Summer Reading – Adult Children and Their Parents

I usually seem to find more time in the summer months to read various kinds of “fun” books – like poetry, fiction, personal growth, psychology self-help type stuff. I recently read a book that fits this category and it has already been an interesting one to discuss with others – see what you think:

Walking On Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents,” by Jane Isay. The author is a parent with two adult sons who previously edited several books related to parenting, gender, and family issues (including the well-known, “Reviving Ophelia”). Isay’s fairly short and readable book uses brief stories from children and parents she interviewed across the country to share how various families have navigated the inevitable changes that growing up, moving out, college, marriage, divorce, remarriage, having grandchildren, money, careers, having different values, faith, and other issues all have on a family system. She shares her own anecdotal wisdom throughout, and in the epilogue tells her own personal journey of going from feeling distant and guilty with her grown children to shedding expectations, grieving through some ‘truth-telling’ lunches with each son, and finally gaining a profoundly satisfying and significant relationship with both sons. This migration took a lot of work, writes Isay, and many years of adjustments and overtures at communication and adaptations. Her journey fueled her research for this book.  

For anyone who has a grown child or is an adult with a parent (yes, that’s mostly all of us), this book helps give voice to both the relief and the pain that adjusting to being/having an adult child can bring. Isay shares stories of what has worked and what hasn’t for others in a variety of ways, writing about everything from how kids might ‘keep score’ of money gifts from parents, to why one mother chose to stay out of the role of answering questions or getting into squabbles happening between her children, to how a gay son grappled with the issue of being welcome to bring home his life partner at the holidays.  The two main points I took from this book wee: 1) adult children usually desire having close, supportive relationships with their parents and are even willing to forgive and work through all manner of difficult histories with parents – if the parent is willing to give the child space, respect, and treat them like adults on the adult child’s terms; and 2) parents often feel sad at the varying degrees of loss that come with having a child grow up, and often also need to go through a period of growing into the role of parenting someone who will always be a child in a way, but it also now an adult and plays a different role with the parent than he/she did before. I’ve already had several good conversations sparked from this book – and I highly recommend it.    

3 Thoughts on “Summer Reading – Adult Children and Their Parents

  1. Hi,

    I also enjoyed Isay’s book. I’m a psychologist and see many families for whom it’s helpful. Isay believes that most of the time adult children want to be close to their parents, even if not in the way that the parents would like. In my practice, sadly, i work with many parents grieving from the fact that they’ve been cut off by their adult children, and tragically, their grandchildren as well. For those parents, a different set of strategies are required.

    Joshua Coleman, Ph.D.
    Author, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along” (HarperCollins, July, 2007)

  2. steve wisensale on 2007/06/08 at 12:52 PM said:


    This is the sort of thing I would like to forward to friends and colleagues but you do not make this option available. Please take this into consideration. That is, some people may simply want to forward such an article on to others rather than comment on it. Thanks you.


  3. Liz on 2007/06/16 at 11:23 PM said:

    Thanks for both of these comments above. It IS a good idea to make posts available to be passed along. And it’s interesting to hear about further healthy strategies for dealing with grown children and family systems. As a “still-growing” adult child myself, I find the transition that I and many friends/families are going through fascinating, and one that could benefit from continued conversation and guidance.

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