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STILL Tending The nest

Author Jane Adams was flying home to Seattle recently after spending a "by invitation" weekend "organizing" her son-in-law and daughter's new home in San Francisco when she saw a review of her new book in USA Today.

Delighted with the critique, Adams showed it to the stranger in the seat next to her.

"Thank goodness there is a book on the subject," the woman said.

"I am a single parent, and my only son is being married, and I am worried about what this will do to our relationship," the woman confided.

Situations like that prompted Adams, a journalist, columnist and novelist, to write I'm Still Your Mother: How To Get Along With Your Grown-Up Children for the Rest of Your Life (Delacorte, $19.95).

"This is a book that takes up where Dr. Spock left off," she said.

"Postparenthood is a new phenomenon in the process of adult development. Because today's young adults are taking much longer to grow up than their parents' generation and because over 50 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds and a third of 25- to 34-year-olds still live at home, the child/parenting relationship has been extended," she said.

"We are also less certain of our ability to be good role models for our children than at any other stage in our development; this is directly related to our feeling we are not yet fully mature ourselves."

One of her key findings was that while financial security, marital stability and career achievement were what the 50-year-olds' parents had wanted for them, what the fiftysomethings wanted for their children is the fulfillment of their personal, individual potential _ happiness.

In a phone interview from her home in Seattle, Adams, 53, said there were two reasons she wrote the book: She became a grandparent earlier than she had expected, and her young adult children were making choices different from those she had made at the same age. She was having problems with their decisions.

She started keeping a file marked "NLG" (not letting go).

Her son, she recalled, dropped out of school, had a son of his own and became a ski bum.

Her daughter, freshly graduated from college, took her graduation money and headed for Asia. In Thailand, she used her funds to buy silver jewelry. She flew to Japan and sold the jewelry on a street corner and used the proceeds to extend her journey.

At the time, Adams said, she was upset. Today she laughs and considers how ingenious and enterprising her daughter was.

Adams' son, Cameron, now 27, is married, with a second son, and owns a successful snowboard store in Seattle. Her first grandson, Johnathan, 5{, lives with his mother in Vermont, so Adams makes several trips to the East Coast each year.

That's another phase of modern life, she said, "making your own relationship with your grandchild when the parents are no longer together."

Her daughter, Jenny, 26, who is in retail merchandising, and her husband, a chef, live in San Francisco. They were the ones who urged Adams to help them move into their new place.

Adams said she got the idea for the book when she was sitting in the park near her home and overheard young mothers talking about their children's problems _ pacifiers and potty training. She realized that she hardly ever talked to anyone about her children anymore.

"Oh, I still showed the pictures, gave vital statistics, and bragged or lied as appropriate. But it was all surface stuff, not the real feeling that I had when she brought home her future husband, and I absolutely knew it was a mistake, or when my son dropped out of school, became a ski bum and had his first child," she said.

Adams said she worried about them but was afraid to talk about it for fear people would say, "Poor thing, she just can't let go."

Using her "NLG" file as a starting point, Adams called on the dozen or women she counseled with when her kids were little. From there, she interviewed some 100 people throughout the country.

While she tried to talk to dads, Adams found that "since men of our generation are still not comfortable talking about their feelings, their wives often did it for them." More than half of the women she interviewed were divorced, in keeping with the statistical norms. The offspring of those consulted for the book ranged in age 20 to 35.

Eighty percent were white, 20 percent black, Asian and Hispanic and most of them in the 50s. In addition, Adams has incorporated the expertise of professionals such as Dr. Helene Kivert, an associate professor of social work at the University of Minnesota who studies interactions between generations, and Marcia Millman, a sociologist and author of Warm Hearts & Cold Cash: The Intimate Dynamics of Families and Money.

From these interviews and research, Adams came up with a dogma she calls "The Three Principles of Postparenting." They are: listening, acknowledging and accepting.

Adams also found that grown children need to give up excessive desires for their parents' approval.

And like it or not, parents must face the fact that their children have an adult's right to make their own choices about what they do, whom they love, how they spend their money, which church they attend, how to raise their children and what they value.

"We think we are closer to our children in attitude, beliefs and lifestyle than our parents were to us. And in some ways we are, simply because we've lived through a cultural and societal adolescence together, rebelling against authority, questioning our institutions and liberating ourselves from what our proper roles should be," Adams said.

Although she regards herself as a new and liberated woman, she finds her daughter is more modern.

"And when she as an adult makes decisions that will have major life consequences _ about career, marriage, children and health _ I am galled to discover that it's just as hard to let her make them herself, particularly if I think they're the wrong one," she added.

"Even if we are both artists who love the Grateful Dead, the generation gap is real: Only by standing on our own sides, seeing the distance between us, and acknowledging it can we bridge it."

In January, Adams was in Sarasota on the first leg of a promotional tour. The response to the book was so great that a line of people snaked around the corner of the bookstore and back for the signing. She will be in the in Tampa on March 14 for a lecture and signing from 7 to 9 p.m. at Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia.