Got a middle schooler? We feel you! And they’re feeling everything. Puberty isn’t just kicking things up a notch; it’s kicking everything completely off the charts, leaving you trying to connect with them as best as you can, while simultaneously parenting from the sidelines.
Though you might be feeling like you’ve suddenly taken a back seat in their lives, feeling a bit ‘uncool’ or maybe a bit irrelevant or uninfluential, it’s well known that this is a time when tweens and teens actually need a strong parental connection more than ever; they’re craving it even. But how do you give them the space they desire, yet still show up for them without your helicopter? No worries — we’ve got you.
We interviewed one of the magical moms we know, Christine Rich, who’s currently navigating those stormy middle school waters. We asked her about the challenges of managing a middle schooler, as well as how she’s able to maintain valuable connections with her kids in this digital age. We also touch on how parents can give their kids the distance they crave, while still being a main influencer in their lives
The struggle is real.
You’re in the thick of it. You have a middle-schooler. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a parent in balancing advice and fun?
Christine: My daughter is turning 14 this summer and I remember that age so well. Everything feels so intense and sometimes the best thing I can do for her is give her space to process her feelings, which can be really hard because I think as parents our natural inclination is to fix it, help them, and dole out unsolicited parental wisdom.
However, left to her own devices (literally) she would lock herself away in her room with her phone and laptop all day. Sitting in one’s room for 7 hours binge watching The Office (while I fully understand the appeal) isn’t about processing feelings — it’s a form of avoidance.
In terms of balancing advice and fun…personally, as parent, I don’t think those things have to be mutually exclusive. The key to me getting through to my daughter in a way that doesn’t feel like “forced family fun” is to spend small bits of time together doing something she likes. One thing that’s worked since she was little is something we call Mommy/Daughter Dates — or MDDs as we refer to them now.
Keeping the cool factor in check
How do you keep from sounding like a nagging parent, yet still advise them in a way they’ll accept? When did you first have that feeling of being ‘uncool’ and how did you deal with it?
Christine: A few weeks ago my daughter asked me to drive her and some friends to the movies. Two of the friends were boys — eek! My daughter begged me not to embarrass her or basically speak whatsoever. I promised her I’d be on my best behavior because a.) I wanted to check these boys out for myself and b.) I wanted her to know she can depend on me to be involved in little moments like her first “double date” even though she swore up and down that’s NOT what this was. (Ya, right.)
How did you let go and allow for some distance? What did you realize about your child and yourself?
Christine: Once all the kids were piled in my car, I realized that moment was an opportunity for both of us to gain each other’s trust. She saw that I could be trusted not to sing along to what they referred to as “old school Justin Timberlake” and I saw that she could be trusted to spend 120 minutes in a movie theatre alone with her friends. (Although, it literally took everything in me not to sneak in the back of the theatre and spy on them!)
Feelings aren’t facts
Some of the things you hear as a parent may not always reflect what they’re really feeling; they DO love you – you know they do. What do you commonly hear from your middle schooler that you hadn’t heard before, and how do you respond? How do you help them navigate their moods?
Christine: Something I didn’t realize until I became the parent of a teenager is that it’s really hard not to take what they say when they are mad/frustrated/upset/disappointed to heart. I try to recognize that what she’s going through isn’t about me and how it makes me feel — it’s about her. She still needs to have respect — but what I’ve found is that when anyone of any age is behaving poorly, it typically has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what they are going through at that moment. Maybe having a bad hair day seems like small potatoes to me now, but to a 13 year old it can literally ruin an entire morning. The hardest moments are when I know something is going on with her friends and she won’t open up. I have to give her the space, be patient and let her know I am here when she’s ready to open up. That’s typically when I ask her on a MDD.
Coping not moping – connecting and staying credible
Can you share some tips on keeping your communication and connection with your child strong (and yourself, too!) without being overbearing? What are some things you do to connect in a meaningful way?
Christine: MDD’s (the Mommy/Daughter dates I mentioned earlier), usually include grabbing coffee together, playing her favorite card game on the back porch, and coloring or hand lettering at the kitchen table. The time together feels special and it’s in those micro moments when she opens up to me most. Doing something together one-on-one tends to open the door to impromptu conversations and she seems more receptive because there are no other distractions. It’s just the two of us, jamming to her Spotify playlist, and talking things out. As a parent, you can never underestimate the power of your undivided attention.
Pleasant surprises…why it’s all worth it
What surprised you as you navigated the middle school years? Was there a positive pivotal or touching moment that stands out?
Christine: It was during that moment when I drove my daughter and her friends to the movies. What surprised the heck out of me was when I dropped them off. My beautiful, smart, fiercely independent daughter (in front of her friends) leaned in and kissed me goodbye without hesitation. “Bye ma — thanks for driving us!”
That was a Mama-Mic-Drop-Moment for me and a small thing I will never forget.
We hope Christine’s experiences and tips help you maintain a meaningful connection with your own middle schooler through these challenging years, in addition to making you realize you are so not alone. (And on a side note – you’re still way cool.)
Don’t forget to download your free coloring pages! These inspiring words are perfect as your child gets ready for the next school year and are great for posting on the fridge or decorating their lockers. Color them with your kids to share some priceless time together.