The day my daughter started her first day of middle school, I put on my shoes and got my phone ready to film.
“What are you doing?” says my daughter.
“Um, walking you to the bus, so I can film your first day . . . like I always do.”
“No way! That is SO embarrassing. You’re not coming to the bus stop with me!”
I felt totally rejected. But since this is my middle child, her outburst didn’t surprise me all that much. I didn’t cry. Or, at least, I didn’t let her see me cry.
That’s because I’ve learned that it’s pretty darn normal for your tween to push you away in middle school. It’s part of developing into a fully functional grown-up. They can’t do that hard work of growing up with us by their side all the time.
Trust me, it’s so much easier to parent a child in middle school when you’ve done it before. So, for all you first timers, I’m going to share what I wish I’d known about middle school with my first.
4 Things to Help Parents Survive Middle School:
1. It’s normal for your child to push you away.
As my example above proves, this is the time when our kids begin seeking independence, and they can’t do that if we hover. And they won’t always be so nice about it.
They still need us, but we need to give them their space. And we should try to do so as graciously as we can.
2. Your child feels judged all day, every day.
As grown-ups, we (hopefully) don’t worry too much about what our peers think of us. But your middle school student will spend a lot of time worrying about this. Like all day, every day. It’s why they will want to shop in certain stores, watch certain television shows, listen to certain music . . . you get the idea.
My advice? Go with it. You don’t have to give into everything, of course. But before rejecting your child’s demand for a particular brand of t-shirt (yep, I did that), take a moment to think how important that t-shirt is to your child. Will your world end if your middle schooler wears that t-shirt? Or shaves her legs? Or watches Stranger Things? Or talks exactly like her best friend for several months? Nope, it won’t And don’t worry, your middle schooler won’t be a follower forever.
3. Let your child mess up.
It’s really, really (really, really) hard not to help your child fix a mistake, but middle school is when you need to start. Middle school is pre-season training for high school, and you want your high schooler to be game-day ready (as in, self-sufficient). Plus, really the best way to learn a skill is to screw up a bunch of times.
So, ease into this if you need to, but if your middle schooler forgets her homework—instrument, sneakers, lunch, whatever—on the kitchen table, leave it there. If they blow a test, don’t call the teacher. If a project is due tomorrow, let them sweat it out on their own. If a friend is mean, don’t call the friend’s mom (seriously, don’t). Let your middle schooler learn to solve their own problems and you’ll watch your child thrive. Caveat: If it’s a problem your child really, truly cannot solve on their own—being bullied, for example—you need to step in.
4. Bite your tongue.
When my oldest would arrive home from middle school, she’d have lots to say. All of it negative. Being the rookie middle-school mom, I’d jump in with some well-intended advice. Bad idea. Your middle schooler probably doesn’t want your advice.
Actually, make that definitely doesn’t want your advice. Most of the time, they just want to dump. Kind of like when you come home from work at the end of the day and talk about a coworker who’s driving you nuts. I’m guessing you don’t really want your significant other to tick off the helpful things you could try, right? Instead, cultivate the art of the “Mmmm” and “Oh, really?” and “Uh, huh” response. I bet your middle schooler will walk away after a few minutes feeling much better and you haven’t had to do much of anything.
If your middle schooler seems to actually want advice, just ask: “Do you want some advice here? Or do you just want to vent?”
That’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon.