Recently, I went to my ten-year-old daughter’s fundraising fun-run at school. She begged me to come, tearing up at the mere thought that I wouldn’t be there. I wrangled some time off from work and showed up at the field, overdressed in my dress and heels (and totally jealous of the moms there in yoga pants).
When my daughter’s class came on the field, she gave me a shy smile but then quickly turned her head, ignored me, and pranced off with one of her friends. Similarly, for the rest of the run, she made sure I was there, catching eye contact as she breezed by, but was careful to keep her distance. She did allow one photo, reluctantly.
It got me thinking about the different phases of parenthood, and the challenges and blessings inherent in each.
My kids are tweens now, ages 10 and 12, and they need me in a different way at this phase of life.
Long gone are the days of woozy sleep deprivation, wiping butts, and planning our lives around their naptimes. The emotional and physical exhaustion of keeping babies and toddlers alive is intense. Temper tantrums and grocery store meltdowns keep you in a constant state of chaos.
The sweet-spot early elementary school days have also passed us by, leaving a trail of those perfect scrapbook memories. The miracle of learning to read. The victory of that first-tied shoe. The bittersweet moment of your child wobbling away on her first solo bike ride. The cute lisp when their two front teeth are missing. I could go on.
Now, we have landed in tween-land. It’s not so cute and not so scrapbook-worthy, but important nonetheless. Shimmying between childhood and adolescence, tweens are starting to claim their independence and define themselves, in a sweetly-clumsy, completely-gangly, and decidedly-awkward way.
The result: you never know who is going to walk through the front door.
Will you be greeted with warm hugs or disdainful eye rolls? Will there be a rush of colorful details about the day or the slap of black-out silence?
While babies are physically exhausting, tweens are mentally exhausting. As a parent, navigating when to approach and when to be hands-off is a tricky, tight-rope act. They want you there, but NOT TOO CLOSE. And don’t be embarrassing. And don’t talk to my friends. They want to be independent, but they also want a soft place to fall and to fail.
Being that cozy safety net is all about timing.
Therefore, my current tween parenting style can be summed up in two simple words: Be Present.
I want to be there at just the right moment, like when my daughter turns the corner at her fun-run or she wants to talk about the boy who has an unwelcome crush on her. I want to be there when my son is crabby and venting about a teacher who made him feel cruddy. Or when he’s happy and chatty about his classes, his friends, or a video game he really enjoys.
I want to be present and ready when the important questions come up, about relationships, religion, sex, self-esteem, drugs, and booze. I want to be there, even if I’m on the sidelines, cheering them on and letting them know I value them and their thoughts and opinions.
I want to listen, in the car rides to and from all the afterschool activities, tuning my ear to what’s important to them, what’s pulling on them at this crucial time. I want to be present and mentally available when there’s some slice of heartbreak, and my words can make a difference in how that wound is healed.
And I want to be there for the little, mundane victories, the everyday moments that start to weave their stories. When my daughter turned that corner, all legs, and bouncing ponytail, she knew I was there. I was present, and that’s what matters most.