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Grown-up children pose their own brand of challenges | (KRT) Parents, if you think dealing with teenagers is tough, get ready for the next stage: parenting adult children.

It's a mistake to relate to your adult kids as if they were eternally 18 years old, says Lois Leiderman Davitz.

Dr. Davitz, 77, and her husband, Joel R. Davitz, Ph.D., wrote "Getting Along (Almost) With Your Adult Kids: A Decade-by-Decade Guide" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. ) based on personal experience and the couple's longtime study and teaching of psychology. Lois and Joel Davitz hold doctorates in psychology, have worked as researchers and teachers, and have written several books on family topics.

They have two sons, 47 and 43, and have lived to tell the tale: It is possible to develop a long-term relationship with adult children. In fact, such a relationship is deeply satisfying. The key is for parents to adapt to changes in the adult child's life.

"When you get to 77," she says, "life takes on a different perspective or meaning. You suddenly say, `What's it all about?' and you realize that it's about relationships and family."

This book could not have been written without the perspective that comes from having lived through the decades described in the book and then observing their sons at these life stages, she says.

"When you take a child out of diapers, you know you're supposed to change as a parent," she says. "When a child goes from his 30s into his 40s, that's a time for parents to change, too."

The book describes what to expect from - and how to deal with - kids in their 20s, 30s and 40s. If your children live far away, following some of the advice may not be possible, but an effort to build a long-term relationship can span the miles.

Dr. Davitz, who lives in Somers, N.Y., describes the 20s as a busy period of exploration. The nesting stage of the 30s can be busy; kids may be grateful for offers to baby-sit or help with chores. "When your kid breaks out in the 40s and does what you, in your late 60s, think is absurd, you've got to remember what it was like when you were in your 40s," she says.

Dr. Davitz shares a few don'ts:

If your 40-year-old abandons a good career to follow his dream, "Don't say, `My God, you're giving all this up? Are you crazy?'" she says. Try listening to your kids and helping them understand that the 40s don't have to be a period when things come to an end. The decade can be a beginning.

When the kids finally come over to see you, she says, don't set the tone for your time together with a negative greeting, such as "You never visit me!" Instead, enjoy the time you do have.

Don't go over to an adult child's home without an invitation. Always act like a guest in your kid's house.

"Don't start weighing your relationship," complaining about a lack of thank-you notes or phone calls. "There are other ways for children to say `thanks' that are more meaningful, such as `Come over for dinner,'" she says.

Dr. Davitz reminds parents not to battle over where the kids and the grandchildren will spend the holidays. You may win a battle over which in-law's house they go to for Thanksgiving, but lose in the effort to build a relationship that lasts through your lifetime.

"The war between families escalates, and what can happen is that you've lost more than you've won," she says. For instance, "what do you do if the other side of the family goes on a holiday cruise and you're not invited? Send flowers as a farewell or as a welcome home."

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© 2003, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services