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Skipping the Church Ceremony

Spring is here,
the sky is blue.
Whoa! the birds all sing as if they knew.
Today’s the day, we’ll say, “I do”
and we’ll never be lonely anymore.
Because we’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Gee, I really love you and we’re gonna get married.
Going to the chapel of love.

 Maybe it’s the spring weather (finally) but Bette Midler’s version of this song has been echoing as we read the latest Pew survey on young adults. As noted in our AARP blog post last week, marriage is not high on millennials’ punch list of life achievements.  And when they do get married, the officiant is more likely to be a friend who is “ordained” for the day rather than a rabbi, priest, minister or any other cleric. That same Pew report found that almost 30 percent of millennials are not affiliated with any religion, the highest levels of religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation by Pew.

Parents can be hurt and disappointed when an engaged couple announces that the wedding will be decidedly secular, not connected with the religion in which they were raised. “We believe in freedom of religion in America until it comes to our children,” says author Dr. Ruth Nemzoff with a laugh.

Some parents feel a rejection of their values but will hold back saying anything; others will go so far as refusing to pay for the wedding unless it’s done on their terms. Dr. Ruth advises parents to avoid starting a war, which could last years, long after the wedding is over. “Try what might be termed negotiations; perhaps a religious reading or a blessing might be a middle ground for both parents and children,” she says. She also suggests keeping in mind that as much as we want to pass along our heritage, the wedding is a beginning, not an end, and there’ll be other opportunities in the coming years.


Do Millennials Need to Share Everything?


At age 29, I was about to quit my writing job for the greener pastures of motherhood and freelancing (little did I know).  Along with handing in my resignation, I wanted to tell my boss exactly what I thought of his autocratic management style.  (I survived the job because of two co-workers, one of whom remains my best friend.)   Fortunately, I often commuted with a wise “older” woman, the mother of two successful adult children.  When I told her about my planned parting salvo, she urged me to resist, explaining, “The first six months and the last six months of any job should be your best so you wow them when you go in and make them sorry to see you leave. Also you never know when you need a reference!”

I heeded her advice and over the years passed it on to my children and my students.   However, I fear that social media have made that advice obsolete as evidenced by two recent viral videos posted by millennials, one seeking work and the other quitting.  The videos prove to be cautionary tales, not only to pass along to our adult children, but also for we Baby Boomers who must navigate carefully through a changing workplace populated by millennials with a compelling need to share everything online.

We all are aware the privacy is fast disappearing, from Big Brother NSA to Facebook posts.  But is nothing private?  The job-seeker tale begins with Diana Mekota, a 26-year-old planning to move to Cleveland, who wanted to access a local online jobs bank run by marketing professional Kelly Blazek.  She contacted Ms. Blazek via LinkedIn, receiving in reply what CNN called a “verbal smack down.”

“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,”Ms.  Blazek wrote.  ”Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.”

Yikes! Perhaps Baby Boomer Blazek was having a really bad day.  Obviously there were better ways to handle the request, even ignoring it. The plot thickens when Ms. Mekota did not take the rejection quietly.   In true millennial style, she posted the email on an online message board where it quickly went viral on Reddit and Buzzfeed. Ms. Blazek has apologized and has since deleted her social media sites, learning the lesson that when it comes to GenY never to put in an email anything you wouldn’t want shared.

The internet buzzed with reaction, and while most commenters agreed that a LinkedIn request did not warrant such a rejection, others questioned whether the resulting post was a smart move by a job seeker.  In a CNN interview, Marian Salzman, the CEO of Havas PR,  applauded Ms. Mekota’s initiative in trying to make a job connection but not her next move, saying, “Once the rejection got posted it made me very nervous. …Just let it go, not let’s share it with the whole world and turn it into a cause celeb.”

