5 Things I Wish I’d Known About Solo Parenting Two Tweens

by Elaine Roth
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

This past weekend, solo parenting two tweens, I hit my breaking point. My son screamed at me for instituting, and then following through, on a screen time bedtime rule: no phones, iPads, video games, etc. after a certain time. He can stay up a bit later if his body isn’t tired, but without a screen. He was furious. According to him, everybody gets to stay on screens as late as they want to. He got angry. I got angry. Beneath his anger—a desire to push boundaries, establish independence. Beneath my anger, self-doubt and a desperate wish to have another adult—who knew and loved my son, knew his sleep needs, shared my value system—weigh in.

That night, after he went to bed angry, and I went to bed angry, I sat in my bed for a long time thinking. I thought about how unprepared I was for both kids to be tweens — I swear they were just kids yesterday. I thought about how different parenting tweens was compared to parenting big kids. Mostly, I thought about how much I wished I’d been prepared.

Since I can’t go back in time, the least I can do is share what I’ve learned for the next solo parent, who’s about to blink and see tweens where once kids stood.

Self-doubt is normal.

Without another parent to bounce rules, rewards, and punishments off, it’s hard to gauge whether I’m overreacting or underreacting. Sure, friends and family offer advice. But there’s really something irreplaceable about the opinion of a person who loves your tween like you do. I have no advice on how to quiet that doubt—but there’s something comforting in knowing you’re not alone.

Find your way to quiet the voice that tells you you’re not good enough. Your tweens know you are.

Guilt is as pervasive as doubt when solo parenting two tweens. Watching my tweens struggle—be it socially or academically—makes the guilt set in. There’s a voice in the back of my mind that whispers to me that if I had more time, if I wasn’t so busy keeping our lives afloat, I’d have been able to help them more, drive them to more activities or playdates, crafted flash cards to build a better math foundation. The truth is there will always be something you could have done, if you’d had the time, but what you did do was exactly what your kids needed. For me, the best way to quiet that voice, is to stop “doing” with my tweens, and take the time to intentionally “be” with them. Consistently, I find they’re happy and thriving.

You’ll reach new levels of burn out.

Sorry, this is just true. Parenting tweens is hard. Simply hard. It’s emotionally, mentally, and often physically exhausting in a way that I hadn’t expected when I was a tired mom of toddlers dreaming of a time when they’d finally sleep through the night.

Solo parenting is hard. It’s a phenomenon you can’t truly understand until you’re in it, living it. It’s emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting in a way that nothing else in my life has ever been. (A very different kind of exhausting than being the primary caregiver for my husband as he ultimately lost his battle with brain cancer.)

Put the two together and throw in a second tween and suddenly hard is an understatement. Synonyms of hard don’t quite suffice either. To be honest I can’t think of the right word to describe the frenzied chaos that is solo parenting two tweens because my brain is completely fried from said solo parenting two tweens.

You’ll have fun with your tweens—more fun than you imagined.

I get to see all their silliness, all their laughter, all their things that they would never show anyone else. As tweens, they’re old enough to watch more mature movies and still young enough to think staying up late watching a movie with their mom on a Friday night is fun. Yes, every day I wish their father could see it, too. The other side of that wishing is knowing how truly fortunate I am that I get to see it for the both of us.

Your relationship with your tweens will be indescribably special.

Maybe more than anything else, this is what I wish I’d known. I often think of us as a tripod—sturdy and balanced. As the solo parent, there’s no divide and conquer as there was when we were part of a two-parent household. You are your kids’ safe space — every time at every stage. It’s exhausting, certainly, but knowing that me just being there makes them feel safe makes all the guilt, self-doubt, exhaustion feel secondary.

The trauma, loss, and grief we’ve shared has bonded us. We’ve learned to talk about the hard things, and we do. I am indescribably grateful for that conversation.

After the epic fight in my house, after we all went to bed angry at each other, my son called out, a familiar “mom,” in a little kid’s voice. He reached out his arms and I pulled him into a hug. We talked. We didn’t come to an agreement about my screen time rule, but we both went to bed knowing we were loved.

Above all, that’s what I wish I knew about solo parenting tweens—it’s a sh*tshow, but it’s full of love.