Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is a Harvard sociologist, recipient of many prizes, including a MacArthur "genius" grant, and the author of books such as Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free and The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50. In Growing Each Other Up, she aims to challenge the traditional child development and parenting literature that assumes teaching and guidance flows only from parent to child. "Instead I want to document the lessons that parents learn--voluntarily and involuntarily, with intention and serendipity, often through resistance and struggle--from their offspring."

Lawrence-Lightfoot focuses on the developmental period between 15 and 35. Most of the parents in her portraits are well-educated professionals. Their diversity is in their class and citizenship backgrounds, their race and sexual orientation, and their parenting experiences that include the intimate and calm, a variety of common troubles and a few cases of children with mental or physical illnesses. In their conversations with Lawrence-Lightfoot, parents discuss how their children taught them to "give them space, honor their individuality, and see them as 'other.' " They also explore how it is possible to get distance on the most volatile conflicts, pursue empathy in adversity and listen without preconceptions and the compulsions to fix or criticize. Not only can children teach parents about their changing selves and the changing world, they can also shed new light on their parents' relationships with their own parents and siblings, "become our mentors and cheerleaders, urging us to take on the next developmental chapters of our lives, applauding our efforts that risk change, supporting our new adventures." --Sara Catterall
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