Sharing online is a standard practice for a generation that lives in cyberspace, and the truly savvy millennial knows how to make cyberspace work for her as evidenced by 20-something Marina Shrifrin.  Last fall, she announced that she was quitting her job in a video that went viral and garnered more than 11 million views. [click to continue…]


Follow Your Passion at Your Peril

WhatsYourPassion-RCC-landpage“Follow your passion” might be one of the most perilous pieces of advice ever doled out to our children.  We baby boomers drank that Kool-Aid when we professionalized parenting, wanting our children to be happy in their careers.  Our dreams were justified by college advisers who counseled that children must explicate a singular passion in admissions essays.  So find a passion, and follow that passion, from high school through college major.  And many of our children did just that,  fueled by lessons, tutors, summer camps and so on.

Post college they tried to turn that passion into work and too often it fizzled when faced with reality that the vast majority of college grads work in jobs unrelated to their major.    In 2010, only 62.1 percent of U.S. college graduates had a job that even required a college degree. And just 27.3 percent of college grads had a job that was related to their major at all, according to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York study.

Still many grads, undaunted by reality, continue to purse their passion in serial post-college internships, especially those chasing careers in the arts, media, music, and sports.  Last Sunday, a New York Times piece,  “For Interns, All Work and No Payoff,” documented the tales of 20-somethings.  One college grad, trying to break into film production, worked three unpaid  internships in less than a year before landing a $10-an-hour slot on a reality TV show. Not an encouraging scenario as the young man acknowledged:

“No one hires interns,” said Mr. Lang, who sees himself as part of a “revolving class of people” who can’t break free of the intern cycle. “Is this any way to live?”

In reaction to the piece, many of the 300 comments blasted parents for underwriting their children’s pie-in-sky ambitions; other comments lambasted employers who exploit free labor by dangling the possibility of paid work on a hook that always just out of reach.

We are not going to point fingers.  However we have some blunt advice for parents asked to bankroll post-grad unpaid internships: Just Say No! The odds of serial internships eventually paying off in a job are  no better than winning at Lotto.

That’s not to say that internships are a bad idea.  As we wrote in “What Parents Need to Know About Internships,” these positions are essential to gaining a foot in the door, gaining experience and career exploration.  Over the years, we’ve seen many, many students get job offers directly as a result of internships. We’ve also found that seen internships can pay off years later with a second job  for those who kept up the connections they made at those companies. But the key point: internships should be limited to the college or graduate school years when they are part of an education.

Post grad the focus needs to turn to paid work, an argument made persuasively by two experts.  First, the 20-something who doesn’t establish a foothold will pay those years for the rest of her life. Dr. Meg Jay, author of “The Defining Decade,” estimates that as much as two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during just the first 10 years of a career, making it difficult for late blooming 30-somethings to be able to afford the basics of a comfortable lifestyle.  The other compelling reason to start working, even in a non-glamorous field is that career happiness is often discovered by being good at a job.  In his book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” Georgetown professor  Cal Newport argues that few people find work they love from day one.  Becoming good at a job often comes only after frustrating fits and starts over a period of years. As we noted in “Follow Your Passion at Your Peril,”

[Prof. Newport] acknowledges that the “skill-building” phase can take five or even ten years, but eventually the young person becomes valued for their talents, business connections and work history.  Being valued increases self-worth and often a passion for work arises out of that feeling of accomplishment and ability

So does that mean you should encourage your adult children to quash their dreams?  A alternative approach was offered by J Maureen Henderson, a journalist and entrepreneur who we invited to an undergraduate class last semester.  An engaging speaker, Ms. Henderson told students that before embarking on a career they needed to figure out whether they were “work-to-live” or “live-to-work” people.   The former type plans a career in a stable field with fairly certain degree of success.  Ms Henderson admitted that for follow-your-passion, live-to-work person “life is just naturally going to be harder for you.”

The solution, she advised, is constructing

“a sort of Venn diagram between what you like to do and what people will actually pay you to do and then find where the intersection of those two things happens to be.”

That’s exactly what she did.  Post-college she worked in a series of 9-5 jobs that paid the bills.  In her spare time she launched a blog, started freelance writing and built  a consulting business. Her sassy “Generation Meh” blog garnered attention which landed some writing assignments which eventually culminated in a columnist slot at Forbes.  She also now has a number of clients who consult on Gen Y issues with her at her company, Secret Agent Research.

