Tag Archives: parenting preteen girls

Do Hard Things (Even When You Don’t Want To)

Bridget running

Of all the things that amaze me about parenting, nothing is quite so awe-inspiring as watching your child do something you had no idea they were capable of doing.  Watching my daughter run fills me with admiration and undeserved pride — I did nothing to make her so fast and so willing to just keep going, and yet my heart fills up so proud and huge I can hardly contain it.  How did this tiny little girl get so strong, so determined, and so self-assured?  It comes from her, all of it.  Especially the speed.

In her new school, all the kids run cross-country every week as part of P.E.  She’s been coming home and reporting her times, and she’s done really well and improved just about every week.  In October they had a school cross-country meet and she came in 10th out of about 100 girls in her grade and the grade above. 

run like Bridget

She’s done so well at school that she was invited to run with the school team in the district meet last week.  She didn’t tell Matt and I at first, because she actually didn’t want to run in the meet.  She doesn’t even really like running.  She’s just good at it.  When she finally did tell us, we insisted, obviously, that she run.  She knew we would.  Reluctantly, she emailed the teacher back and said she could participate in the meet.

“I’m so mad at you for making me do this,” she told me. 

“I know,” I said. 

Despite her opposition to the whole thing, she ran really, really well and came in 10th again, qualifying to move up to the next level and run in the county meet next month.  Her face at the finish line when they handed her the paper saying she’d made it to the next round was a comical mixture of pride and distress.  She really would not have been sad if she hadn’t made the cut-off, but she couldn’t help feeling proud that she had.

B in tracksuit

Now that she has made it, even though she sort of dreads actually doing it, she wants to do well.  She’s little, but she’s strong.  She’s willing to push herself even when it’s uncomfortable.  She feels terrible during the actual event, she says — she doesn’t know how to breathe properly and her legs get so tired — but she pushes through the pain.  She may not love the actual running, but she does like the winning. 

Matt and I talked about whether we’re doing the right thing by basically forcing her to run in the meets.  She may end up resenting that we make her keep going.  Maybe it will backfire and she won’t want to run at all anymore.  I hope not. 

Instead we’re hoping that by making her do something she doesn’t really want to do but she is good at, she’ll learn some important lessons.

She’s getting better every time, proving to herself that hard work pays off.  She’s figuring out a lot about her own strength and ability.  She’s representing her school at something she’s good at, and having her talents reflect back on a place she really loves.  She’s learning that she CAN do hard things, even when she doesn’t want to. 

As always with this parenting gig, it’s a bit of a guessing game.  We’re doing what we think is best, and hoping that in the end she’ll appreciate it.  And we’re standing on the sidelines cheering loudly as she runs by.

Also, there was the time Matt and I ran the Army Ten Miler, and some other lessons I’ve learned about parenting a pre-teen.


Awk. Ward.

me and BI thought “Family Life Education” was bad enough when I had to sit through it in fifth grade, but it turns out it’s EVEN WORSE to hear about your kid’s experience sitting through it.

Oh. Mah. Gawd.  There have been more awkward conversations in this family in the last week than…ever.  Ever.

On Wednesday, B got in the car and announced that they saw a photo of a mom nursing a baby WITH NO COVER ON in school that day.  G’s eyeballs nearly popped out of his head.  He was spluttering and stuttering and asking many, many oddly worded clarifying questions.  He was motioning to where breasts would be on his body and gasping that they would have SEEN…YOU KNOW.

B confirmed his aghast suspicion.  They saw boobs in school.

Wasn’t that inappropriate, he wanted to know.

I tried to explain that it’s part of nature.  It’s not weird, it’s not gross, and everyone has to learn about it and understand it.

Then B said they had to learn about the male body and how it “stiffens”.  None of the boys knew what that meant, but they wanted to.  (What a gross word, by the way.  It’s like “moist”.  There’s no good reason to ever say it.) 

I contemplated just driving my car off the road to distract them all.  It seemed like a less painful solution than answering the ensuing questions and quieting the outbursts of disbelief.  ( I did not fully explain that one.  I basically left B hanging out to dry trying to answer those questions.  Maybe that was mean, but she brought it up.)

When we got home, B and I had a chat about how they learn this stuff in 5th grade because before that, they are not mature enough to handle it.  It was, I think, a tactful way for me to explain to her that if she talked about this stuff in front of her brothers again, I was going to kill her.

