Both titles provide well-researched information on the nature of the family in the United States today, and both agree that we cannot turn back in history to an earlier view of the family, but each has a different focus and message. Westheimer (the famous "Dr. Ruth," author of Encyclopedia of Sex, LJ 7/94) and Yagoda examine what constitutes a family, defined in the traditional sense of a household, and then recommend how the family can be helped by individuals, government, and business. The authors recognize many variations of the family, arguing that it may be headed by same-sex partners, unmarried partners, single parents, stepparents, or grandparents. They conclude, "We will never bolster the family if we insist that it has to fit the old-fashioned, and in many cases outdated, model." Ahern (a professional writer) and Bailey (psychology, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.), on the other hand, define family as the people we choose to support us in our daily lives, not those people in our household or related to us by blood. In their view, "Our modern society, with its dysfunctional families, easily dissolved s family as the people we choose to supporing population, is forcing us to become increasingly skillful in developing `kin-like' relations with an ever-increasing range of individuals." In their study of kinship from its ancient roots to the 1990s, they emphasize intentional communities formed by many tieswork, neighborhood, the Internet, religious and social groups and show how to build such families. Both titles are recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.Kay Brodie, Chesapeake Coll., Wye Mills, Md.
Dr. Ruth takes on Dan Quayle and the politics of "family values" with a spirited book that packs the straightforward, common-sense punch she is noted for.
Best known as the dispenser of honest advice on sex (Heavenly Sex, 1995, etc.) and relationships between men and women, Dr. Ruth and her coauthor Yagoda (Will Rogers, 1993) examine the families that grow out of those relationships. She agrees wholeheartedly that the American family is not what it was, but she sees in a more optimistic light than many observers the new networks of blended families, extended families, families that include gay couples or are headed by single mothers or fathers. Putting a positive spin on virtually every aspect of the family values debate, from orphanages (they foster a "tremendous sense of belonging") to divorce (it has "created a kind of new extended family"), Westheimer also refuses to let "declining family values" take the blame for such events as the Los Angeles riots and the high teenage birth rate. She notes sensibly that falling employment, the rising cost of living, and other social factors (like women in the workplace) are forcing families to adapt. She argues that families could use a lot more help from government and business, and offers resources (including Internet addresses) likely to be of help to contemporary families. What gives this volume impact is the breadth of Dr. Ruth's personal experience (she lived in group homes, became pregnant out of wedlock, married, divorced her husband, and supported her daughter as a single mother) and the succinct and sensible marshalling of material.
Dr. Ruth's advice on sex has helped create new ideas about relationships; this feisty work may help stiffen the spines of the inventive men and women who are now trying to redefine the American family.