Book Review: "How to Raise Your Adult Children"
Remember the days when your biggest worries revolved around diapers, preschool and/or dioramas? When kids grow up, the problems don't go away. They just get bigger. Parents of 20somethings watch them fretting about money, jobs and relationships. So it's no wonder that Gail Parent and Susan Ende's book, "How to Raise Your Adult Children" (Hudson Street Press, $25.95, 288 pages), is subtitled "Because Big Kids Have Even Bigger Problems."
The book is part advice column and part comedy routine, written by a marriage and family therapist - Ende - and a screenwriter. Parent acquired her comedic chops writing for "The Golden Girls," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman, i.e., the shows our parents - and our children's grandparents - loved. But humor is pretty timeless and snappy one-liners even more so. It's Parent's wit that helps make this book so accessible and warm. Parent and Ende make a good combination, because books written by psychologists usually read like homework - and Ende reins in Parent when she runs off the rails, which she occasionally does.
The premise behind the book? Just when you thought your parenting job was over, you realize that your new role lies in mentoring, advising and - ahem - not helicoptering, as your 20- or 30-something faces money woes, work dilemmas and all those other grown-up worries. Here, those bigger problems unfold in a series of questions and answers.
Questions, Answers & Examples
The book is structured as a series of Dear Abby type letters from friends, colleagues and strangers, with replies from the duo. It gives Parent ample room to ply her wit, while Ende tells scores of parents to back off and let their kids make their own decisions. Everyone will find an issue here that resonates, whether it’s post-divorce Thanksgiving, hellish in-laws or kids who moved home temporarily and are still there three years later.
Examples? In one letter, a father, Kenny, asks about off-campus housing, frets over the cost of rent and wonders whether it might not be a wise investment to buy a two-bedroom condo that his son can use. Turns out Tommy is not keen on the idea, and Kenny wonders why. Parent's first response is to ask why these grown-ups have names better suited to a playground demographic, before pointing out that condos cost considerably more than apartment rent, and suggesting that Ken may have had something other than daddy’s "investment" in mind in seeking a cool place to live. Kenny needs to make his housing decisions without daddy’s intervention, Ende says.
In another letter, a parent plaintively asks why her son doesn’t share his accomplishments with her. She finds out about his promotions and raises from other people. Parent's single line response is that the writer's son is "pissed at you," which is hilarious and probably true, but it's a flippant answer. Ende takes it deeper, noting that every child, no matter what the age, likes to make his parents’ proud but that no one likes to be "the ace in his mother’s bragging contest." Withholding information means mom can’t use her son for "narcissistic" validation. That's probably true too, but a tad harsh.
Still, the combination of humor and psychological advice makes even bitter pills – "You’re wrong," "Back off" or "No family tradition lasts forever, get over it" – easier to swallow. Bottom line? There's an incredible dearth of books on the market that address this demographic. This book is a bit formulaic - quip, expert slap, quip, expert slap - but there's plenty of good advice to be had.