Book Excerpt: Grown Kids Disappoint Us
June 4 -- In her new book, When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us: Letting Go of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting On With Our Lives, Jane Adams says it's normal for parents to feel let down by their grown up kids, even though most parents are embarrassed to admit it.
Read an excerpt from Adams' book below.
The Kids Are All Right and Other Lies Parents Tell About Their Grown Children
We're at dinner, nine of us, early and late boomers who've cried and laughed together, held and hugged each other through marriages, births, divorces, remarriages, and deaths, the rites and rituals of celebration and mourning that punctuated the beginnings and endings and new beginnings of our lives. We have a history together — housewarmings, promotions, cross-country moves, new careers, the first gray hair, the last great love affair. Mothers and fathers all, veterans of car pools and PTAs and soccer teams, sharing the details of our children's lives the way we always have since those gap-toothed and cowlicked darlings took their tentative steps on the perilous road to adulthood, from her first period to his first learner's permit, through their tumultuous but relatively crisis-free adolescence all the way to the college acceptance letters.
We're over 50 now, and those darlings are in their twenties and even their thirties, and when, as we always do, we ask our peers — the A-list, the nearest and dearest as well as our more casual friends — "How are the kids?" they tell us, as they always do, "The kids are all right."
Except some of us are lying.
Because lots of those kids — our kids, always and forever, even though they've reached their majority by now, are physically fully matured, legally and constitutionally adult and emancipated, and beyond our control if not our concern — are a long way from all right. And we're living with it by ourselves, and we're not telling it to anyone. Sometimes we're not even admitting it to ourselves.
A few of us are just plain telling untruths, some are "editing" or only talking about their other kids who really are okay, others are exaggerating or putting the best spin on the situation, and the rest are simply keeping our mouths shut. Except Lila, because she doesn't have to. Since his infancy, her only child, Peter, has been like the weather report from Honolulu — always fair and sunny. This is a kid who's led a totally charmed life, been a thing of joy and beauty every day of his 24 years, never caused his parents one moment of displeasure or disappointment. And although nothing is certain, so far it doesn't look like he ever will.
Of course there are plenty of Peters out there, great kids who've done their parents proud in any or many ways, who've never caused them any real pain — particularly not the pain of disappointment.
But there are enough others among the population of educated, middle-class 21- to 34-year-olds who started out with all of Peter's constitutional and environmental advantages, including healthy minds and bodies, loving parents, and the potential to become what we all wanted and expected our kids to grow into: independent, generous, kind, happy, successful, law-abiding, contributing members of society who made the most of all the advantages we worked so hard to give them.
Except they didn't.
Between the nine of us there are twenty adult children, and while half are doing just fine (the half we talk about), the other half haven't fared as well. No one picking at the moo shu pork tonight is the parent of a serial killer, but a couple of our kids are in jail, one for fraud and the other for dealing drugs. Some of us know the names of the "best" rehab centers on both coasts and the experts in treating eating disorders or gambling addictions. Others have no idea where in the world our estranged or disappeared adult children are, and every time the phone rings we wonder if it will be the police, calling us to identify their bodies. And one — the one whose final report was a coroner's verdict — will never stop wondering who her bright, funny, promising son might have become if he hadn't hanged himself on his twenty-fifth birthday.
Some of us feel for our friends but privately count ourselves lucky because all our kids' problems aren't quite that awful or final. So he's 27 and still living at home flipping burgers for bozos because he can't hold a better job — in an earlier generation, we tell ourselves bravely, it was common for three or even four generations to live under the same roof. (And maybe we're not crazy about the girl who's living in the basement with him, but at least we know where he is, and his brother is happily married, has a great job and a wife we adore, and is about to give us our first grandchild, so it couldn't be anything we did.)
So she's almost 30 and has had four abortions, one divorce, and a couple of broken engagements, but at least we're still communicating. (And the guy she's going with now has no criminal record; did I tell you her sister is fine, thank you, getting her Ph.D. and going with a very nice guy, and she was the one with dyslexia?)
So he stole the DVD and the TV and the digital camera to sell to pay his dealer, but fortunately it was from us, not from the store, so he didn't get caught, and we responded to the cry for help it so clearly was. (And the psychiatrist says with treatment, the prognosis is good, which is what he said about the other one, and he was right, it was just a stage she was going through.)
So she had a baby by a guy whose last name she didn't even know, but at least she didn't have an abortion and we're thrilled to be raising our grandchild, even though we'd planned to sell the house and buy a condo this year. And he had a child by a girl whose last name we don't even know, but at least we can afford to make the court-ordered support payments he ignores. And he or she is gay, but hey, there's nothing wrong with that, and of course we're marching in the Gay Pride parade next month, even while we're wishing we didn't have to and being glad our parents aren't alive to see it. (And if you think your kid's sexual preference is nothing to be ashamed of or sorry about, you're absolutely right, but that doesn't keep you from wishing it felt better, or that the rest of the world was as accepting as you are.)
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