The message for the soon-to-be grads was clear: Find a 9-5 way to pay the bills so you can follow your passion working for yourself on nights and weekends. If you are going to work for free, why not be the boss of yourself!



mnr8The first one you remember, you were 10 or 11. You slipped out of the sliding back-door of your parents’ first house on Everett Circle, to stand alone on a hill in the frigid wind – alone, but knowing that there were people inside that house who loved you – to gaze up at a glittering onyx sky – aching, because a year (because everything!) passes TOO QUICKLY (so young – how could you already have known?), and trying to envision your future, which was impossible to envision…

And then, too soon for your own good: the Going-Steady Years. Allowed only to double-date, that first year, you wore an ice-blue moiré dress (no longer than a shirt, really), with rhinestone ball buttons and a Nehru collar; you looked – and were – so young, that your boyfriend was able to convince the ticket-seller at the Union Theater to let you in as a “CHILD,” which everybody thought was hilarious…

Then: the Rollercoaster (of Love) Years. American kids body-painting in the Tel Aviv U quad in a drenching rain (everybody high on opiated hash but you) to The Who; one-nation-under-a-groove at Radio City with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic; in a silver sequined tube-top at that lodge party upstate (where you knew you’d come with the wrong guy) to “Ring My Bell”; weeping inside the dank bathroom of a warehouse alongside the West Side Highway, to… well, who remembers…

But every year, a few minutes after midnight, from wherever you were, without fail, you found a way (way before cellphones) to call your parents, who you knew were sitting in their recliners in their den in Jersey (with the zebra-striped sofa and mahogany paneling), watching the ball drop on TV, because calling home is what all Holocaust survivors’ kids did. Most of those years, lying about where you were and who you were with, because lying was what (most) survivors’ kids did, to escape their parents’ stifling control and to avoid hurting them. “Love you, Mommy and Daddy, zei gesund [be well],” you said dutifully, even during the years that things were horribly tense between you and the words stuck in your throat. After you hung up, though, you’d sometimes look around at that party, that loft, that guy, those people, and ask yourself what the hell you were doing there. For all your perceived brashness, you knew you were actually much more an outlier than a liar; your gut told you that your critical distance would become a key source of strength, would set you free and serve you well – and you were right.

The Sweetness Years? None sweeter. Launched in Times Square, drunk on love, wrapped in the arms of the tall, good man you would marry. And soon the babies started coming, all of them Octobers, and by New Year’s you were thrilled to tote them and their gear to join the other young families at the Sobels’ annual kid-friendly bash in their rambling, antique house on Old Farm Road, with the crooked, wide-board floors and all those wonderful places to roam – the map room, the spiral-staircase room, the music room with the player-piano and drum sets, land of a thousand Legos and books, Cabbage Patches and Smurfs. There was always plenty of pleasant conversation, music, and food, but inevitably you felt miles away, struggling to mask how ridiculously emotional the passage of time (TOO QUICKLY) continually made you feel, hard-pressed to hold back tears or to ignore the ache in your chest as you fixated on that one thing that was everything: what John Updike (in one of your favorite short stories, “When Everyone was Pregnant”) called a “sickening sensation of love.” Splayed on the L-shaped sofa before their fireplace, wearing oversized sweaters to cover your oversized butt  – sequined tube-top now relegated to the dress-up box in the playroom – you drank in everything, knowing that everything would change. At your breast, the babies gazed up at you, wondrous, unblinking, trusting absolutely. Soon, toddling around in their onesies, dragging ragged blankies and sucking on pacifiers when you really should’ve already weaned them off that stuff, but whatever. After that, running in circles, overtired, cranky and sugar-high, flinging themselves at you, all jabby elbows and knees, until the tall, good man scooped them up and said it was time to go home. Finally: shooting pool ineptly, as awkward tweens who – thank God! – didn’t have their own parties to go to, yet. And after midnight, you now felt lucky to call your parents, still home in Jersey, declining in their recliners, to tell them: “Love you, Mommy and Daddy, zei gesund.” Because (a) they had softened, and (b) you now understood their bottomless fears – and how complicated everything was that you had once believed, SO arrogantly, should be SO simple – so that you and they were no longer SO angry all the time… [click to continue…]


Beyond the Empty Nest

Photo by Natalie Caine

Photo by Natalie Caine

Natalie Caine expected to suffer empty nest syndrome when her only child departed sunny LA  for college in New York a few years ago.  Ms. Caine, a therapist who specializes in “life in transition,” knew that she needed to find a new outlet for her energies. So she dug out an old camera, went out into her garden and started photographing her flowers. In the process she not only became a skilled photographer who now sells her flora and fauna photos but also expanded her counseling into Empty Nest Support Services.

