Originally posted March 4, 2009
My son used to call me a superstar. He was 5. I'd
reached the 'superstar' level of the on-line version of Wheel
of Fortune and he was proud of me. Those were the
days. He told all of his little friends that I was
a superstar and I never tired of hearing it.
Though I still catch glimpses of admiration, affection and even
gratitude from my kids, five years have passed and they're noticing
and not appreciating life's inevitable inequities and limits.
I hear more "I hate you's" than "I love
you's," these days. Sure, I'm safe, constant and convenient, but
still, it's along way to fall.
"Mom, where's my book?" Holly called down to the kitchen
one chilly morning before school.
"Sorry, honey, I don't know."
"Ugh, I hate you!" she scowled, and then ransacked her room
while my eyes filled and I poured food into Jake's bowl. I
can always count on the dog for gratitude.
It seems we've entered a new frontier, the so-called 'tween'
years. This period between childhood and the teenaged years,
between eight and 13, can be a dynamic time of growth and
discovery, but it can also be a potential minefield of confusion
and conflict for kids and their parents.
The tip-off for me that we'd entered this phase was that Noah
became reluctant to hold my hand in public. Tweeners can swing back
and forth between expressing somewhat childish needs, preferences
and behaviors and more adult ones. Sometimes it feels like
they're playacting at being adult one moment and retreating back to
the familiar comforts of more childlike ways of being in the world
the next. They're testing the waters but still tethered to
the shore, so to speak.
Another feature of this phase, for some kids, is a tendency to
react with more extreme emotional responses, hence the "I hate
you"'s occasionally levied at me. For some kids this is
actually more pronounced during the tween years than even the teen
years, as they discern how to modulate their new emotional
ranges. Just because this is typical doesn't mean I'm off the
hook, however. Reflecting on my hand in creating frustrating
circumstances and acknowledging this to my child, even as I calmly
set limits about what I'll tolerate, can be a powerful
bridge-builder - even if I cannot change a frustrating circumstance
The tween years can be trying times for everyone, and sometimes
we parents need a pat on the back and to be reminded that what we
do matters. So from one beleaguered superstar to another, here's to
You are a superstar-even in your less stellar moments, moms and
dads-because you're there for your kids. When they were small you
could recite every word of their favorite books, knew just how to
rock them to sleep and didn't mind the dampness on your shirt from
your baby's breath. You still pause to drop pebbles into
puddles, can turn a meltdown around on a dime and, when you're at
your best, you're a keeper of wonder for your kids. You help them
with their homework, make sure they brush their teeth, and show up
to cheer 'til long after your throat hurts, the sun sets and your
backside aches from the bleachers.
You've learned that one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting
often miss the mark, and that sometimes all you can do is just grab
your children, prickly scowls and all, and pull them close for a
quick squeeze and an "I love you, I'm proud of you." Don't be
fooled by their squirms, though. It matters and they hear
you, even if they don't want to let on.
You're willing to make the difficult, sometimes unpopular
decisions, and in those tough moments when your most important job
feels like a thankless one, you bear in mind that 'this too shall
pass.' But not too quickly, please, because far too soon there will
come a day when your little boy with his endearing rat's nest of a
head won't be home to plead for a later bedtime and your other
little darling won't be around to make your head spin by shouting
demands down the stairs one minute and sneaking up on you for a
snuggle the next.
Ah, there's the rub.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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