Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: How To Raise Your Adult Children

I was given the opportunity to preview and review the book "How To Raise Your Adult Children" by Gail Parent and Susan Ende, M.F.T.  I was interested in this book for several reasons:

1.  Susan Ende taught at one of the universities that I attended in Los Angeles.
2.  I used to be a Parenting Educator, but we only covered prenatal education through raising teenagers.  Unfortunately, the majority of the prenatal education was specifically for pregnant teens.
3.  I have one adult child and another soon-to-be adult child.
4.  I am still a bit of an adult child myself, because I am ashamed to say that I still depend on my mother for so much.

The book is broken up into the following topics:  Money, college, living arrangements, work, dating, family rituals, marriage, in-laws, grandchildren, divorce, aging and illness.

Each chapter begins with an insightful summary of the various problems that today's parents of adult children face.  The majority of each chapter is formatted a la Dear Abby style.  It begins with a short letter from someone who needs advice, is followed by a humorous, yet often painfully true response from comedy writer Gail Parent, which is followed by a response from psychotherapist Susan Ende.  Sometimes Gail then responds to Susan's response and they get a banter going back and forth.

Both of them take somewhat of a tough love approach of throwing the bird out of the nest or at least setting strict boundaries so as not to be taken advantage of by the blood and flesh you conceived.  It was interesting reading all the various problems that parents have with their adult children, and of course I recognized a few of them as being too close to home for me.

My parents had a hard time of it with my brother who has been an incurable alcoholic living on disability most of his life.  They had to throw him out of the house and even after they did, he kept sneaking back in during the night to have a warm place to sleep.  They put him through a slew of recovery programs, none of which worked.  They did all the right things to help him hit rock bottom, but nothing turned him around.  I know it was painful for them to have to turn him away each time he begged for help, but they quickly learned that each dollar they gave him went toward more alcohol and each gift they gave him got hocked for money for alcohol.  Amazingly, my brother is still alive 30-some years after his alcoholism began, and he's learned to let our parents live in peace.

However, after reading this book, I became aware that my own trespasses toward my parents were just as bad if not worse than what my brother put them through.  Because my husband and I have a long history of getting laid off from jobs, and because we were raising their grandchildren, they felt it was necessary to buy us a house so that we would always have a roof over our heads.  And I happily accepted.  Both my brother and I have experienced homelessness, but the only difference between us was that he was an alcoholic while I was simply unfortunate.  I was born during economic times when lay offs were rampant in our line of work and even with both my husband and I performing four jobs between the two of us, we couldn't afford to buy our own home.

I am eternally grateful for all that my parents have done for my family.  For 18 years we have taken turns covering the costs of various problems or upgrades needed to be done to the house.  In bad times, my father paid to put on a new roof and repair the water pump.  In good times, we paid to lay down a new leach field for the septic tank and remodeled the kitchen with all new cabinets and appliances.  When we lose our jobs, my mother tells us not to bother to pay our share of the utilities and mortgage until we have jobs again.

After my father died, I started taking care of my mother.  When she broke her leg, I left my job and family to live with her and care for her.  Every once in while she offers me a very expensive gift, such as paying to have a wall built between us and our annoying neighbors.  There's been a lot of give and take between our two generations.  I hate to think where we'd be now if my parents didn't help us out.  What is amazing in all of this is that my parents never once complained about having to help us.  It's what they wanted to do.

My parents survived The Great Depression and came out of it into a time of prosperity.  My father worked one job until he was 65 years old while my mother managed things at home, and somehow they ended up with more money and a more stable income in retirement than my husband and I make working multiple jobs in the software industry.  We both have college educations.  I actually have 7 years of higher education, yet that doesn't mean we will be financially secure.  My parents bought and paid off their first home, which is what allowed them to buy a second home for us.  We, on the other hand, have been working for well over 20 years, and we still can't get enough saved up for a down payment on a home.  There is an undeniable difference between yesterday's working adults and today's working adults.

The other thing that amazes me about my parents is how they desire nothing.  I would ask them what they wanted for Christmas and they'd say something like, "Nothing.  I already have more than I need."

Anyway, in the very least, "How To Raise Your Adult Children" will get you thinking about both your relationship with your own parents and your relationship with your adult children, if you have some.  The differences between the generations are fascinating.  My father worked to put himself through college without any help from his parents.  Then he turned around and paid for everything for me and my brother, right down to college parking permits and books as well as tuition and housing.  My own daughter is splitting the cost with us.  She's working while in college and paying some of her expenses while we pay others.

Ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide how much they want to help, and any child over the age of 18 should never expect for his parents to support him financially.  Adults must take responsibility for themselves.  Just looking around my neighborhood I've seen several adult children move in and out of their parents' homes over the years.  Many of them fly the coop only to return a couple years later.  I see multiple generations living together, usually not so happily ever after.  It seems the more people under one roof, the more arguing I hear.  I just hope this economy improves for everyone's sake.