Thanks to the aging cohort of baby boomers, empty nest has become a hot topic, with a Pinterest page, discussions on College Confidential and home remodeling sites, and even cooking lessons.  Indeed a recent survey of empty-nest baby boomers found that more than 90 percent were happy to have more “me” time—and money–to spend time with spouses, go on vacations, and socialize. A majority also cited lower grocery bills and no longer having to go to school functions as the upside.

That said, emptying the nest doesn’t happen all at once and the process—and the ensuing emotions—can extend over a period of years from when the oldest child departs, changing the family dynamic, to when the youngest graduates college, often leaving a bittersweet feeling, and then onto work, love, marriage and the baby carriage!

For help in navigating these different stages of empty nesting, we called Ms. Caine and asked her to share  wisdom gained from counseling dozens of women in both her private practice and at retreats.

Q. Some parents think that empty nest syndrome occurs when you return from the college drop off to that suddenly quiet house but it’s really an ongoing process? 

A. Dropping them off the college is just the beginning; you’re not done with the changes. Your role as a parent shifts over and over starting with then  through when they graduate and start a career and come home less. The next phase is when they marry and you become an in-law—not an outlaw, although it may feel like it.  And then the next stage is when you become granny or nanny or babysitter.

Q. Those are a lot of stages to navigate.  The one that seems most unexpected is college graduation.  You’d think we would be happy with no more tuition payments, yet parents  feel a sense of loss. 

A. College is often a repeat of the relationship you had with your children in  high school: You are still wanted for when they bring their friends home for school breaks, for your sofa, your home cooking, and their bedroom for summers.  It’s college graduation that’s the start of the next stage.   Post college is all about launching their careers. It’s all about their career, not your career; it’s all about their calendar, not your calendar. You might see your child much less; he might be working globally; he’s making his own money; he’s more much independent so you are needed less and as his life becomes fuller, and  you feel that loss.

Q. These stages of change mean constant reinvention of our roles as parents.  Your advice is blunt: If you want an adult relationship then you need to follow their lead.

A. You are no longer the leader; it’s now your kids who are leading you.  I urge parents to be both curious and compassionate. Be a listener with them, not the talker.  Don’t automatically fill in the blanks.  If they are asking advice, try to get their opinion first.  Be present in the moment when talking to them.

Q. On the flip side, you note that the nest leave-taking is a perfect time to look inward and discover your own long-lost passions.

A. My daughter and I were very close, she’s an only child, and when she left that’s when I discovered that I loved photography. I had no idea that would happen. But I didn’t have to make oatmeal or whole grain toast or car pool so I went into the garden every morning and started taking photos. I became good at it and my friends encouraged me to start selling them and I did. Another thing I started writing which I really hadn’t done since the third grade.  With my daughter gone I was able to go to a summer writer’s program.  I even made two new best friends there, after age 50.

My message to other moms experiencing empty nest feelings is to find the  parts of you that went dormant during all those years hands-on parenting.  Go dig in the dirt and find your dormant self, and from that discovery pull up new resources and interests.


Should You Charge Rent?

PayRentPiggyBank.157131716_stdYour college grad boomeranged home and stayed and stayed, and finally got a job but shows no signs of leaving.  What now? Of course, you want them to start making plans for launching their own pad but until then there’s all sort of details to be negotiated if they stay for the foreseeable future.  How should they “contribute” to the household from walking the dog, to making dinner, to running errands, to doing their own cleaning and laundry?  Those issues seem easy compared to the sticky question of whether  you should charge them rent and how much. Living at home is supposed to be a stop-gap measure until young adults get on their feet financially, not as a way for them to live concierge-style and beyond their means with mom and dad footing the bills. Will charging rent get that message across loud and clear?

