Dear Parent: The Secret To The Middle School Years Is You
I distinctly remember middle school as quite possibly the worst years of my life. It sounds dramatic, I know…. But isn’t dramatic the best summation of middle school anyway? I pranced into middle school with the ignorant bliss of a carefree child armed with nothing but a vague understanding of the concept of puberty. I came out as a battle-worn survivor, all too aware of just how fast things can change… my friends, my perceptions, my identity. Middle school is a gauntlet we all must run through, but few of us actually enjoy the journey. Having hated middle school so much myself, I was truly terrified of the idea of raising one of these lost and lanky creatures.
I knew to expect hormonal outbursts, 12-year-old-sized temper tantrums, and more sass than I could handle. I tried to brace for the worst, but I also desperately wanted to help my sweet child navigate these years with more grace than I did but how could I achieve that?
The secret I discovered was…. Me.
I couldn’t control my daughter’s weepy response to her phone case cracking… But I could control if I responded with sympathy or annoyance. I couldn’t control my son’s withdrawal, but I could control if I pushed and nagged or if I gave him some space and waited for his return with open arms. I couldn’t control when my daughter’s friends stabbed her in the back or when my son didn’t make the team, but I could be there to listen to their grief and provide a hug and their favorite snack.
In these in-between years when everything for them is changing, where the world feels like sinking sand that is constantly shifting and they can’t find their footing, I found that I could be their constant. I tried to offer the stability, calm, and peace that is so very lacking in their mixed-up world. At times, I succeeded… other times were a prime time for me to set an example of owning up to my mistakes. Because to be the still in their chaos is anything but easy. It requires controlling my own emotions when theirs are at their highest. It means curbing my own hurt to truly hear theirs when they are spouting off. It means accepting that my role is changing in their life and I can’t always fix things or control them. To provide what my middle schooler needed to get through these years, I (slowly and painfully) learned I needed to:
Middle schoolers crave to be heard, to be understood, and for their feelings and opinions to matter. They didn’t need long lectures or unsolicited advice when they felt like their world was shattering. They needed a venue to express those feelings and have someone understand their pain or frustration. Simply listening and offering them validation is so huge in allowing them to feel understood.
Don’t get crazy here, middle schoolers are still very much children with wildly underdeveloped reasoning abilities. But they are growing and are capable of being given a little freedom. Wherever I could safely and reasonably give them autonomy and freedom, I saw their confidence blossom and their responsibility raise. Tweens don’t view themselves as children, they think of themselves as highly mature mini-adults who loathe being treated in any way like the child they still are. We can show them we respect them as humans by giving up some of the control we have always ruled their lives with. By letting go of some of the control that really didn’t matter, I not only improved my relationship with them, but I empowered my middle schoolers to feel capable. And when everything about life feels wildly out of your control, the feeling that you are capable is an immeasurably precious gift.
Create space to learn.
Middle school will be full of ups and downs and there will be a lot of opportunities for failing. Which means there is a great opportunity for learning! Giving my kids the space (and the grace!!) to mess up and learn to recover from their mistakes gave them a foundation for learning how to overcome failure.
All in all, middle school is still hard… for both parent and kid. But when I kept my mind focused on MY part of helping my child through what could be the “worst years of their life” I found those years didn’t turn out so bad after all!