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American Girl Dolls: Divorce and the Legacy of the '70s

March 27, 2013|9:13 am

American Girl dolls teach history and tell stories at the same time. But Julie from the '70s hits too close to home.

My daughters love the whole American Girl dolls thing. You probably know that each American Girl doll comes from a different period in American history, and each has a book telling her story and detailing what life was like dealing with the challenges specific to that era.

A doll named Kaya is a Native American from 1764. Addy is a slave girl from 1864. Kit lives through the Great Depression in 1934. It's usually a terrific way for girls to learn about the past.

Each of my daughters saved their money and chose a different doll. My oldest daughter, Abigail, picked Julie Albright. Why? Because, Abigail said, "She's the prettiest."

Now Julie's story begins in 1974. She lives with her mother in an apartment a few miles away from the home where she grew up. According to one summary, "She misses her best friend, her pet rabbit and most of all, her father. Holidays are difficult. She doesn't want to tell her friends about her parents' divorce." It's interesting, sad, and accurate that of all the things that the American Doll company could have chosen as the backdrop of the 70's, they chose the radical social shift happening in America due to the breakdown of the traditional family. No-fault divorce shaped that decade and fundamentally changed society.

As you might imagine, my wife and I have done a lot of talking with Abigail about Julie. Megan McDonald, author of the book about Julie, explains, "I learned from watching some of my own family members go through divorce, that the impact is lifelong...My hope is that readers who are children of divorce themselves will identify with Julie and her family situation and struggle, and take some solace that they are not alone."

Though she's right about how much divorce shaped the ''70s and that we should care for those impacted by it, how Julie overcomes obstacles is a big problem. She embraces the social revolutions of the decade, and flitters from one cause to another, as if the new shape of society without stable families at the center is really neither better nor worse-just a different way of doing things.

Julie, in the books, goes from one thing to the next and does fine, though her sister doesn't seem to do so well. And where does Julie look to guide her on her journey? She looks inside, though it isn't clear what's there to guide her. Amy Ziettlow, co-author of "Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?", points out, for example, that we never learn about Julie's "inner life," other than the fact that God is noticeably absent. American Girls, we are told, "follow their own stars."

My daughter Abigail has kept Julie but chooses to not read her books or follow the stories about her life. I noticed this and asked her why. She said because "Julie follows her own star…" and that's wrong she said, "because it's kind of like looking inside for truth, but then you miss God, you end up away from [Him] because you're just following yourself." I'm thankful my wife helped her understand that.

Perhaps one day Abigail will pick up Julie's book and decide to read it. Whether she does or not, we'll have to have many more conversations with her about why God established families and why he gave us churches and especially the Scriptures to help guide us. And why it's sad that marriages break apart, and it has big consequences for people and society. And why we must love, embrace, and restore those impacted by divorce, but we should never think it's normal.

On the back of the American Girl doll books it says, "We take pride and care in helping girls become their best today so they'll grow up to be women who make a difference tomorrow." Those are worthy goals. And rebuilding the culture of marriage is the best way of reaching them.

From BreakPoint, February 3, 2012, Copyright 2012, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship
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