Teach Your Parents Well
In her new book, Growing Each Other Up, Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Ed.D.’72, tells a story about reaching out to a friend when her then-teenaged daughter was leaving her feeling frustrated and exhausted. Hungry for advice, Lawrence-Lightfoot assumed the friend would share her own war stories and even, perhaps, rescue her. Instead, the friend said something that at first left Lawrence-Lightfoot even more frustrated: “Your daughter is living on another planet, and she has a lot to teach you about it. …Listen to her.”
As Lawrence-Lightfoot writes, “For weeks, I brooded about her take on my troubles, and finally realized that she was saying something powerful and fundamental: that these intergenerational conversations — even the hardest ones — are opportunities for parental growth and insight, and that our children are indeed our teachers.”
A decade and a half later, as she was writing Growing Each Other Up, Lawrence-Lightfoot reflected on the times since those early battles when she was able to step back and resist the tit for tat that often happens between parents and their children. “How do we as parents have those rare moments of revelation and epiphany?” she writes. “This process of stepping back comes with shifting our role from teacher to learner” as parents eventually “grow out of growing our children” and the parent–child relationship flips.
What has become most intriguing to her, she writes, is the way that children become their parents’ teachers when adolescence transitions into young adulthood.
“I shift the lens and landscape as I explore the 25-year developmental sweep from the ages of 15 to 35 and focus on the lessons that parents learn from their ‘almost-grown’ progeny — those progeny of early maturity who are still figuring out the calculus between distance and intimacy, still negotiating the balance between separation and closeness to their parents. Whether these almost-grown offspring are parents themselves, whether they are living with their parents or not, the relational and emotional bonds continue to be negotiated.”