My daughter starts middle school today.
I could tell you that, after more than a decade in youth ministry, my husband and I kinda know what to expect with this phase, and that’s true. I could tell you that my daughter is in many ways a carbon copy of me at that age, which helps me read her and know how to respond, and that’s true. I could tell you that I’ve read all kinds of parenting blogs, student leadership books, attended conferences and trainings, helped other parents, and here I sit writing for a parenting blog, so I am equipped with a lot of information, and that is also true.
But am I ready? Heck no.
Everyone told me (and I knew they were right) it’s different when it’s your own kid. I have loved hundreds of teenagers over the years, dozens of them felt close enough to be my own kids, but it’s different when it’s your own kid. I have done a lot of good for a lot of people, helped a lot of people through the teen and tween years, reassured countless other moms that it’s going to be okay, but it’s different when it’s your own kid. And for all the knowledge and experience I have with other students, it’s different because it’s my own kid.
One of the hardest things I have seen parents of teens struggle with, and the thing I anticipate being most difficult for me, is giving our children room to grow, wonder, try, and especially fail. Life is hard for kids, and I dare say it is harder for kids today than it was when we were in their shoes (here’s why). As a mom, especially one with so much information, I want to help. I want to fix. I want to protect.
But sometimes my job is just to listen.
Recently I saw a tweet that really changed the way I look at my job as a parent: Do you need me to get involved, offer advice, or just listen?
When my daughter was little, I answered that question for her. It was up to me, the responsible adult, to decide when I needed to listen, say something, or do something — most of the time it was some combination of the latter options. Now, as a middle school mom, I will still have to make that call from time to time. But as my daughter becomes more independent, I’ve got to rely on my own past parenting (gulp) and put the ball in her court more often. When she faces challenges, I want her to know that she can talk to me. But if I can’t learn to listen and keep my mouth shut, I’ll either steamroll her life or she’ll stop talking to me. Eventually she will enter adulthood regardless of how I respond, but only one of those options lead to her being a healthy, stable, competent adult like I want her to be. (Spoiler alert: it’s listening.)
As my daughter enters the middle school years, I know she is going to make mistakes. Heather at Fort Worth Moms reminds us that “a child’s middle school self is not his or her permanent self.” (Shew, I needed to read that.) Through it all, I hope my daughter — and all three of my sons when they get there — will come to me about their problems.