When I became a parent, I wasn't given a rule book. I was in desperate need of one. See, I'm not really a kid person. (You don't have to go back and look at my bio. I am the one with 5 kids. Let's just say God has a sense of humor.) I didn't babysit when I was younger because... see previous statement. I chose to teach high school and not elementary school because...you get the picture.
At every single phase in my children's' lives, I have been pretty clueless. Each of them threw a monkey wrench in what I read about in all of those parenting books. The terrible twos started at 18 months. The boys' energy could only compare to an endless NASCAR race. The girls' sensitivity levels are like being on a broken roller coaster with lots of loops and hills.
Even though this sounds like a day at the carnival, I've felt like a tentative participant standing at the entrance gate watching in awe — and sometimes watching in horror.
If you're anything like me, there is hope. This parenting thing comes with great on-the-job training. If you are still standing, then you have passed the first class. Give yourselves a pat on the back. No — go grab some chocolate. Now, know that one day, you will get a break in the clueless-ness. I've gotten my first one.
My oldest is 11 and a girl. After almost 12 years of not knowing what to do, I can finally say "Hey world, I got this!" I got this pre-adolescence, physically developing, emotionally unstable phase covered.
Tip #1: Put yourself in their shoes. Sit down. Relax. Remember. Now take all of the angst, the fears, the frustrations that you had at that age, multiply it by the societal obsessions with appearance, sex and violence and there you have it : The Plight of Today's Tween.
My daughter is lucky to have me as a mother and I'm not afraid to admit it. The generations of women before me in my family never talked about "growing up." They only told me what NOT to do. I remember being a scared girl with the body of a woman trying to understand body hair, menstrual cycles and flirty boys. I couldn't tell my mother anything without a bunch of criticism and negativity.
Tip # 2 and # 3: Share with your tween your challenges, your issues. They respect it and it helps tear down the walls of separation that can come up. Don't criticize and judge them or their friends. Give them the tools to solve their problems and hope that the choices they make won't be irreversible.
Since my daughter is now homeschooled, she doesn't have to take the long walk to her locker worried if she's going to fall or if that cute guy is looking at her rear, but she still has similar challenges. She's involved in many extracurricular activities and has been in discussions about anorexia, teen drinking and academic dishonesty. We talk all the time and she tells me everything.
Tip # 4: Talk with your tween, not at them, and do it often. Take a genuine interest in what interests them. They need a lot of guidance right now.
One of my daughter's friends called her a "baby" because she tells me what's going on with them. My daughter's response: "First of all, you're not my friend. Second of all, I know my mother won't steer me wrong and she knows what she's talking about." Go me. Go me. I'm doing the cabbage patch now, my personal victory dance. Oops. The tip...
Tip # 5: Give your tween a little credit. They are going to figure it out even though there will be disappointments along the way. They are listening and watching you and your friends.
When my daughter is having an emotional moment, I know when to push and when to back off. I mark her cycle on the calendar so I know when to check if we have enough raspberry tea and chocolate-covered raisins. Like I told you earlier, I got this. I'm enjoying watching her become this intelligent, self-assured, kind-hearted person.
My clueless meter is out of the danger zone. For now.
My 8-year-old son is visiting tweendom next. My DH will have to try to explain him to me. I won't understand him and I'll be back at the library and the therapist in no time flat.