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The Challenge of Raising a Tween

With my Teenage Self as an Advisor

My Tween and I
Everybody tells you that it comes so fast, to enjoy them while you can. People tell you this the same way they advice you to sleep while you’re pregnant before your baby is born as if you could stock up hours of sleep to use up later. They tell you how time flies, that one day you’re holding your newborn in your arms, and next thing you know you’re sending them off to college. All these clichés exist for a reason. Yes, time goes by very quickly when you have kids. Yes, most likely you’ll be sleep deprived when you have small children. And yes, watching your children grow can be bittersweet.

No one told me, though, how challenging would be to raise a twelve-year-old. Nobody told me how unprepared I would be even though I gobble up parenting books like popcorn, taking mental notes, highlighting the important parts, listening to podcasts, skimming every article -like-minded -parents post on Facebook. It is not enough. It never is.
Should I be his friend? Should I be super authoritative? Should I allow social media? Should I be over inquisitive? Should I let him be? Should I? Should I? Should I?
I wonder if it was it easier for my parents when I was a teenager? Or is that another old cliché? It probably is. Although I do thank every day that I don’t have the so called “digital foot print” of my teenage years; I don’t want to begin to tell you why. I am pretty sure that if you are reading this and you were born in the 70s or 80s, this is part of your “what am I grateful for routine” every night.

I do not know if this happens to everyone, but I am overly connected with my teenage self. So connected, that I can experience the feelings, worries, and strives I had on that age stage as if they were happening now. It is not that they’re raw or unresolved. They once were, for sure, but years of therapy and a lot of self-counseling have certainly helped. Ha.
This connection, though, comes from another place. I feel compassion for her, I (now) understand many of her (poor) choices, where they came from. I can understand her confusions, her doubts, her feeling lonely despite being among friends. Her insecurities (those sometimes come up crawling over me at age forty). I can feel the butterflies in my stomach of her first teenage crush, the nervousness that she felt on our first kiss, the stupid lies she told my parents and her ingenuity of thinking they bought them. How solid and fragile friendships felt. Feeling that she could die for a friend, but not knowing if he or she would do the same for her. Pretending to be someone else just to fit in. Lying. Trying to find myself, then (sort of) finding me and finding few friendships where she could feel safe and comfortable in her skin. Taking them for granted sometimes and choosing popularity or fun over self-respect. Endless laughter in classrooms; the kind that makes your stomach ache. Ditching school just for the thrill of it. Boyfriends, romances, break-ups. Sigh. That first break up. The Apocalypse seems like a walk in the park next to that one. The break ups that followed. The first time she got flowers from a boyfriend. The pressure she felt at times and how hard was to be true to herself, to find her voice. The times she locked herself in the bathroom just to have a good cry. The fun of getting ready for a party when her crush was supposed to go to, and the disappointment when he didn’t show up. The combat boots with plaid mini skirts, and long socks (!!). The plots that she was part of to help a friend conquer the object of her affection. The fun and unsafe plans she said yes to. The notes she didn’t take, the exams she didn’t study for and manage ace. The ones she failed. How she cried our eyes off with movies like My Girl and Reese Whitherspoon’s Man in the Moon. How she watched them over and over. The feeling of being part of a group, a tribe, a sisterhood. Feeling independent for the first time and also trapped with so many rules and boundaries. The first hangover… The consequences. Mixed tapes that evolved in mixed CDs. How confusing was everything. Every thing.

How confusing it is now that I am forty and I am about to parent that. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure. “The worst is yet to come,” my friends with teenagers tell me. Oh, goodness, is this just a preview?

I wonder, though, how about if I embrace it differently? Not thinking that the worst is yet to come, but that these will be the years that will help him build character, that these will be memories that he’ll never forget. How about if I invite my teenage self to parent with me? What if my forty year-old-self takes charge and asks my fourteen-year-old self as an advisor, a part-time one? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have that kind of empathy, that compassion, and expertise at hand? If I have come to a place where I no longer judge myself as a teen and, moreover, all I feel is compassion and love for her, wouldn’t this help me to better relate to my upcoming teen? To remember my bad experiences and use them not to try to avoid the ones he’ll have, but to understand them. To know what he’s going through and try to be there in whatever form he needs me. To understand him wanting to separate from me (my heart breaks a little as I write this) and to foster his independence with just the right amount of boundaries. To set the intention of letting go of my need to control his teenage years. To flow: taking a step back or reaching out and silently give him a big hug. To parent from a place of grace. Wouldn’t it be nice to trust my fourteen-year-old-self’s judgment to let my son’s process be? Would it be helpful to remember what I needed at that age and to discern what he needs? I wonder… After all, despite everything, I didn’t turn up that bad, didn’t I? (rhetorical, don’t answer)
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