When I was a new mom, people would often ask me how I liked being a mom? I never really knew how to respond to this. I mean, I loved my son but being a mom? Well, that shit was hard.
Except it took me a long time to find a group of people who were also willing to admit this because it seems like most new moms say things like “I love it!” and “It was love at first sight!” and “Isn’t being a mom the best?!”
There was a while when my kids were little when parents seemed a little more willing to talk about how hard it all was. Maybe it was because those middle-of-the-grocery-store threenager tantrums are hard to conceal or because those no-more-napping preschool years are filled with some hilarious shenanigans. Whatever the case, there’s a stretch of time when parents get more comfortable in their roles and accept the fact that kids do some bonkers shit and parenting is madness sometimes. We’re all hanging on by a thread.
And it’s refreshing as hell. We’re all in this shitshow together.
Except then middle school happens. And silence.
When your kid starts middle school, people often ask: “How’s your kid like middle school?” with this weird trepidation. Most of the time, people answer with “It’s fine.” Kind of in that veiled way people talked about how much they loved being a new mom. I’ve said it. You’ve said it. We’ve all said it.
But you know what? IT’S NOT FINE. IT IS SO NOT FINE.
It is exhausting and scary and emotional and confusing and holy hell can someone please help me because I don’t know how I’m going to survive the next handful of years.
But yeah, sure, it’s fine. If you say so.
There are support groups for new moms, breastfeeding moms, attachment parent moms, and free-range moms. But what we really need is a support group for I’m Just Trying To Survive Middle School Moms. Can someone create that? Please and thank you.
Every day is like going to battle, except the rules are constantly changing. Will your middle schooler be in a good mood or sulky? Will they want to hug and snuggle, or will it be an eyeroll and heavy sighing kind of day? Will they come home in tears or practically bouncing off the wall due to all the hormones jumping around in their body?
When I was a kid, middle school was brutal. BRUTAL. But I never realized that it might have been brutal for my parents too. I never realized that my mom might have lost hours of sleep with worry or that she likely went into the bathroom to cry because I was being an overly dramatic, snippy a-hole that day. But let’s face it, middle school sucks for everyone. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone. (Okay, for the contrarians out there, for a LOT of us.)
Except none of us are talking about it. We’re too busy with the “it’s fine”s and arguing with our kids over their cell phones and reading their texts and driving all over town for this activity or that sports practice.
Every once in a while, though, when asked, someone might say, almost in an embarrassed whisper, middle school is fucking rough. Or maybe they’ll say nothing except sigh real deep and long and heavy and you just know. You know. Because it’s the same sigh you make a hundred times a day.
Because yay, middle school is that freaking hard.
Even “normal” middle school stuff is fucking hard. There are raging hormones. Kids change schools. Old friendships change. New friendships are formed. Different teachers have different standards. Romantic relationships and crushes start. And everyone is awkward and scared. EVERYONE.
Some folks tell me that things get a little better once puberty settles down. Other folks tell me high school is a whole new level of disaster. Whatever the case, can we all just agree that it is hard?
Add to that the 21stcentury complications like cell phones and social media and, OMG, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. When I was a kid, you might get busted passing notes in class or with a naughty magazine in your backpack. Now we have to worry about cyberbullying and sexting – for kids who have massively underdeveloped prefrontal lobes.
The expectations change, the stakes are higher, and everything feels a bit more serious and uncertain. Which is why the biggest lesson I want my middle schooler to know is to understand that middle school is just plain hard. And it’s really hard for lots of people. Find those kids and make it a little less hard.
And fellow parents, let’s do the same. Let’s be each other’s support group. Let’s stop immediately responding with it’s fine, and tell the truth. Let’s help each other out. (And NO, that doesn’t mean smugly letting so-and-so know you saw their kid acting a fool or humblebragging about your kid’s travel baseball schedule or the honor roll ceremony.)
And if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been spared the middle school suckiness or you aren’t there yet or you’ve made it through, thank your lucky stars. Or if it’s not hard now, hold tight and bite your tongue. And even if it’s not hard for you and your kid, it’s probably hard for your kid’s friend or your friend or your niece or neighbor. Because middle school takes no prisoners.
Bottom line: BE KIND. You never know who’s dealing with middle school.