Love What They Love: The Secret To Bonding With Your Middle Schooler
They said it would happen fast and we scoffed, still covered in drool and baby oatmeal. It was hard to imagine our chubby-cheeked wonder seemingly attached to our hip as a near-teenager inventing ways to spend some time away from us.
But here we are.
Perhaps connecting with your kiddo isn’t as easy as blowing bubbles or watching Octonauts anymore. There is a certain amount of, “pulling away” that’s necessary for their growth and independence and as hard as that is to experience as a parent, we want them to eventually be contributing members of society without hand-holding from us.
We want to ensure they’re comfortable coming to us with the big and small things. We want them to know we’re trustworthy and in their corner. And, honestly? We miss them. We miss their voices and their vying for our attention and asking if we could play, “Would You Rather?” or jump on the trampoline.
But we don’t have to sacrifice time spent with them. Not if we invest in one, simple rule:
Love what they love. Full stop.
Please note I didn’t say, “Like what they like.” That might earn you a half smile to humor you, but it’ll never get you invited to the game. You need to LOVE it. Go all out and buy the t-shirt to prove it. Here’s how.
How To Love What They Love Without Pushing Them Away
There is a fine line between enchantment with your child’s interests and over-involvement. The trick is to find the right balance between knowing when to step in and knowing when to back off. Here are some examples.
Set The Stage
My first year of teaching, I had the most difficult class of (mostly) 13-year-old boys. They were rude, loud, and didn’t follow directions. I was at my wit’s end trying to troubleshoot and I didn’t want to be that first-year teacher who went whining to their supervisor about classroom management issues. One day (while they were supposed to be reading To Kill A Mockingbird) I overheard one student say how annoyed he was that his parents wouldn’t let him stay home to watch the World Cup. Rather than scold them for chatting about soccer than literature, I announced to the entire class that if we could get through a chapter a day I would stream the World Cup in my classroom during all lunch periods and study halls, and they could come in whenever they liked (with a pass).
Did I know a thing about soccer?
Nope. But I learned all about their cultures, their languages, and their love for the game by simply opening my space to them to share with their friends. They saw my interest and willingness to open my space to them and respected me for it.
You can do the same.
Host a Superbowl party. Have a Minecraft sleepover. Let them re-create The British Baking Show and get flour all over your kitchen cabinets. Carve out space for them to bring their passions and the people they love and your relationship will be better for it.
You’re Driving Me Crazy
Everyone loves to joke about being their kids’ chauffeur at this stage of life. I understand how draining it is to feel like you’re constantly in the car and not really getting anywhere, but I’m going to suggest something crazy. Be the parent who volunteers to take your kid and their friends to the places they want to go. Part of loving what they love means understanding that they CAN’T MISS THIS CONCERT. Do a little deep-dive on Spotify so you can recognize some of the songs and volunteer to be the parent to take them. Not only will it speak volumes to your own child, but it will communicate to their friends that you’re a parent who supports what they are into. That’s the kind of foundation you want to build as they grow.
Learning The Language
This part is tricky. There is nothing more cringe-worthy to a kid than when their parent tries to be cool and use the slang, “all the kids are using”. Don’t do that. But DO do your homework. Know the names of Tik Tok dances. Know the terms for moves in different video games. Research the pop culture references you’ve heard them use. Know the difference between a volleyball and a tennis court. Be able to define the difference between stage left and stage right. You can’t love what they love if you don’t understand the language. Invest time in learning it.
This age is full of magic if you choose to see it. They’re just discovering what makes them different and unique. They are just beginning to explore opportunities afforded to them to hone a skill or craft that they’ve always wanted to try. Loving what they love isn’t just a way for you to continue to connect to your child, but a way for you to also expand your horizons and open yourself up to new things. You can have a back-row seat to their delight and enchantment, or you can ride shotgun. The choice is up to you.