What I enjoyed the most in reading "How To Raise Your Adult Children" was the way that Gail and Susan really did not favor either the parents or the adult children overall.  At times they'd receive a letter requesting advice from a parent who needed an attitude adjustment, and boy did that give it to him or her.  Years ago I had my own parenting advice column in a newspaper.  Nobody ever wrote in with questions, so I had to make them up.  I'm hoping that's what Gail and Susan did in some cases, because otherwise the authors of some of those letters were probably mortified by their responses.  This book is kind of like some of the more blatantly honest reality TV shows that air now-a-days -- very humorous for those watching from the wings, but not so fun for the participants.

You can purchase this book at


fernvalley01 said...

Certainly different times create different family dynamics. And while your mom may subsidise costs for you , sounds like the fact you will drop everything to care for her when needed balances it out. Each family makes things work in a way that suits them, I hope .The book sounds interesting ,thanks for the overview

Anonymous said...

I think most parents want to do for there children and enjoy seeing them have things while they (parents) can see it being enjoyed. Our two children are both much better off then we were in our 40's. We still do things that makes life easier for them.

Breathe said...

Its interesting, in my culture its very common to have multiple generations living in the same house - hacienda style. We don't do this in my family, yet.

Now it seems to make more economic sense, but it flies in the face of what we are supposed to want in America - a 3,000 square foot house with a room for every activity including watching TV. Our family is as aculturated as it gets but I think there's a wisdom to that old approach.

My goal is to get my mother and grandmother living with us (perhaps in a house off the main house or her own suite) and even have a little bunk house so we can support each other economically, physically, and emotionally as the needs arise with the kids.

I've had to rely on my mom as an adult on occasion (thankfully rarely), my nieces and nephews are nearly completely dependent on my sister even though they are nearly 30 years old.

Something has broken in our country when it takes 4 jobs to get by.

Tammy said...

Sounds like a good book and one I'll be needing in a few years - should I get thru these teenager years!

My parents are both gone, but I am eternally grateful for how they helped each of us kids. They didn't have much, so it was little things, but in the time of need, it meant so much. Sounds like your folks are pretty special, too.

lytha said...

Re: What Breathe said, there are many multi-generational families living in one home in Germany. In fact, almost every home-owner I know has inherited their home from their parents. Home ownership is not the norm here, rentals and apartments are. I find it odd that the terrier lady and her husband and two teenage kids live in the upper level of a normal sized home. Many homes of "normal" size house more than one family, and are usually passed down to the kid who wants it the most. I just met some other new neighbors who also live in the attic, and the mom lives downstairs, and when she moves on, they'll get the whole house, and the cycle will continue with the kids going up, I assume.

To have your "own" home is totally rare here - even the cop and hunter jumper lady have split their home into a duplex, even though their home was passed down by the family! Amazing, no such thing as the American Dream here, I know doctors and successful businessmen who prefer to rent apartments. Homes don't appreciate in value, so they don't see the need to buy.

It definitely makes us feel like the odd ones, to move into this village and buy a home from a total stranger.


baystatebrumby said...

My father in law is very generous with his money and for that I am forever grateful. And he seems to enjoy giving us what we need when we need it. My own father is not like that at all! His attitude is that if you need something, you better work to pay for it yourself. Or do without. I get the feeling he thinks I am lazy when that is not me at all.
I think reviewing books would be a great job!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks for an interesting thought-provoking post and book review. I'm impressed that you had a parenting advice column, too.

My Dad and stepmom were of the 'throw the bird out of the nest', or rather I was the bird who couldn't wait to fly because things were so awful living at home. I was out on my own at 16 yrs old and never went back.
My Dad and stepmom never had any children together, so I'm an only child, but they've never helped me financially in my life either with co-signing or offering to help finance cars or houses. They did help with insurance when I first started out, but after I had my first and only accident at 17, they basically disowned me.
They never offered to help me with college or to further my education either. I had to do it all on my own.
My Dad and stepmom are very self-centered and egotistic. I wish I had more loving and caring parents, but I don't, so I just do my own thing and spend time with my own family.

I don't have InLaws, so that makes things easier, too. My hubby's parents are both passed on, as are all of our grandparents. And he is an only child, too. Kind of sad that we don't have much in the way of extended family, but it does make our lives much less complicated.
And it's made us very independent and self-sufficient.


Fantastyk Voyager said...

Sounds like a book I need. I've got three "adult" kids mostly living at home with me. The sad thing is that I want them to leave me in peace, both privately and financially, but on the other hand I don't want them to leave and me be alone.

achieve1dream said...

My parents help me out a lot when I need it. They probably spend way to much money on me, but since my sister basically disowned the family I wonder if it isn't because they are afraid of losing me as well. I would never abandon them like she did though.

I really appreciate their help, especially when times are tough, but I feel so guilty! I'm grown! They shouldn't have to be helping me! I can say one thing for sure though . . . my husband hurting his back may be a blessing in disguise. We've been living a bit expensively and I think most of it is my fault (my husband has trouble telling me no lol can you say spoiled?). I've learned a lot and I will definitely be living more frugally when this is over and saving my money for any future hardships. I don't like inconveniencing my parents when they are trying to save money for retirement.

Great post.