Skip to main content

Growing Each Other Up

When Our Children Become Our Teachers

From growing their children, parents grow themselves, learning the lessons their children teach. “Growing up”, then, is as much a developmental process of parenthood as it is of childhood. While countless books have been written about the challenges of parenting, nearly all of them position the parent as instructor and support-giver, the child as learner and in need of direction. But the parent-child relationship is more complicated and reciprocal; over time it transforms in remarkable, surprising ways. As our children grow up, and we grow older, what used to be a one-way flow of instruction and support, from parent to child, becomes instead an exchange. We begin to learn from them. The lessons parents learn from their offspring—voluntarily and involuntarily, with intention and serendipity, often through resistance and struggle—are embedded in their evolving relationships and shaped by the rapidly transforming world around them.
With Growing Each Other Up, Macarthur Prize–winning sociologist and educator Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot offers an intimately detailed, emotionally powerful account of that experience. Building her book on a series of in-depth interviews with parents around the country, she offers a counterpoint to the usual parental development literature that mostly concerns the adjustment of parents to their babies’ rhythms and the ways parents weather the storms of their teenage progeny. The focus here is on the lessons emerging adult children, ages 15 to 35, teach their parents. How are our perspectives as parents shaped by our children? What lessons do we take from them and incorporate into our worldviews? Just how much do we learn—often despite our own emotionally fraught resistance—from what they have seen of life that we, perhaps, never experienced? From these parent portraits emerges the shape of an education composed by young adult children—an education built on witness, growing, intimacy, and acceptance.
Growing Each Other Up is rich in the voices of actual parents telling their own stories of raising children and their children raising them; watching that fundamental connection shift over time. Parents and children of all ages will recognize themselves in these evocative and moving accounts and look at their own growing up in a revelatory new light.


“Only rarely does a book on a familiar topic shake your most fundamental assumptions. Thanks to Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s eye-opening book, I will never think in the same old way about my relation to my four children and my four grandchildren.”

Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“In a beautifully written book, full of insights from the author and the people she interviews, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot teaches us how important it is for parents to be open to learning from their children. She teaches us that when we open our mouths to speak, we should be sure that our ears, our minds, and our hearts are open too. This may be the key to being a successful parent, and also to being a successful teacher, doctor, or supervisor.”

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

"Growing Each Other Up is a captivating read that will inspire not only parents but also readers who wish to reflect on their own development in relation to the adults who raised or taught them. It is also valuable to researchers, practitioners, and policy makers who are interested in supporting child and adult learning. Lawrence-Lightfoot draws readers into stories of individuals who, at first glance, seem different from one another but whose experiences are remarkably similar. She demonstrates that relationships mold us all as individuals. And, especially as we seek to understand human development, she reminds us of the power of listening, via aesthetic and scientific inquiry, to the processes and lessons that are not usually at the forefront of the conversation."

Sarah A. Rendón García | Harvard Educational Review

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Pedagogy Composed by Children

1 : Witness
2 : Growing
3 : Intimacy
4 : Acceptance

Conclusion: Cross Currents

Suggested Further Reading

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press