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Paperback Release
April 2, 2024

Available now.
About the book

​​Difficult brings to life the conflicts that arise for mothers who are confronted with the unexpected, burdensome, and even catastrophic dependencies of their adult children associated with mental illness, substance use, or chronic unemployment.


Through real stories of mothers and their challenging adult children, Difficult addresses a family situation which too many keep secret. The book allows readers to see that they are not alone.  It includes resources for getting help: finding social support, staying safe, engaging in self-care, and helping the adult child.

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About the author

Judith R. Smith, Ph.D., LCSW, is a NYC based psychotherapist, professor, and researcher on women’s issues as they age.  She is a professor, Emerita, at Fordham University.  She offers support groups on-line for mothers with difficult adult children.  The groups are time-limited, usually for 10-12 weeks. 

Throughout her career, Dr. Smith has focused on understanding how mothers are affected by their children’s development. Her previous work focused on young children and how the child's early development impacted the mother's sense of self, as well as the ways mothers’ responses and resources impacted her child’s later development. Today, as a senior researcher, her interest is on older mothers and how women are affected by and cope when their adult children are struggling with issues that interfere with their autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Her book, Difficult: Mothering Challenging Adult Children through Conflict and Change, is based on a three-year research project. The book brings to life the stories of thirty-five women, each over sixty years old, whose lives were drastically altered by becoming the default safety net for their adult “kids.”  The adult children were between twenty-eight and fifty-eight. Dr. Smith discovered that mothers perceived their adult children’s behavior as “difficult” when they found themselves, once again, prioritizing their children’s needs over their own and saw no “exit” for themselves or their adult children from their problems.


This fine book will be profoundly helpful to all the women who needed it yesterday. At last, we have a book on the subject of difficult children that is profoundly sympathetic with and empathic toward mothers. It is excellent cultural therapy.


Author of Reviving Ophelia and
Women Rowing North

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