Coping with Difficult Grown Kids

Parenting is a daunting and mysterious task. As mothers and fathers, we spend the better part of a lifetime raising our children—some of us focused unwaveringly on being an exceptional parent, others merely scratching the surface. But no matter how differently parents approach the responsibility of launching a child into adulthood, one fact remains constant: we rarely know from day to day if what we are fostering in our children will grow to be straight and true.

Sometimes, the circumstances of growing up seem to have little effect on the end result. Even in the healthiest of families, some children turn out unexpectedly. They can be unmotivated, uncaring, or destined for trouble. Let’s face it: whether or not we are good parents, any of us can end up with a not-so-good kid.

Perhaps a child simply doesn’t turn out the way his parents had hoped, due either to his own bad decisions or to unrealistic parental expectations. Perhaps he drinks too much. Perhaps he breaks the law.

Maybe she makes poor choices in partners that will limit her future happiness. Maybe she flits from job to job. Maybe she’s moved back home again and expects you to raise your grandchildren.

Depending upon the severity of the negative behavior, parents’ reactions can range from simple concern to acute suffering…from I’m-okay-with-it-now disappointment to I-can-never-show-my-face-in-public-again humiliation. In all cases, learning to adjust is a critical component of the healing process.

My newest book—Cutting the Cord: Eight Secrets to Coping When Your Grown Kid Goes Sideways—offers both the parent’s and the clinician’s perspectives on how to understand and cope with the necessary transitions when serious trouble strikes. It explains how parents must move into a less caretaking role and continue the love no matter what. It welcomes troubled mothers and fathers into the hearts of other parents who have journeyed through the same challenges and emerged healthy and intact.

Like a gentle—and sometimes unexpectedly raucous—conversation with a trusted confidante, this book explores the thoughts and feelings of parents whose grown kids have posed difficult challenges. Some of the insights offer encouragement. Some make you laugh. Others help you pierce the wall of guilt and welcome hope for the future. All provide the sincerity, warmth, and compassion that you expect from a good and caring friend.

To purchase the book, I invite you to visit:



Of all the challenges I’ve faced in my lifetime, launching my grown kid into adulthood has been the toughest one. It all began when he turned eighteen and announced with a flourish that he was now a “legal adult.” He promptly dropped out of high school, quit a lucrative job as a Web designer, and assumed a self-absorbed, arrogant attitude worthy of a street thug. He was pumped. I was crushed.

As a single parent at the time, I had no idea how to respond to this belligerent and disrespectful stranger. My initial shock gave way to hurt, which finally exploded in outright fury.

“How could you do this to me?” I bellowed. “After all I’ve done for you!” Oh, I was the irate parent, all right. And I made it all about me.

I had lost control of both my sanity and my ability to respond appropriately to the situation. I knew I was out of my league, so I prayed for the strength to get back in harmony with my family.

My prayers were answered with startling simplicity when I realized that I couldn’t control the actions of my children any more than I could control the phases of the moon or the changes of the season. So I let go.

It was clear that my son wanted to experience the world by his rules—rules that I, in my infinite parental wisdom, knew would not work. But I decided to give him the freedom to try it his way.

“It’s a big world, kiddo,” I said, as I packed his belongings, “and now it’s yours. I’m going to give you the gift of a lifetime—the chance to go out there and sample it all.”

He looked a little baffled as I walked him to the front door, and for the first time in a long time he didn’t have anything to say. I tried to keep my voice steady as I continued my little speech.

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind for you,” I said, “but I can’t handle your lack of respect. Since you refuse to behave with any decency, I’m setting you free. Go out there and put your rules into play. I hope it works.”

I kissed him on the cheek and gave him a huge hug.

“I love you,” I whispered. “Be safe. And remember—the door is always open.”

I watched as he walked down the front steps and loaded his things into his car. I waved as he drove away. And then I unleashed the tears.

So far, despite a minimum of grace, he’s surviving his solo flight. I swear I can still hear his wings flapping in his room late at night.