Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents

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We raise our children to be independent and lead fulfilling lives, but when they finally do, staying close becomes more complicated than ever. And for every bewildered mother who wonders why her children don’t call, there is a frustrated son or daughter who just wants to be treated like a grownup. Now, renowned editor Jane Isay delivers the perfect gift to both parents and their adult children—real-life wisdom and advice on how to stay together without falling apart.

Using extensive interviews with people from ages twenty-five to seventy, Isay shows that we’re far from alone in our struggles to make this new, adult relationship work. She offers up groundbreaking insights and deeply moving stories that will inspire those in even the toughest situations. Isay’s warmth and wit shine through on every page as she charts an invaluable course through the confusing, and often painful, interactions parents and children can face. Walking on Eggshells is the much-needed road map that will keep you connected to the people you love most.
Jane Isay, the editor who discovered Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia and commissioned Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out, has written an insightful, compelling book about “the delicate lifelong bond between grown kids and their parents.” Isay traveled across the country and interviewed nearly 75 people (including dozens of parents and grown children), and Walking on Eggshells shares moving stories that will help parents and grown children build strong new adult relationships with one another. We asked Po Bronson, author of Why Do I Love These People?, to read Isay’s book and give us his take. Read his review below. –Daphne Durham

Guest Reviewer: Po Bronson

Po Bronson is the author of the brilliant bestseller What Should I Do with My Life?, the powerful and poignant Why Do I Love These People?, a hilarious novel called The Bombadiers, and The Nudist on the Late Shift, a collection of “true stories” about Silicon Valley.

When we tell family stories, we so often focus on the beginning and the end. The beginning is the two decades of our childhood and adolescence, and it’s been the favorite narrative arc ever since Freud. What happens in your childhood does not stay in your childhood–it haunts the rest of your life. In the last decade, we’ve suddenly heard more stories of the end–narratives constructed around a parent’s death, and often the year spent caring for that parent on their deathbed.

Because these are the conventional narratives, they often distract our attention from the many decades in between. We barely even have a terminology for these years–and the terms we employ sound like oxymorons: “Adult Children,” “Parents of Adults.” There’s an old saying: you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. In the beginning this is true–we’re in the care of our parents, like it or not. And in the ending this is also true–they’re in our care, like it or not. But in the long middle, this isn’t so true. The middle is a period where both child and parent can keep their distance, if they prefer. And often do, harboring resentment. We too often accept that this is just the way it is. “She’s never going to change” is a common, fatalist refrain.

In Walking on Eggshells, Jane Isay shines a much-needed light on these years. With a graceful respect for the families she investigates, she tells their stories–how they lost their love, and how they regained it. Isay covers the many ways families develop resentment, and the many techniques they employed to make peace. She shows that small changes in routine can go a long way to restoring goodwill. But it’s not a self-help book; it’s more of a literary contemplation, and we learn more by inspiration than by emulation.

Though this book addresses the parents directly, I suspect it will be passed back and forth, between generations, in many a family. –Po Bronson


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