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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The popular pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, author of many articles and books and host of a cable television series, WHAT EVERY BABY KNOWS, turns his attention in FAMILIES: CRISIS AND CARING to the turning points that require couples and families to stretch and adjust. Some of the “crises” examined are “positive” events (the adoption of a child), one is complicated and sensitive (remarriage and step-parenting), and some are fraught with anguish (facing a child’s leukemia; grieving over a mother’s death).

In this series of case studies, the five families examined are a bit more diverse than was the case with Brazelton’s previous interview-based book, named for his television program. Here one family is black; one is white working-class; the other three are white and squarely in the middle class. They are all essentially good families, headed by hardworking parents who deeply love their children.

Ever the appreciator, Brazelton probes gently to help parents see how they have succeeded as well as where they have denied or glossed over problems. He points out a toddler’s protective sensitivity to her mother’s pain: “This is the toddler’s contribution to the family’s coping system. I find it beautiful and remarkable.”

While Brazelton’s questions and comments are always insightful, the reader may begin to wonder who is the intended audience of this book. Parents deep into one of the crises examined would surely be better served by a book focusing exclusively on the problem they face. Physicians with little training in psychology would certainly benefit from exposure to Brazelton’s masterful techniques for interviewing and encouraging troubled parents and children. Yet the book is addressed and marketed to parents, not doctors. Its stories are winsome, but its lack of focus makes the book less than compelling.