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Smith Celebrates ‘Difficult Mothering’ Book’s Paperback Release


On April 24, the Graduate School of Social Service welcomed Associate Professor Emerita Judith Smith, Ph.D., back to campus to celebrate a book launch for the paperback release of her 2022 book, Difficult: Mothering Adult Children Through Conflict and Change.

In the literary world, when a book is re-released from hardcover-only to paperback, it means one thing: it’s selling! Smith’s book has obviously struck a chord with the public and filled a gap in the existing literature about mothers of adult children. Featured in publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Difficult’s influence is far and wide.

A room of professionals gathered at Fordham’s Manhattan (Lincoln Center) campus to hear Smith discuss how the work came to fruition. 

A Book for Mothers—Not Clinicians

Barbara Glickson, a public health nurse, health reporter, and media strategist, led the conversation. Smith noted that while the reprint of Difficult into paperback was a sign of success, the real victories came from mothers’ mouths. Although Smith was a professor at the Graduate School of Social Service for over 25 years, she intentionally wrote this book for the everyday mother—not for academics. 

“I didn’t want to write a book for clinicians. I wanted to write a book for mothers,” she said. “And they [mothers]would write to me saying ‘thank you, I’ve never seen my story in print before.’”

The book’s reach wasn’t domestically limited, either. Smith said she facilitates virtual support groups for mothers with difficult adult children, and these groups use the book to guide the discussion. Two groups in particular contain participants from Canada and England. 

“Compassion for others in the group turns into compassion for self,” Smith said. “You bring this into your life by doing things like going to the doctor regularly [to stay healthy], and ensuring your safety in your home.”

A Macro Policy Issue

Smith said mothers struggling to raise difficult adult children suffer from a lack of proper nationwide policy. When the structures are not in place to support their children, the burden of support falls on the parents—and, in most cases, the mother.

“For those who can’t take in their children, those children live on the street,” Smith said, “because of the lack of affordable housing, community services, and substance abuse support. The structures just aren’t in place to deal with this.” 

Smith emphasized that mothers should, along with using the skills taught in Difficult, lean on their “weak ties” relationships—acquaintances you don’t know particularly well—rather than repeatedly approaching the same loved ones for support. And while Difficult may not be a text for clinicians, Smith is adamant about professionals receiving the skills to help mothers navigate these relationships that, in most cases, harm them. 

Smith ended the night with hope for mothers of difficult children everywhere. 

“Just because you can’t change your kid,” she said, “doesn’t mean your life is over.” 

And for readers of Difficult, a new way of living—a new life—might only be beginning. 


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