A 12-Step Program For Parents Entering The Tween Years

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
A tween girl pouting for a selfie
Alinute Silzeviciute / Shutterstock

Before becoming parents, we are warned about babies not sleeping through the night. Sometimes, we might even hear a tale or two about teenagers and how awful they can be. But what no one really warns us about are the middle years of parenting.

The years between babies and teenagers are some of the most brutal. The tween years are what they are called. Mood swings are what they are known for.

Tweens ebb and flow between wanting to snuggle occasionally and learning the art of slamming doors in our faces. And, for parents, experiencing this stage for the first time, leaves us feeling a little…well, stunned.

Calm down, moms and dads, because I’ve got you covered with my 12-step program for those needing to learn how to cope in this awkward stage of parenting. And yes, it’s during these years when things start to get really awkward — for us and them.

Step 1: Admit that you are now powerless to control your tween’s emotions and their moods are now unmanageable.

During this step, just repeat as often as necessary: “My baby is still in there somewhere. I just know it.”

Step 2: Believe that a power greater than yourself has to restore your sanity.

Your tween will sometimes cause you to question everything. What just happened to my baby? My little girl is now an evil monster who is probably plotting my demise in her sleep. Why did I ever want children? Pray to a power higher than yourself that you figure out whether she wants more attention or hates you. She probably hates you. Your sanity will be restored eventually when she moves out.

Step 3: Decide to turn your life over to your tween’s emotions for a time.

Your tween can’t help it. She tries to communicate, but gets frustrated because you can’t possibly understand, so she screams in your face instead. She knows better, but her brewing hormones always win. Turn your life over to these emotions by screaming into a pillow after she’s in bed.

Step 4: Take a moral inventory of yourself.

What can you do better? The truth is, no one knows. We just have to get through it, and this stage is necessary to prepare us for the teenage years when they no longer want to speak to us. Cry a little and drink if necessary.

Step 5: Question what you did wrong.

Tell yourself nothing. You did nothing wrong. Your sweet little girl just now believes she knows everything, and you know nothing. Eat chocolate.

Step 6: Ask your higher power to remove all of your tween’s defects of character.

There are many more than just mood swings. Pray that their hormones level out soon. In the meantime, try not to ask too many questions of your tween, and pretend you don’t care that her clothes now cover every surface of your home, and she now wants to borrow your phone constantly to text her friends.

Step 7: Humbly ask for help.

Beg your child to communicate with you in a normal fashion that does not include eyerolls, tears, and poop emojis. Show her you are desperate to understand whatever emotional roller coaster is happening as she navigates her way between transitioning from being a baby to a teenager. Also, ask for hugs occasionally; tweens usually still want them even though they are shooting daggers at you with their eyes.

Step 8: Make a list of everyone your tween will harm during this transition.

It will probably include friends, frenemies, every member of your household, the cat, door frames, and your water bill as she takes ridiculously long showers. Send everyone apology gifts.

Step 9: Make amends.

You will have to do this often with your tween. If you ask her how her day was, you might make her upset. Frankly, if you ask her anything you could upset her. So apologize as much as possible for your own existence.

Step 10: Admit when you’re wrong.

Hint: You have a tween. You are always wrong.

Step 11: Meditate to find ways to make your tween happy.

This might be feeding your tween more than you think is humanly possible to eat or letting her play really loud music in her bedroom. Also meditate to maintain your own sanity.

Step 12: Now that you know how to handle your tween, share this information with others.

Warn everyone you know that it’s not just the baby, sleep-deprived years that will make you cry yourself to sleep. The tween years will too. Let your friends know that the true test of your parental abilities come during these years when you are forced to shift from being involved in every aspect of your child’s life to hiding around corners trying to figure out if you are allowed to talk to them today.

Luckily, the tween years are just a phase of parenting like everything else. You’ll survive it with occasional snuggles, and the rare moment when they say thanks. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate. They still really need you. Just don’t let them know that you know that and you’ll be just fine.

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