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JANE GLENN HAAS: Be careful with advice to grown children

I was walking out of the manicurist's when I overheard one woman say to another: "Well! She had 12 children and she had them all at home and you would think at least some of them would remember her on Mother's Day."

And all I could think of was the conversation I had with Jane Isay mere hours before overhearing this remark.

Isay and I talked about how parents relate to adult children. About how many of us are disappointed because they don't return our calls, don't share their daily thoughts, don't seem interested in our lives.

"When my two sons grew up and left home, I had these experiences and I shared them with my friends," Isay says. "They were anxious to talk about it because, they said, `I thought I was the only one.'"

We raise our children to be independent, she says, and when they do go away, we complain because they're not as close as they once were.

We discover they don't want our advice. If we give advice, they don't hear it. When we offer advice, they resent it.

The solution: Don't give advice, Isay says.

She's the author of "Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents" (Doubleday Flying Dolphin Press, 2007).

A book editor for more than 40 years, Isay has always been interested in psychology. She discovered Mary Pipher's "Reviving Ophelia" and commissioned Patricia O'Connor's best-selling "Woe Is I."

"I knew this issue of getting along with adult children was a great idea, and when I couldn't find anyone to write it, I did it myself," she says.

Isay interviewed more than 70 parents and children.

They talked about money, as in "you gave my brother more than you gave me." They talked about closeness and distance, about lovers and spouses, about divorce and marriage to someone not accepted by the parents.

The result is a road map. A guideline to relationships that work and some advice on how to repair relationships that have crumbled.

Along the way, Isay decided that relationships between sons and daughters are very different.

"Our relationship with daughters can be fraught with difficulties but also can probably be much closer. Sons can be extremely close but, generally, boys are more distant."

And daughters-in-law? "You better like her," Isay says. "After all, she loves your son."

We talk about the new stage of parenting, the difference between the Greatest Generation parents and our parenting style. "Greatest" parents, she says, went through more turmoil – the Depression, World War II – and survived. They are more authoritarian as parents.

"But we raised our children with Dr. Spock and we're not authoritarian. We have no coherent theory of this relationship. We don't have the language."

We do reap what we sow, she reminds.

Despite our misgivings, Isay believes our children have deep love for us as parents. Maybe they have to forgive us a bit for being the "big people with the megaphones" and understand us as flawed humans.

Stress the love, she says.

And learn four magic words: I'm proud of you.

Isay tells the story of an adult child who had no relationship with a father who abandoned the family. At a point, however, she had to contact him. During their conversation, he said, "I'm proud of you" and the daughter was amazed at the pleasure his words gave her.

"It takes a lot of work to break up a family," Isay writes. "It's almost impossible to stop loving your parents, and even more difficult to stop loving your children."

No family is perfect. Isay gives us hope, however, that every family can be perfected.

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