Blog Post

Mothering adult daughters


By Sally Friedman

During a recent week, two of my three adult daughters seem to have conspired to inflict misery on me at once. Yes, in duplicate! In separate encounters, there were cross words (dare I say, hostile words?) with all of us left a bit bruised and dealing with the inevitable hurt feelings. Not at all the stuff of Hallmark Mother’s Day cards.

Worst of all, those encounters came after 11 p.m., which seems to be the preferred time in our daughters’ lives for confrontations. Then they go off to sleep, and I am left nursing my emotional wounds as dawn breaks.

Adult children – such a strange oxymoron. And such a perplexing time of life for those of us who have presumably done our bit long, long ago with parenting and now lay claim to real people with real lives out there in the big world.

So we assume, in our blissful ignorance, that now that we’re all bona fide adults, we’ll be living out those tender Hallmark moments.


Despite all indications to the contrary, parenthood goes on … and on … and on. Those emotional muscles need to stay flexed for those glorious times when one or the other of these grown-up “children” decides that you’re (check one) too intrusive, not interested enough, too controlling, hopelessly dysfunctional, overly critical, or, as in the recent accusation hurled my way, not “centered.”

I felt like a margin run amok. Not centered?

Say what? But when you have a daughter who’s a psychologist, you take it as it comes.

I earnestly believe that we who parent young adults need some sort of voluminous guidebook, or at least a compact little manual of do’s and don’ts for these testing times when those adult children seem to have regressed back to 9 and are bent on replaying old resentments to a new beat.

That’s when you’re reminded that while other jobs you’ve had earn you benefits and long, built-in vacations, parenthood of adult children is bereft of both.

If I were the perfect mother, I’m sure I would not have flinched when one or the other of our daughters told me that she’d decided to go trekking in Nepal or had made plans to break her ironclad lease or had fed her baby Thai food, figuring that he should develop a sophisticated palate at 8 months.

If I really knew how to handle adult daughters, I would have smiled benignly at the sight of the one I had once dressed in little pleated plaid skirts and dainty blouses who later appeared at a family gathering in something resembling military fatigues and combat boots.

Clothes are a flashpoint. So are issues of time management and why it makes sense to not jam 10 pounds of activity into a nine pound time frame.

So we argue. Maybe that is the dirty little secret of mother-daughter alliances. We love each other madly, and yes, we sometimes raise our voices not in song but in anger.

I do try to be wise and nonjudgmental, especially about giving advice about their childrearing. I try to be aware of their boundaries. Discreetly supportive. Sometimes, I even succeed. I button my lip as I watch them handle issues with their own children in ways I feel are – well, let’s just say “unwise,” and let it go at that.

But tell me, please, how to keep your cool when the adult daughter who has borrowed your best pearls for a wedding announces that she lent them to Sharon who lent them to Lisa who left them in a hotel in Hartford?

So I get a little out of patience. I’m wishing that these very grown-up daughters were back in those first 10 years of life when they earnestly believed that I was basically passable and occasionally even wise, funny and fun.

How weird that I’m regressing, even as these three get more brilliant, competent and all-knowing.

Nonetheless, I’m trying to learn the golden rules of parenting adults:

Listen more than you talk.

Let them figure out how to handle their own kids, no matter how brilliant your solutions.

And bite your tongue when you start saying those no-win words to adult children: “If I were you…” Because let’s face it. You’re not!

CAPTION: Freelance writer Sally Friedman (second from left) is pictured with her daughters (from left) Jill Friedman Rickman, Amy Friedman Appelbaum and Nancy Friedman Zinn.  (Photo courtesy of Sally Friedman)