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 or limit
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.
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.
- Tweeners are not ready for teenagers’ responsibilities. Resist the temptation to leave them home alone or to allow them to cruise the mall unsupervised or date.
- Expect respect and teach your children how to manage their moods in healthy and appropriate ways and remember: your example is their best teacher.
- Keep the conversation going by asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”
- Continue to offer opportunities for more “childish” experiences as your child is open to them: watch G-rated movies together, wrestle together and allow transitional objects like a favorite blankie or toy to have a place in his life.
- Keep your eyes peeled for those moments when your child does want to be close, and allow him to express affection on his terms. When he does, ‘stop, drop (everything) and roll’ with it!