Book Review: Don’t Bite Your Tongue – How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children
There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years and beyond. We’ve offered some lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. Check out our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.
From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.
In this review, we’ll take a look at Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with your Adult Children by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff.
We would include this book on the “must read” list for parents of adult children. In creating this book, Dr. Nemzoff has addressed an important need. As the author mentions, parents of young children often share stories and advice. However, once our children become adults, we less often share our stories and concerns with each other – either because we see problems as our failures or because we want to respect our adult child’s privacy. This book both reminds us that we are not alone, and gives us some context in which to talk about our concerns – both with our children and with others.
We like this book both for the author’s messaging and for the book’s approach.
The author’s subtitle to the Introduction presents the underlying message in the book: Get Comfortable with Ambiguity. Dr. Nemzoff makes it clear that this “second-stage parenting” is long and presents a continual balance between intimacy and independence. She lays the foundation for our understanding that there are no quick, easy, how-to answers, but rather that we will need to embrace the difficulties, the continual changes in our children, our relationships, our world, and that we can only have control over our own behavior. She reminds us that “a good relationship is not necessarily a smooth relationship” and that “silence doesn’t build intimacy.” If we listen carefully to the message in this book, we know that we have work to do in our own examination of why, when, how, and how much we communicate with our grown children. We found this book more about our own self-reflection than about “how to” relate to our adult children.
We like the comprehensiveness of this book. The earlier chapters cover some basic understandings of the realities of relating to adult children, and the later chapters address more specific situations from weddings, grandparenting, money and the triangles created by in-law relationships. The chapter end questions “to consider alone, with a friend, with a child, or with a group” provide some guidance about adapting the chapter material to practical living. For those who are intrigued to explore this topic beyond the book – perhaps with others, we appreciate the extensive bibliography and notes as well as suggestions for further reading, films and videos, suggestions for starting a support group and literature for book clubs.
We recommend this book for parents of children entering college, in college, or post-college. The earlier parents read this book, the more proactive they can be in building a strong, although probably never smooth, relationship with their adult children.
About the author:
Dr. Ruth Nemzoff is a resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center. She lectures widely on family dynamics. She has led over 250 discussions worldwide on the topics of parenting college-aged children and empty nesting.
Dr.Nemzoff is the former assistant minority leader of the New Hampshire State Legislature, the first female Deputy Commissioner of Health and Welfare in New Hampshire, and the first female Bank of New Hampshire Board Member.
She was formerly a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Center for Research of Women and has also published articles about environmental advertising and women in business and politics. She has founded a nursery school, a counseling service, and the National Women’s Legislative Lobby.
Dr. Nemzoff holds a Doctorate in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard University, a Master’s degree in Counseling from Columbia University, and a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Barnard College. Her papers are archived at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University. She and her husband, Harris Berman, have four adult children, four in-law children and seven grandchildren.
What the author has to say about the book:
“Don’t Bite Your Tongue is a tale of two perspectives – that of the parents and that of the grown children. When these perspectives clash, fireworks can erupt. This book suggests ways to reduce the “fire” and increase the “works” for the parents and adult children alike. It is written from the parents’ point of view, but encourages parents to talk with their children to get their perspectives, and suggests ways to do so. . . Use this book to begin conversations with your children.”
“Perhaps the most important matter in this book is that of personal growth and fulfillment. Our relationships with our children are of the greatest importance to us, for practical reasons as well as emotional ones. A good part of our lives has been devoted to raising our children, and now that they are grown we want to enjoy the fruits of our labors. . . My intent is to explore many of the sensitivities in interactions between parents and adult children. This book examines competing loyalties. It proposes positive ways to stay involved. It does not give you solutions for every type of incident, but provides suggestions to ease the transition from parenting a younger child to maintaining a relationship with your adult child. . . New situations require new responses. My suggestions are based on the belief that each of us has the power to change our behaviors.”
“We all need a new roadmap, one that matches each individual’s life circumstances. One reality we all share is the assumption that parenting is over when a child becomes an adult simply isn’t true. This book gives some steps to start you on your journey; some of you will opt for the highways, others for the byways. I hope the ideas in this book will assist you on your way. . . Enjoy the self-reflection!”
What others have to say about the book:
“Now, thanks to Don’t Bite Your Tongue, we have the practical and much-needed guidebook we all wish we had had. Ruth Nemzoff brings to this book her expertise in family dynamics, and her experiences as a mother of four grown children and a group leader who has talked with hundereds of parents just like us. She provides us with glimpses into the real-life situations of many parents who, like us, are struggling with these critical issues.
In addition to learning from the many parents with whom she has worked, Ruth helps us learn from ourselves. She asks provocative questions that make us think hard about who we are and what we want from our relationships with our adult children. Ruth’s guidance is not in the form of simple rules to follow. Rather, she provides us with tools for self-examination and self-discovery. Rather than focusing on who’s “right” and who’s “wrong,” Ruth avoids the “blame game” in favor of a much more constructive approach that focuses on practical steps you can take today (and tomorrow) to strengthen your bonds with your adult children.”
Rosalind Chait Barnett, Ph.D.
Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University
“Although tons of parenting books line the shelves of bookstores, very little exists to help parents of 20, 30 and 40 somethings. Ruth Nemzoff has written a wise and readable book that covers most of the universal developmental issues faced by today’s parents of adult children. She encourages both generations to reflect on our inevitable differences, and advises us on how to speak respectfully about them. If her advice is followed, family relationships will be strengthened, improving life for all involved, including the following generations of children.”
Linda A. Braun
Former director of Families First Parenting Programs
“A very wise book. It not only takes into account the perspectives of parents and adult children but helps us to understand how changes in society influence these perspectives. Its non-judgmental framework and helpful questions should foster important cross-generational dialogue.”
Author of Women and Gender: A Feminist Perspective