with four wonderful children: Karenna, who is now twenty-nine, Kristin, twenty-five, Sarah, twenty-three, and Albert, twenty. And we are thrilled to be the grandparents of Wyatt Gore Schiff, who is three, and Anna Hunger Schiff, who is one — the children of Karenna and her husband, Drew.

We have also been fortunate to meet and talk with a number of knowledgeable men and women who have helped us learn a lot about how families do and don't function. Though we have always talked between ourselves and with friends about the endlessly compelling topic of family, we first began talking with experts in family issues eleven years ago, when our passion for the subject led us to organize a gathering of people who shared our interest. We invited family studies experts, psychologists, education experts, and many other academics and practitioners who had been studying family issues, and who had especially focused on how American families were coping with the new pressures of life in the late twentieth century.

That turned into our first national conference on family issues, which we called Family Re-Union. In addition to the scholars and experts, we also invited a number of families to join our gathering to tell us about the stresses and strains they were experiencing in their daily lives. The magic of having so many different perspectives on the daily struggles of family life helped us all understand even more deeply the challenges we face. The first gathering was the beginning of an ongoing, collaborative effort to find out what we can do as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a nation to strengthen and empower families.

We ended up deciding to make this conference an annual event. In many ways it has become a touchstone for us. It has been a great privilege each year to have the opportunity to meet with and learn from experts and from grassroots activists, as well as from average families about how to handle the wide array of new challenges and hurdles facing families today. Over the years, we have had Family Re-Unions that focused on the family as it relates to balancing work and family, the media, learning, health, intergenerational relationships, and how families fit into communities.

We will hold the eleventh Family Re-Union in the fall of 2002 — this one on teenagers and youth development — and we are looking forward to continuing this tradition in the years to come. The inspiring families we have met and the insights we have gained through Family Re-Union have been an amazing gift to us, one for which we are extremely grateful.

We are also very grateful to the families who have shared their stories with us in detail and allowed us to share them with you. The families you will meet in this book are all real, as are their names, and the quotes included here come from our many conversations with them. We also share a few of our personal experiences — not because we think of our family as having achieved any kind of ideal, but simply because family is a topic we all experience first and foremost in a personal way. In those cases where we have had separate experiences or points of view, we refer to ourselves in the third person as "Al" or "Tipper" to avoid the confusion of both of us using the first person singular. Whatever the pronoun, we have shared in all the writing here. The photographs of the families that appear at the beginning of each chapter were taken by Tipper.

In the words that follow, you will find a four-beat rhythm that's repeated with variations in each chapter: the story of a real family whose life illustrates the subject matter of the chapter; the insights of the leading experts in the particular field; the latest research; and, finally, personal stories. The families we interviewed for the book were not chosen randomly. Rather, we looked for families whose stories would breathe life into each topic. Over time, they told us about emotions and experiences they do not normally share with others. In the process, we learned anew that there really is no such thing as an "ordinary family." If you go deeply enough below the surface, all families are uniquely and incredibly complex.

As it happens, we believe that pictures can convey many important truths about family on another level. And so, in an effort to communicate some of them, we have also compiled a collection of photographs, called The Spirit of Family, which is being published simultaneously with Joined at the Heart. In preparing this second book, we reviewed more than 15,000 pictures taken by many of America's leading photographers, and carefully selected 256 images of contemporary American families.

Ultimately, what we hope to communicate in both words and pictures is that the American family has been undergoing a profound transformation over the past two generations, and that the dramatic changes we describe have led to new feelings, new relationships, new patterns, new understandings, and a radically new experience within families. If we can fully appreciate the nature and extent of these changes — and the myriad ways families are adapting to them — we will be better able to support and celebrate the central role of family in American life.

Copyright © 2002 Al and Tipper Gore

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