Last week I posted about the parenting challenges that come with the tween years. I am so grateful to the people who reached out to me with advice and reassurance (and commiseration–it’s always nice to know you’re not alone). I’ve thought long and hard about what I believe, what people I trust told me, and what I’ve seen, and for better or worse, this is what I’ve come up with:
She is as little as she is big.
She is getting older and looking for independence and autonomy, but she’s not ready for all of it yet. She still needs to know that she can depend on her Dad and I 150% percent if she needs to. She needs one-on-one time with each of us, together and separately, and we need to let her BE HERSELF in those times and not constantly be making everything a teaching moment. Sometimes, just having fun together is enough.
She can have input on the big decisions, but she has to live with what her father and I decide.
Matt and I have more knowledge, experience, and perspective than a ten year old, and can therefore make better decisions for her than she can for herself. I don’t mean little decisions, like what to wear to school, but bigger things, like when it’s appropriate for her to have Facebook, or go out with her friends, or how much time to spend on her iTouch playing games and checking Instagram. When Matt and I make decisions for her, she may not like them. I know this. But here’s the thing: while she does not have to like our decisions, she does have to abide by them. If she’d like to discuss them, she MUST be willing to do so in a respectful and calm manner, and she also has to live with the decision we ultimately make.
We have to be willing to LISTEN, not just TALK.
Matt and I need to be a safe haven. She has to know we will LISTEN to what she’s saying. We have to actually LISTEN. Matt and I both have a tendency to make everything into a teachable moment. Sometimes, we’re going to have to resist that urge. Rather than jumping in with a judgement or advice, we need to just shut up and listen so she knows she can tell us anything, anytime.
We need to be involved in her social life.
Not to say that we should be hanging out with her friends when they’re here to play, but we need to know who they are and what they like to do. We need to make our house a fun and inviting place, because the more her friends want to hang out here, the more I’ll be able to see who they are, what they do, and who my daughter is when she’s with them.
We need to provide structure, boundaries, and rules, even if she acts like she hates it.
We can’t be afraid of B getting mad at us. We are her parents, not her friends, and we make the rules. Those rules and boundaries must be CRYSTAL CLEAR and REINFORCED. We won’t tolerate disrespect or unkind behavior. When we see that, there won’t be an acceptable excuse, and there will be discipline every time.
It’s not about me.
I cannot take any of it personally. Her anger, her self-absorption, her tears, slammed doors, and shouting–I have the choice not to get upset about it. It’s not directed against me or Matt, we are just the closest targets and she knows that no matter what she does to us, we’ll never give up on her and we’ll never walk away. But it’s up to Matt and I to maintain sense and structure and model calm, rational behavior. If we get wrapped up in the emotion of it all, if we take it personally when she cries and rails at the unfairness of the world and respond by shouting or slamming doors in return, we aren’t demonstrating alternative behavior, we’re reinforcing that melting down is okay.
That being said, we have rules about behavior in this family. We will tolerate her emotional outbursts to an extent, but will always remind her there’s a better way to act. And when she pushes too far, if she veers away from upset and into disrespectful, there will be a consequence. Every. Single. Time. Maybe the consequence is punishment, maybe it’s a cool-down period, or maybe it’s just an apology and a hug. It’s up to us to set the standard and stick to it. And to remember that no matter how frustrated we are in a single moment, this too shall pass.
And that’s what I came up with. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe this list is naive and wishful thinking, but for now, it’s what I’ve got. In the end, I know there’s no way to make it through these years without some conflict–this is part of life and part of growing up. Ultimately, though, what I hope to do is make it through with a sense of humor, a little grace, and more laughter than tears.