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Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents Paperback – February 26, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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



--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As baby boomer parents age, they're discovering the empty-nest syndrome is nothing compared to what happens when their kids graduate from college and start leading lives of their own. To a generation famous for being involved in every aspect of their children's lives, it can be upsetting to find that those children no longer need or welcome your advice. How does one parent children who no longer need parenting? Publishing veteran Isay, an editor and mother of two grown sons, interviews scores of parents and adult children of all ages to see how they are doing it. The stories are heartwarming, and Isay recounts them with intelligence and compassion. What does she find? Nothing Ann Landers hasn't already told us. Mainly: don't give advice; make friends with your children's significant others; and remember that love heals. The most compelling story is Isay's own. One wishes it were the centerpiece of the book rather than tacked on as an epilogue. Her experience is an example of her most interesting discovery: children are quick to forgive and often the ones who take the initiative in forging a new brand of closeness between themselves and their parents—a closeness that is best described as adult. (Mar. 27)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767920856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767920858
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lori K on September 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book makes some good points but didn't go deep enough to help me. I found "When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along" to be far more helpful because the author, Dr. Joshua Coleman, provides much more guidance for a range of situations and goes into much more depth for this very difficult problem.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is reassuring of how common are the conflicts between parents and their adult children, and provides sensible explanations of the feelings of adult children. Ms. Isay also empathizes with the parents' legitimate feelings of hurt. But the solution suggested by this author is basically for a parent to bite their tongue, control their facial and body language, and pretend, lest their adult child be offended. This advice does not consider the tension and underlying rage that can build up in a parent that is also contending with all the issues of advancing age, to say nothing of the phoniness of the resulting "relationship". The subtitle of this book should be "Stepford Parents". I found it depressing and disappointing.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has multiple variations on a one-note theme that's summed up in the flap copy: Don't try to give advice to your adult children. Instead, the author advises, if you're endlessly accepting and generous, those children might (or might not) give you the time of day. As one of the earth mothers she interviews puts it, "Keep your door open and your mouth shut."

Good advice? Maybe. But the evidence is all anecdotal, based on a pretty thin sampling of mothers and kids; and Isay never digs deep enough to explore what the resulting relationships are really like. In the final chapter, she reveals her own guilt about certain aspects of her relationship with her sons, and I couldn't help wondering whether that guilt was predisposing her to side with the kids in every conflict. Yes, parents need to recognize the autonomy of their grown children, but is the ultimate goal only to keep the peace at all costs? It seems shallow and empty and sad to me.
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Format: Hardcover
Jane Isay's book takes a long look at how relationships change as our children grow up. What worked (or almost worked) when they were teenagers or recent college grads does not succeed when they reach their 30's and 40's. Her well-written and well-researched book gives many case histories, describing problems and discussing solutions. Much depends on communicating, both parents and children, and on not giving advice.

Anyone who has children this age, or will have children this age, or is a child him or her self, will find this book invaluable reading.
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Format: Hardcover
I was expecting more from this book than I got. The basic premise stated over and over is: Don't give advice, and hold your tongue. This seems to foster false and fake relationships. Would you want someone to "pretend" they adore you, when thet really can't stand you? I think most people want relationships that are true and real. I was hoping for a book with more advice on how to deal with specific situations, not just "keep everything to yourself" I was dissapointed in the author.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book that will be useful and compelling for almost any adult from their 20s on up, in dealing with their parents and/or their own kids. It shows how these relationships change over time, and how to adjust them once the kids reach adulthood. There is a lot to think about here, and the examples of how families have handled the changes in their lives are very helpful.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book as a mother's day gift for my mom. We do not have the best relationship, and I wanted to find a gift that would help our bond to grow stronger. At first she was hurt by the gesture, but she ended up reading the book in 2 days and called me with only rave reviews. She said it felt as though the author were speaking directly to her and understood everything that went on between her and her kids. She has already recommended it to all of her friends with children and plans to read it again and again. It has opened up lines of communication between us, and I plan to read it soon so that we can discuss how we feel about our own situation. I am extremely satisfied with my purchase and feel that it helped spark the mending of my relationship with my mother. Hopefully we can continue to work on our issues thanks to this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book helpful in relating to my adult daughters. The primary message of it, is that adults do not need or want advice from their parents. They do appreciate a neutral loving listening ear, and the encouragement which evolves from a lifetime of knowing and loving them.

The case histories mentioned are common family situations, and made me think about family influences I hadn't before considered. I'm glad I read this book, and would recommend it to other parents interesting in forming a new, more complex, adult relationship with their children.
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