MIDDLE SCHOOL MAMAS
Today, I want to offer some encouragement and advice to those of you with children in middle school. Middle school years were tough on me. It was so easy to focus on the difficulties and pains I felt as a parent when my kids were morphing into teens. One day I saw them as the beautiful, perfect humans I always envisioned they would become and another day I just wanted to ship them back to grandma or the neighbor or somebody far away from my house. They had the ability to put me on the same emotional rollercoaster I thought their little pre-teen selves rode. I found myself feeling like a transitioning bundle of hormones. I was a grown, emotional wreck. Since I have been there and survived, I want to share some tools to help you and the young person in your life journey successfully to the end of this phase in a way that leads you to love each other more deeply when the journey toward “teendom” ends.
I want to challenge you to live through the murky ever-changing hormonal circus with a youthful transparency. I know youthfulness and transparency are both challenging for grown folks, but so necessary if you want to gain trust, love, respect, and understanding from your pre-teen. I hope that you will think about your days as a kid and be reminded of your failures and the methods grown folks used to get you through those moments. I hope your memories, like mine, reveal imperfections and mistakes attributable to you as well as some not so perfect approaches by the grown people in your childhood that you should evaluate to determine whether or not they achieved a result that improved your circumstances. Once you have completed your introspective, critical look at your scarred, imperfect self, admit to your kids that you are not perfect and that you are a grown screw up working on getting better every day. This is step one. You will be surprised at the shocked looks you get when you admit to being a lot like what they think they are as a pre-teen – a confused, imperfect, and misunderstood work in progress. They will never admit that you have anything in common with them out loud, but you will have created a bridge of communication with them. You will need many bridges to complete this journey through the messy, murky, volatile middle school years. I found it beneficial to create as many bridges of communication as possible with my pre-teen kids because one bridge will close or just get busted up and drowned in the ocean of middle school mess and the back up overpasses will become vital to reaching your “babies.”
Remember, they are still your “babies.” They are not grown even if they look grown and try to act grown. I learned from spending time with friends of my children and other kids at the schools that parents simply stop parenting when their kids are able to tie their own shoes, make a sandwich, groom themselves, and stay home alone. Unfortunately, many parents, intentionally or unintentionally, free themselves from the full time involvement in their kids’ lives that may have been required when the kids were younger. While the kids are more independent and not solely reliant on you for every need, they still need you to guide them and provide insight and information that their friend circle is too young and inexperienced to provide. They need you to actively create a village of protection and information around them even if they don’t know they need it. To borrow a quote from my husband, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” These babies still need you to parent. You are not obsolete or irrelevant even if they try to make you feel like you don’t have a clue. You are not off duty yet!
There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I took that literally and actively built villages around my children. I realized when they entered middle school that I suddenly became an embarrassment to the kids who once adored me and believed I was the smartest, coolest, most beautiful woman alive. Almost over night they didn’t want to be seen with me in public, my fashion sense needed their input to be acceptable around their peers, and everything I said seemed to be an insult to their genius or intended to treat them like a baby. I rarely got it right and I was very frustrated and hurt. I had given up my career to stay home and care for them and it felt like the time and energy I devoted to them as a mother was all in vain. I prayed a lot and did more introspection and analysis of the situation. I realized that they had a need to please other adults in their lives and that other adults outside the house had greater influence than I did. So, I approached a few adults like my neighbor and family friends. I told them that I needed them to be ears and eyes from my children and a voice of reason for them. I also made contact with teachers at their schools who they admired and thanked them for their encouragement and mentoring of my children. I explained that I wanted to be an active parent, but I also wanted to give my kids room to grow and make independent decisions. All of my villagers were instructed to listen, give direction, and notify me if my kids were not performing at an acceptable level in
their classes or if they were entering a situation that was not safe. Often the villagers would tell me things I could do to help or when they thought I was being too strict or unreasonable. For example, I did not allow my kids to have cell phones until they were thirteen. My daughter would have been made to wait until high school, but a middle school teacher pulled me aside to tell me what a great kid I had and that I should trust her with a cell phone. I consented and thanked the teacher for giving me new perspective on the situation. I was wrong and I made a mistake not trusting my daughter with phone in the eighth grade. I often tell them that I didn’t receive a user manual at the hospital when I brought them home and that I make the best decisions I can at the time I make them. This admission often got me some forgiveness for some not so smart decisions I made as a parent. I realized that I had great parents, but I didn’t always feel free to talk about all subjects with them. I didn’t always feel like they would affirm me or advocate my position. When you become transparent in front of your kids and allow them to challenge your decisions or beliefs with thoughtful, respectful opinions, you will be enlightened and create a vital bridge of communication that will strengthen your relationship with them and teach them about relating to people in other areas of their lives. Additionally, your kids will feel freer to take risks and admit mistakes without the pressure of being ridiculed or judged by you or others. You will create a comfort zone which will be a very sturdy bridge for your kids to use over and over again to reach you for things as small as “Can you bring my cleats to school?” or as concerning as “Mom, I need you to come get me from my friend’s house because something doesn’t’ feel right here.” Use these opportunities to remind them that you want them to be safe and feel loved and that most of your decisions are based in these two desires. Be transparent, tell them you love them often, hug them often, listen to them when they show an interest in talking to you, and build trusting, encouraging villages so that you can have more success navigating the middle school journey.