A few days ago, my ten-year-old son came home from school in a mood. The vibe was borderline sour and definitely aloof. He dumped his book bag on the floor and headed straight for his headphones, shutting out the world and starting a show on his iPad. I approached him gingerly, rubbing his back lightly and asking him how his day was.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, in an even tone. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying again, touching his arm and asking him if he was okay. With barely-veiled revulsion, he gave me the side-eye and looked at my hand as if it were covered in fresh manure. “I don’t feel like being touched, Mommy.”
And suddenly, I remembered that feeling from when I was a kid. It spilled over me, that sensation of being so annoyed with my parents, thinking they were so exasperating, their irritating words grating on my last nerve. The memory of it made me smile because I recall it felt so intensely justified and visceral at the time.
So, here we are, my son on the brink of middle school and embarking on our first forays into tween angst. Even at ten, the hormonal engine is starting to rev up, a premonition of the massive physical and emotional changes on the horizon. Moods change like the weather, dark clouds clearing to sunshine with little warning. “Mommy” is morphing to “Mom;” cuddles are swapping with eye rolls and sassy sighs.
Luckily, if I wait ten minutes, the mood usually clears, and my son’s sunshiny disposition returns. He asks me to rehearse his lines in the school play with him, or wants to teach me something he learned at school that day. And I take a breath and know my sweet boy is still in there somewhere. Phew!
I am struggling a bit though, wondering how to deal with these first flashes of adolescence. After all, this is only the beginning, and I’ve been warned it will get much worse as we dive into the teenage years.
So far, these are my main coping skills so that I don’t hop, skip, and jump to my usuals: anger, sadness, and defensiveness.
Don’t take it personally. Just as author (and shaman!) Don Miguel Ruiz posits in his book, “The Four Agreements,” taking things personally is a dive into unnecessary suffering. He clarifies, “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally…Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
Although it may remind you of a scary green monster, tween angst is natural and has nothing to do with you personally. Tweens are taking their first steps into being more independent; separating from you is literally coded into their DNA as a law of nature. What better way to separate from you than being a smidge rotten and unbearable?
Practice active listening. Every parent of teens advises to keep the lines of communication open. It’s the same with our tweens. Some kids love to talk and tell you every detail of their lives; other kids limit their responses to the frustratingly-nondescript “fine,” “good,” or (my fave) a guttural grunt.
However, when they do want to talk, you can be all-ears. In that scenario, sometimes it’s better to zip your mouth and just listen, serving as a sounding board of sorts to the tween monster. When they absolutely, positively do NOT want to talk, we can emphasize we are available to chat whenever they are ready and then force our legs to walk away.
Keep your sense of humor. This is the most important coping mechanism of them all. You have to continually recognize that some of these reactions and mood swings are hilarious. For instance, my son has decided that he irrationally hates certain phrases, such as “I believe in you” and “Do it with a happy heart.” When I say these phrases (which I do as frequently as possible), I can see the blood rising in his cheeks, and smoke starts to puff from his ears. It’s funny stuff.
Just remember to go to another room to laugh because nothing angers the tween monster more than realizing his angst induces parental giggles.
It is truly nature’s revenge to bring all of your crabby moods as a kid full-circle right back to you. It’s like the universe is handily throwing a pie in your face, reminding you of the continual cycle of life and the inescapable kick of karma.
Navigating all the various phases of childhood as a parent is a steep learning curve. Once you figure out one phase, they’ve sneakily moved along to the next, leaving you scratching your head once again. All along, they’re growing up, up, and away, just as they should. As for me, I’m going to enjoy my magnificent tween as much as I can, savoring the sweet remnants of childhood and cautiously greeting the first glimpses of adolescence.