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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
Posted November 17, 2002
Loved reading about the family having disabled children to raise into adulthood and the thereafter. Society has encouraged families to raise these family members at home......AT OUR COST!!!! Now what? It's the Gore's who recognize such sacrifices that parents make. We, as parents tire ourselves over the years and have no time left in a day to "march" or "write to a congressman", etc. These people are such in a minority it is nice to read about the Gore's understanding that these families exist.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 15, 2002
Not to belittle the Gores, but the timing of this book couldn't be worse with the overwhelming mandate for the Bush Administration.As for family values...don't forget that Gore looked the other way when Clinton was defaming the Oval Office with his girlfriend.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2002
After the discouraging results of the Supreme Court unconstitutional interruption of the 2000 election and the dismal conditions in which the Bush administration has left this nation, I found myself frustrated by the negative direction for this nation and the reversal of the positive direction that the nation enjoyed during the wonderful economic upswing that was guided by the Clinton and Gore administration. However, after reading Al and Tipper Gore's Joined at the Heart, I have a renewed spirit in the possibility that Al Gore continues to be involved in the lives of Americans who are struggling to survive the hardships caused by Bush's failing economic policy. Especially engaging, the Gores discuss the importance of grassroots involvement of everyday people in public policy in the book's last chapter. This book is a must read for every American. People who want to become more involved should contact algore04.com. This is a grassroots website of concerned citizens. By the way, cynics may criticize this book, but they cannot continue to ignore the failings of the Bush administration without suffering the consequences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2002
Lucky enough to get pre-release copy. Joined at the Heart has many insights into the Gores' own family life, from little spats to traumatic experiences. The stories about the many other families (names NOT changed) and basic sociology statistics help give you an understanding that you're not crazy, you do work more, sleep less, and have more stress than the picture perfect family of the 50's. The book stresses the importance of balancing work, fun, and togetherness in a way that hits home on many topics for me, and I would bet you as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2002
This is a lovely book. It¿s not really a policy tome and it¿s not a political book, rather, it feels like a conversation between, among and about families. Its tone is surprisingly open and warm. It¿s a book that celebrates family in all its shapes and sizes ¿traditional families, same-sex parents, multi-generation care giving¿and respects and honors the emotional bonds and commitments that make families work. This book won¿t send policy reverberations for years like Earth in the Balance¿and it won¿t excite any controversy, but through warmly and honestly told stories of 12 different families it changes the focus of ¿family values¿ from the staid political-ideological dogmatism of the last decade and focuses instead on a natural discourse about the state of real, contemporary families. For anyone who likes human-interest and/or relationship stories, it¿s an optimistic, quick and very pleasing read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.