Middle school. Just saying those two words makes me shudder — and not just because the middle school years are notoriously hard for our kids. They’re crazy-making for parents, too. While mean girls, jerky boys, and teachers who seem to haphazardly pile on homework are all part of the stereotypical middle school experience, there are high notes in middle school too. Maybe your daughter discovers her passion for singing or your son falls in love with To Kill A Mockingbird.
Like any phase our kids go through, middle school has its ups and downs. What makes middle school especially challenging is the way unforgiving adolescent emotions combine with more rigorous school demands and a shifting social landscape to create the perfect tween-parent storm. Having survived my older daughter’s middle school years, I know what I’m in for with my younger one and frankly, it ain’t pretty.
I’ve already had the pleasure of encountering my daughter’s budding pubescent personality — sassy sarcasm and crying jags alternating with uncontrollable joy — and I can tell, this round of middle school is going to be a doozy for both of us. Even though she’s the one who will experience an overload of changes in a short period of time, I’m the grown-up who has to guide her through it with as much patience and understanding as I can. The problem is, that’s not always easy for me to do. It’s difficult for me to manage my emotions when I’m being triggered by hers and the Jekyll and Hyde behavior that goes along with it. In fact, according to a recent study, the most stressful time for moms is when our kids are in middle school.
It feels like there really is a lot to worry about when our tweens reach middle school. Our kids are in that funky stage between child and teenager where everything from friendships to facial hair and body odor to boobs takes on a life of their own. My once sweet and cuddly girl is a bit more prickly and not as willing to share her thoughts with me as she was just a year ago. I get it. This is when kids start the process of separating from us, their parents, and turn more toward their peers for information and advice and truly begin to individuate. Letting go is hard and if our kids turn in a direction that seems dangerous or morose, it’s stressful as well.
Then there’s the worrying we do on our kids’ behalf. My already-tall daughter grew three inches in the last six months and is an early bloomer. What if she no longer has much in common with her friends who are all reaching puberty at different rates? What if she’s teased for her height or becomes so sad about her social life that she stops doing well in class? We all love our kids and when they’re in pain, so are we, whether it’s because a close friend ditches them for the queen bee or they get a C- on an English paper.
Raising tweens and dealing with the parent side of middle school is tough. Truthfully, part of me wants to hide under the covers for the next three years, but I know from experience that my daughter needs me now more than ever — even if she doesn’t think so. She’s going to have to step up her game to get a handle on middle school and I’m going to have to do the same.
Besides drawing on ungodly amounts of patience, I’m going to have to remind us both not to expect the worst. Maybe she will make the volleyball team. Maybe she’ll stand up to that trio of mean girls. Maybe she’ll decide to study hard and do the best she can in her least favorite subject. And if she doesn’t? Well, this too shall pass. In the meantime, my job is to help her be kind to herself and understand that the roller coaster moods, growth spurts, greasy hair, and zits are all totally normal.
As for me, I plan to deal with the stress with lots of spin classes, commiserating with friends and eating dark chocolate — lots and lots of dark chocolate.