Two recent pieces, a Huffington Post video and a Forbes article, tackled this topic.  From those pieces and others–and personal experience–we came up not with an answer but with some points to consider as you ponder:

  • How much money does your child earn and where how is it spent/saved?  It’s not unreasonable to ask (help) your boomerang child to make a budget and set savings goals.  For example, if they have substantial college loans perhaps a maximum amount should go to paying them off first.
  • Are you paying their college loans?  Maybe they should take over the payments
  • What’s your financial situation?  Perhaps your own finances are tight and the extra expenses put you over the edge. You could use that rent.
  • Even if there’s not college loans or a tight budget what message do you want to convey to your child in terms of financial maturity? If you want them to learn to save, an alternative might be insisting on a saving accounts with regular deposits. [click to continue…]

What Parents Need to Know about Internships

images intern 3Magazine publisher Conde Nast recently announced  that it will end its internship program, perhaps not surprising  coming in the wake of a lawsuit by two former unpaid interns who claim that the work they did was very similar to that of  paid employees. The lawsuit argues that the interns should have been paid at least minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, not a summer stipend of about $550.

I asked journalism grad students about their reaction to the decision and responses varied. Many dream of working for Conde Nast magazines such as the New Yorker and Vogue and see internships, even if it means working two or three days a week unpaid, as a way to get both experience and their foot in the door. That was a sentiment shared by many former interns now working in the publishing industry in a New York Times article.  On the other hand, several students noted that unpaid internships are by their very nature economically discriminatory, eliminating from consideration students who can’t afford to work for free.  Even an unpaid internship, if it’s for credit, can actually cost the student money in a tuition fee, to say nothing of what might be much needed lost wages form a part-time job while working the internship.

Over the years, I have seen the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly of internships, through advising grads and undergrads, and hearing about their experiences. My three children have done several internships—paid and unpaid—in both the business and media worlds.

The reality of the job market today is that most of our adult children will do internships during college. Indeed if they are current liberal arts students or recent grads, internships have become the new normal as part of an undergrad education.  And, it’s not usual to become what’s dubbed a “serial” intern, doing three or four internships. Many students consider unpaid internships are as a “cost of doing business,” particularly in fields like journalism, film, theater and politics. [click to continue…]


News Roundup

Who is mom’s favorite?

It seems that familiarity breeds favoritism when it comes to which adult child moms choose as their most beloved.  Similarities in personal values, emotional closeness and beliefs were the reasons that 75 percent of mothers in a long-term study choose one adult child over another as the most favored.  While the subjects of the study were older than most m21 readers, the findings still resonate

The Purdue University study collected data from 406 mothers aged 65 to 75 in two related studies done seven years apart with the same subjects. The research, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, looked at whether financial, employment or marital status mattered in the mothers’ choice of whom they wanted for a caregiver when the time came.  Most mother chose the same child, even with the seven-year gap.

“These mothers are saying that if I can’t make my own decisions involving my life than who can best make these decisions for me? Who thinks like I do?” said Jill Suitor, a Purdue professor of sociology. [click to continue…]

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Adult Children: A Roundup of Posts

news 2GenY, emerging adults, millenials, adulescents, boomerang kids. Whatever you call them, the 73.7 million young adults in the U.S. generate enough research, reports, studies, controversies and general agita among parents and employers to keep the media buzzing. Every week, our Google alerts overflow with postings about millennials in a range of outlets from blogs to national publications. For the next two weeks, we’ll offer a selection of various posts of interest to parents of this controversial generation.

Take your parents to work day? Many of us remember when “Take Your Daughter to Work” day was in vogue. Now the roles have shifted and a number of companies are encouraging millennials to bring their parents to the office on occasion. The motivation?  Some corporations find the strategy useful to “attract and hold onto talent and boost employee morale,” according to Wall Street Journal piece, “Hiring Millenials, Meet the Parents.”   Northwestern Mutual and Enterprise both invite parents to visit while recruiting potential entry-level employees, and have found success with the strategy in their hiring efforts.

