The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap

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Basic Books, 1992 - History - 391 pages
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This myth-shattering examination of two centuries of American family life banishes the misconceptions about the past that cloud current debate about "family values." "Leave It to Beaver" was not a documentary, Stephanie Coontz points out; neither the 1950s nor any other moment from our past presents workable models of how to conduct our personal lives today. Without minimizing the serious new problems in American families, Coontz warns that a consoling nostalgia for a largely mythical past of "traditional values" is a trap that can only cripple our capacity to solve today's problems. From "a man's home was his castle" to "traditional families never asked for a handout," this provocative book explodes cherished illusions about the past. Organized around a series of myths and half-truths that burden modern families, the book sheds new light on such contemporary concerns as parenting, privacy, love, the division of labor along gender lines, the black family, feminism, and sexual practice. Fascinating facts abound: In the nineteenth century, the age of sexual consent in some states was nine or ten, and alcoholism and drug abuse were more rampant than today ... Teenage childbearing peaked in the fabulous family-oriented 1950s ... Marriages in pioneer days lasted a shorter time than they do now. Placing current family dilemmas in the context of far-reaching economic, political, and demographic changes, The Way We Never Were shows that people have not suddenly and inexplicably "gone bad" and points to ways that we can help families do better. Seeing our own family pains as part of a larger social predicament means that we can stop the cycle of guilt or blame and face the real issues constructively, Coontz writes. The historical evidence reveals that families have always been in flux and often in crisis, and that families have been most successful wherever they have built meaningful networks beyond their own boundaries.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - wealhtheowwylfing - LibraryThing

Coontz presents the historical facts of American family life and political and economic movements in hopes of demonstrating that the families of the past were not so idyllic and the families of the ... Read full review

THE WAY WE NEVER WERE: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

User Review  - Kirkus

Placing the American family in its historical, cultural, economic, and philosophic context, Coontz (co-ed., Women's Work, Men's Property, 1986) identifies the myths—and their sources, functions, and ... Read full review


The Way We Wish We Were Defining the Family Crisis
Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet American Families in the 1950s
My Mother Was a Saint Individualism Gender Myths and the Problem of Love
We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet Selfreliance and the American Family
Strong Families the Foundation of a Virtuous Society Family Values and Civic Responsibility
A Mans Home Is His Castle The Family and Outside Intervention
BraBurners and Family Bashers Feminism Working Women Consumerism and the Family
First Comes Love Then Comes Marriage Then Comes Mary with a Baby Carriage Marriage Sex and Reproduction
Toxic Parents Supermoms and Absent Fathers Putting Parenting in Perspective
Pregnant Girls Wilding Boys Crack Babies and the Underclass The Myth of Black Family Collapse
The Crisis Reconsidered
Inventing a New Tradition
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About the author (1992)

Stephanie Coontz is a member of the faculty of Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, where she is a historian and an expert on American culture.

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