Dear Tween: I Am Not The Enemy

by Lisa Sadikman

This morning did not go well and certainly not as planned. In fact, it outright sucked. School mornings in our house are fraught with everyone scurrying down to the wire as the clock ticks away and the carpool arrives. We are like dominoes, each dependent on the other to keep our balance, and all falling when one tips. This morning, you tipped, hard, and while the rest of us managed to struggle to our feet and get out the door, you did not.

For you, the world came crumbling down. Maybe it started when you ran upstairs to grab the homework you forgot to put in your backpack, knocking into your little sister on the way back down. Maybe it was when you checked Snapchat even though you were supposed to be putting on your shoes and I curtly told you to put the phone away. Maybe it was when you noticed one of your guitar strings was busted and became rooted to the wooden floor, worried your music teacher would be pissed. Your face flushed with frustration and the tears sprang into your eyes as you stomped your foot and screamed that you couldn’t go to school. I kept my cool, trying to assure you that yes, you could and that the guitar string could be fixed, but you were having none of it.

That’s when I waved the carpool on, knowing the other kids couldn’t wait on you any longer without getting a tardy. Making them wait simply wasn’t fair and the stress of knowing they were waiting wasn’t doing you any favors. When I turned from the door to face you, plenty angry myself, I saw your devastation and knew immediately that you blamed me for everything that went wrong this morning.

That’s when I became the enemy.

You let your fury fly. You said you hoped I was happy now that you were going to be late for school, that you’d miss your science quiz and get marked off for not turning in your homework. Your outburst and blame triggered my own feelings of parenting self-doubt. Should I have helped you organize your homework last night? Should I have paid more attention to you this morning? How could you possibly think I want you to fail? Our emotions circled each other, daring the other to throw a punch. I crossed my arms and lectured you about responsibility and owning your actions, while you threw daggers at me with your eyes and mumbled something rude under your breath. Flustered and angry, I took away your phone for the rest of the week.

I might have had the last word, but I did not win. I take no joy in your misery and anger. I am not out to get you or make your life difficult. That, my darling girl, is not my job, even if you’re convinced otherwise. When you’re a tween, life is difficult sometimes. Handling the tremendous emotions crashing over you and taking responsibility for your actions are big tasks. My job is to give you a place where you can have your anger, sadness, confusion, and heartbreak. My job is to set boundaries that keep you safe and teach you how to respect others while still honoring how you feel. I do not want to make you miserable, but I also don’t want to be a miserable mom. I take my job very seriously, for both our sakes.

I am many things, but I am not the enemy.

I am the mom who loves you to the moon and back. I am your caretaker and your confidant, your biggest fan and your kindest critic. I will call you out when you screw up, tell you that making mistakes is part of being human, and show you how to do better. I will cheer you on and praise you to the high heavens when you give your best effort and practice compassion. I will hold you tight while you cry and do the goofiest happy dance with you when you’re bursting with joy.

I know you’re dealing with some heavy stuff right now — roller coaster hormones, a body that’s lengthening, curving, and popping out, more intense schoolwork, shifting friendships, and the all-consuming desire to just grow up already. I know how hard it is being stuck in the middle. You’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not quite a young adult either. It’s a lot to deal with, but know this: I am always right here and ready when you need me as you sort through these funky tween years.

Here’s what I propose: Let’s talk. Before the shit hits the fan, when nothing in particular is happening, let’s powwow. Tell me how you’re doing. Are you sleeping well? How did soccer practice go? Have you heard from your BFF from camp? Can I listen to the last song you downloaded? Let’s catch up on all the in-between, the stuff of everyday life, the stuff that excites you, makes your heart go boom, and makes your eyes go wide with wonder. I will do my best to ask as long as you do your best to answer.

And when we do find ourselves circling each other, our emotions running high, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. Let’s remember that it’s most often an issue that triggers our stress — forgotten homework, a busted guitar string, a bad night’s sleep — and not a person, especially one we love. And I love you like crazy, sweet girl.

Believe me, I am on your side. Always.