One open house that many of us might accept an invitation to is from Google which  hosted more than 2,000 parents at its second annual  “Take Your Parents to Work Day,” in Silicon Valley, and held a similar event in New York earlier this year.  In both locations parents, according to the article, were more impressed with the touted employee perks including a luxe cafeteria rather than their adult children’s jobs.

Next month Linkedin will weclome parents to its offices in 14 countries, following  a successful pilot in Dublin.  Employees who have their parents’ backing are happier workers, said a Linkedin spokesperson.

Sill, we wonder how our own children would feel about this.  We’re not sure that our sons  especially would welcome us strolling around their workplaces.

Gen Y Yuppies?  A Huffpo piece that in effect told millenials to stop whining went viral, with more than one million Facebook “likes,” 15,000 tweets and almost 4,000 comments.  Originally posted on a somewhat mysterious blog, waitbutwhy.com, the piece used a caricature named Lucy to symbolize a new term, GYPSY.  The acronym stands for “Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies,” defined as “a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.”

Lucy is unhappy, goes the story, because reality is not living up to her expectations.  And who is responsible for those delusional expectations? Her parents of course because, based on their own experiences of a achieving a better lifestyle than their parents, they raised Lucy to expect to follow her passions: “Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.” [click to continue…]

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The Unending Journey of Parenting Adult Children

Parents-to-the-End-Final-Hard-Cover-900-pixYou can only be as happy as your least happy child

We’ve all experienced that cliché with our adult children.  Their problems—life, love, work, emotional, economic—become our problems and, as recovering helicopter parents, we too often rush in with the magic solution.

But suppose our help is actually harming them.  Maybe adult children need to live on a budget without parents bailing them out. Maybe they need to stop giving us excuses why they can’t get a job. Maybe we should stop commiserating so much.  Suppose “Step Away from Your Child” is the best way to actually help.  Perhaps we need to redefine exactly what we mean by “help” and in the process think a little bit more about our needs, not theirs.

That’s the blunt message from psychotherapist Linda Herman who has spent almost two decades offering counsel to parents who are trying to figure out exactly what it means to parent adult children in the 21st century: How much is too much?

Ms. Herman has taken her experience and turned it into a wise book, “Parents to the End.”  Using a combination of case studies, research and personal experience, Ms. Herman provides a no-nonsense, tough love guide for parents struggling with adult children who seemingly won’t grow up. She urges Baby Boomers to consider their own needs with a “Bill of Rights for Parents of Adult Children.”  The mother of two adult sons, Ms. Herman spoke to us last week from her home in a Seattle suburb.

Q.  Over the course our children’s lives, you write, we need to make the transition through the “three Cs of parenting,” from choreographers to coaches on sidelines to consultants referred to for expert advice.  Instead it seems like many Baby Boomers have adopted the role of concierge, and at a luxury hotel! Why is that?

 A. As a result of our helicopter parenting, some adult children need more hand holding and are not self starters.  Parents have the expectations for them, not just of material success, but also happiness and self fulfillment so they try to help their children achieve those goals and avoid the pain of hard times. Because Baby Boomer had more than previous generations, they felt could do more for their children.   We don’t want them to struggle.

Q. Why is it that some adult children are not self starters, and need constant prodding?

A. I worked as a school psychologist and saw the self-esteem movement first hand.  Yet research has found that praising people may boost self esteem but it also sometimes erodes motivation, and that’s what we are seeing now. That dependency may also have as much to do with the signals we are sending as parents as with a lack of work ethic.

Q.  Many parents get caught in a cycle of doing more and then when it doesn’t get the intended result, feel used and taken for granted.  Still it’s very hard to land the helicopter.  How do you advise parents do that?

A. The first step is taking a look at one’s self and figuring out how much of what you are doing is for your own sake rather than the child’s. It’s hard to stop that level of parenting and sometimes that means grieving that the time has come to let go and to start backing off.  I also suggest that parents ask themselves, “Is what I am doing working to help my child?” If it’s not, then it’s time to rethink the relationship.

Q. We’ve all heard children, especially teenagers, claim they have “rights.”  Your book cleverly turns this around and you’ve come of with “The Bill of Rights for Parents of Adult Children.” Is there one right that summarizes the list? [click to continue…]