Maybe its because I’m not great with numbers or I tend to be a bit naive, but I’m smart enough to know this would happen. It is completely logical of course. Perhaps because I’m also a bit of a dreamer, this phase caught me off guard. Seriously, it was just yesterday I had a little boy. I had some vague notion that I was apprehensive about the teen years, but that was a safe distance down the road. Nothing that required my attention today. So it was quite a shock to realize my boy is a tween.
Crap, I’ve heard stories and read enough blog posts to know this phase is training for those teen years. Despite my inner voice screaming, “I’m not ready” we are there and this is really happening.
Once my confusion wore off, I took a deep breath and decided I had to meet my kid where he is. He is indeed more grown up than I allowed myself to see and that stings for sure. It is an awkward stage for us both. There are the beginnings of boundaries being pushed and questioned. The letting go and hanging on are intertwined in these years. More than once I’ve noticed him sad that he is outgrowing things he loved not so long ago. At a recent trip to a store, he saw one of those cute fireman rain jackets. He had always wanted one and I’d never gotten him one, mainly because getting him to wear a jacket at all is typically a challenge. He paused as we passed it by and I saw the sadness in his eyes. I said to him, “Growing up is kinda hard isn’t it?” He nodded yes and I told him it was hard for me too.
This stage is tricky for parents and kiddos. I’ve made a few observations that are helping me to navigate these years.
- They want things they aren’t ready for. Fortunately, at this age, that means energy drinks and R-rated movies. Helping them say no now can only help later when the stakes are much higher.
- They see parents as people. They no longer see you just as their servant. They see you as a person independent of themselves. They understand you have work and commitments. They know if you take care of yourself. They want to learn about you and your hobbies and dreams. Now’s a good time to make sure you pursue things that make you feel alive. You’re teaching your kids to do the same for themselves and it will make you far more interesting.
- They will like things you don’t like. How dare they, right? Well, take heart knowing your parents probably didn’t like the same music you liked either. While I hope someday my son may share my love of rockabilly, for now, I will remain open-minded to what he likes…and ask him repeatedly to turn it down.
- They will eat a lot. More than seems logical. Keep a balance of healthy stuff and some junk. Stock a few things that the friends like too. You want them hanging out at your house even when they are loud and smelly. Let them know they are all welcome. Be a safe place to land.
- They are starting to stretch their wings a bit. They are not at all ready to leave the nest, but they start to peek over the edge. Don’t hold on too tightly, but don’t push them away, either. They need you every bit as much as when they were little, but now it is for navigating much bigger things outside our control. Remind them you will always be there for them so they can depend on you when things are hard.
- They will act like they hate boundaries and at the same time totally need them and will respect you for setting them. Time and time again I see how setting clear boundaries and expectations is rewarded. Setting some clear rules builds a safety net.
- They give you glimpses of who they are becoming and it may take your breath away. Encouragement at any age is appreciated, but I’m certain in these tween and teen years the benefits are multiplied. Never underestimate the power of your praise.
This, like all stages of parenting, has ups and downs. Just as that precious newborn brought exhaustion and the toddler brought patience, testing battles over every little thing– they also brought immeasurable joy. These tween and teen years will be no different.