If you have daughters, you’ve probably been given lots of advice about how to handle the adolescent years. From the moment the sonogram reveals pink over blue, the words of wisdom start rolling in. “A girl! Just wait until she’s a teenager–you’ll have to lock her up!” “Enjoy her while she’s sweet and innocent–it won’t last long!”
Like most unsuspecting moms, I shrugged off these offhand comments at every turn. I saw my close bond with my oldest daughter as a secret weapon of sorts, an invisible shield that would somehow deflect the daggers of hormones and the pull towards independence and preserve our relationship–if not freeze it in time.
But alas, we eventually entered that inevitable tween vortex which, although forecasted, slowly descends and somehow takes us all by surprise. No amount of sage parenting wisdom seems to match the emotional maelstrom that marks the middle years. There just are not adequate words to describe the confusing, often illogical riptide in life that occurs somewhere around the 11-year mark. (Ok, so a few words did surface there.)
I’ve discovered that I am no longer the authority on everything, including, but not limited to fashion, entertainment and music. That she has other female confidants that she trusts with her secrets (sometimes). That she either adores or loathes everything, and there is no in-between.
I’ve learned that this girl, the one everyone says is just like me sometimes doesn’t even like me. That she has moments she even resents me. That I often feel like I’m arguing with a younger version of myself and the conversation is going nowhere fast.
When I look back on my own middle school experience, it was basically a culmination of every fear I’d ever read about in a Judy Blume book, realized. (At least I was halfway prepared.) As an underdeveloped, painfully shy, overachieving people-pleaser, I can only cringe inwardly as I try to remember exactly how I survived those four brutal years. (Let’s be real: high school wasn’t a cake walk either.)
Truthfully, if it weren’t for the patience and understanding of my own mom, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. (I’m guessing therapy.)
But you know what else I’ve learned? I’ve learned that my beautiful, passionate daughter is willing to stick up for the underdog without thinking twice. That she has poise and wit that extend beyond her years. That she has a creative spirit which becomes even more fine-tuned as she grows. That underneath that sometimes-prickly demeanor, she’s still that innocent yet vulnerable child who only needs reassurance (don’t we all?) that she is truly accepted and loved.
I’ve learned that although she doesn’t immediately divulge all the details of her day, if I take the time to ask the right questions and pause to listen, she’s very willing to let me in. That, although she is gaining independence (with even more freedom on the horizon), she needs guidance now more than ever. That eventually, with my help, she can come out on the other side of these years as someone who’s weathered the social equivalent of Survivor and is ready to face whatever lies ahead.
I think my job at this parenting stage is to somehow point my daughter to the truth that these next few years are a refining process, and really just one of many we all face. Although there are more awkward moments and less experience to lean on during this time than in other stages of life, perhaps, there are still important, lifelong lessons we can learn. For instance, we all need grace because everyone’s flaws are exposed under pressure. And, my dear girl, those friends who stick by you in your most trying seasons? They’ll probably be in your wedding someday, so get used to having them around.
Most importantly, as she continues to step into the waters that eventually lead to adulthood, I want to convey the message to my daughter that this speck on the horizon doesn’t have to define her future. If she makes mistakes, if she loses her footing and realizes she’s been swept away by the cultural tide and the allure of conformity–she can always trust me to remind her of her true identity. I’ll be here to ground her in the reality of who she really is, the child of God she’ll always be.
On that note, the other day my daughter confessed that she wasn’t ready for Jesus to come back yet, because she still wants to grow up, get married, and be a mom someday.
I’d like to think that’s because I’ve inspired her so. That’s a comforting thought.
It’s also plausible that she simply wants to prove she can do a better job than me.
There’s probably some truth in both of those theories. Either way, I’ll take that statement as a good sign that we still have some common ground.
And I have a feeling we always will.