Every night at bedtime, all week long, she and I chatted about the discoveries they were making in class.  God, 5th grade is awkward.  So, so awkward. 

She tried to explain to me that they learned about sex without actually saying the word sex.  She called it “the process”.  I feel like I should get an award for not laughing. 

But the highlight of the week was Friday evening, when she told me that they were instructed that they had to practice abstinence so they wouldn’t get HIV/AIDS.  That was bad enough (I think you may have misinterpreted that statement, B…you’re not wrong, but you’re not exactly RIGHT), but then she delivered this one:

B: But that is fine with me, because I am always practicing that.

Me: Um, what?  What do you mean?

B: I am going to practice abstinence forever.  I am NEVER doing that.

Me: …

And here’s the problem: all my responses were inappropriate. Every last thing I wanted to say was not AT ALL okay to say to my ten year old daughter.  Like, not okay at all.  I had no good response.

First thought: “Well, unless you learn to talk to boys like normal human beings, I don’t think we have to worry about that.” (Discard.  Obviously not helpful.  And it will probably save me some heartache in her teenage years if she just never talks to boys.)

Second thought: “You’ll change your mind eventually.” (Discard–do not encourage 10-year old daughter to entertain thoughts of “the process”.)

Third thought: “But I want grandkids!” (Discard.  I do want grandkids, but I do not want teen pregnancy, so let’s leave this for another 15 years down the road.)

Final thought: “Is it too early for a glass of wine?” (No.  No, it is not.)

And so I said nothing.  I just stared at my daughter who had just declared her lifelong celibacy.  And she stared at me.  It was awkward.  And then:

B: Are you telling me I shouldn’t do that? 

Me: (Finally, I think I know this one!) Nope.  That’s a good plan.  Stick with that.

And I poured myself a glass of wine.

Matt is totally in charge of having all these conversations with the boys.  There is not enough wine in the world to get me through those.

On Motherhood: Setting Standards

A few weeks ago we had a snow day.  My daughter went over to her friend’s house next door at about 10:30 in the morning, and I told her to come home at 1PM for lunch.  We didn’t have anything going on, but I felt like after 2.5 hours of hanging out with her friend, she could come home, check in, eat, and we’d figure out the rest of the day from there.

At 1:07 her friend texted me asking if B could stay a little longer.

Man, was that a bad move.

I replied that B needed to talk to me directly and was told (very respectfully, B’s friend did nothing wrong at all), that B’s iPod was dead so she couldn’t text me.  So B texted me using her friend’s phone.

I made B come home.  Right then.  She was mad, she was put out, she felt as though I were overreacting and there was no reason she couldn’t stay.

I disagree, and here’s why:

She is ten years old and has both a watch and an iPod to help her stay aware of the time.

I told her to be home AT 1PM.  She didn’t even get in touch with me until AFTER she was already supposed to be home.  And then, she didn’t even do it herself, she had her friend text me.

If B had texted me at 12:50 and asked to stay longer, I would probably have said yes—there was no reason she needed to come home.  But she didn’t.

Then when she finally did get here, at about 1:20, she made excuses for why she didn’t come home—she didn’t know what time it was, they were rearranging her friend’s room and got carried away, her iPod had died so she couldn’t text me.  I hate excuses.  There are certainly valid reasons why someone might be late or lose track of time, but none of those were valid reasons.  She lost track of time because it wasn’t important enough to her.

In truth, seven minutes is NOT a big deal at all.  I know this seems like an overreaction on my part, but I’m sticking to my guns here.  I am hoping that if we set the standard now that she MUST be on time when we tell her to come home, that will be so ingrained by the time she’s a teenager and out with her friends and a much later curfew, that she won’t ever think twice about it.  She’ll know that she has to be home when we say she has to be home.  Not ten or twenty minutes later.

A few days ago, B was at her friend’s house again after school.  I told her to be home at 5:30 for dinner.  At 5:20 she texted me to ask if she could stay at her friend’s for dinner and come home afterwards.  In her text, she pointed out that it was 10 minutes before she was due home and she’d made sure to ask early.  I let her stay.  I’m hoping it was a sign that she’s learning from her mistakes.

I don’t know if I did the right thing or not, in either situation really, but I’m hopeful.  I should have a better idea of how it’s going in about…6-10 years.

What I DO Know: Parenting My Tween Daughter


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.

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