Judith Wallerstein

(Not about language.)

In the NYT on the 21st, “Judith S. Wallerstein, Psychologist Who Analyzed Divorce, Dies at 90” by Denise Grady, beginning:

Judith S. Wallerstein, a psychologist who touched off a national debate about the consequences of divorce by reporting that it hurt children more than previously thought, with the pain continuing well into adulthood, died on Monday in Piedmont, Calif.

Judy was an acquaintance of mine, as is her husband Bob (Robert Wallerstein, former chair of psychiatry at UCSF), who survives her. We became friends through the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where Judy was a fellow in 1980 and Bob and I were fellows in 1981-82. The couple put in a stealth appearance in this blog in a posting on Janet Malcolm:

I’ve long been an admirer of Janet Malcolm’s writing. And got to spend an evening talking with her, nearly 30 years ago — at dinner at the house of some mutual friends in Marin [that would be Judy and Bob], just after the publication of her Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1981), which is both informative and funny, and while she was working on In the Freud Archives (1984), which led her into a decade of legal wrangling with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

From Grady’s obit:

In 1971, Ms. Wallerstein began studying 131 children from 60 divorced families in Marin County, Calif. She followed them for 25 years, conducting intensive interviews every five years.

Not unexpectedly, many of the children were extremely distressed soon after the divorce. But she was surprised to find that the problems often lasted; 10 and 15 years later, half the children were still suffering and, she wrote, had become “worried, underachieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women.”

They had a tougher time than most people in forming intimate relationships. Only about 40 percent eventually married, half the rate among the general population. Those who did marry were more likely to divorce than were people who had grown up in families that remained intact.

… Ms. Wallerstein softened her message a bit over the years, writing in her book “Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce,” published in 1989, “When people ask if they should stay married for the sake of the children, I have to say, ‘Of course not.’ ”

She went on to say that being exposed to open conflict could be more damaging to children than divorce. Moreover, she wrote, “a divorce undertaken thoughtfully and realistically can teach children how to confront serious life problems with compassion, wisdom and appropriate action.”

Judy taught in the School of Social Welfare at Berkeley from 1966-92 and held visiting faculty positions at a number of other institutions.

She was both sharp and humane, a great person to talk to.


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