On becoming a parent to a tween: A letter to myself

There is no time in a parent’s life when raising a child is easy. But there are years that are more trying than others.

soupstock / Abode Stock
soupstock / Abode Stock

Dear Lynn,

Being a mother to a newborn or toddler is the hardest time of motherhood. They wake at all hours of the night. They need you constantly. You never seem to get a minute to yourself. They cry and have no way of communicating to you what they need. As they get older, they get into things and have a hard time understanding and following through on the most basic rules.

At least, this is what all the books, blogs and other parents tell you. But it’s a lie.

As you sit in the pitch black at 2 a.m. rocking your just-woken child and think: When will he be able to sleep through the night and let me get some rest? Cherish that moment.

As you later wake at 6 a.m. and get breakfast ready for yourself and your toddler, be thankful that he needs your help and wants to spend this time with you.

As you frolic at the playground with him, swing as high as you can. Go down the slide one more time. Indulge all the giggles that come from his sweet little mouth; they don’t come as often once they become tweens.

Later in your life, when your oldest is about 11 years old, you’ll come across a news article that mentions a study that says being the mother of a middle schooler is the most stressful time. You’re going to make some snarky comment. Your foot will hurt from being in your mouth a year from then.

Don’t worry, there are moments with a tween that beat the times when they were a baby or toddler. Instead of reading and listening to endless nursery rhymes and silly little songs, you can share your playlist of classic rock and even hear him belting out Led Zeppelin as you walk by the bathroom when he’s showering.

Instead of watching one more episode of some animated show on Sprout, you can discuss your favorite episodes of The Wonder Years now that he’s discovered the coming-of-age tale via Netflix. He even asks for more recommendations of shows from your past. (Dare I say he thinks you might be cool?)

Instead of a day trip just trying to find a place to breastfeed, you can be spontaneous and hit the road in the morning with no plan for the day. Apps and dessert for dinner? Done.

Your conversations flow into deep thought about the way the world really is, the actions of others and how they affect a broader outcome—and even tidbits of who likes who in his class. You’re no longer constantly answering “But why?”

But don’t think this doesn’t sound bad at all. You’ll soon know a stress and anxiety you’ve never felt before.

It starts with, “Because I said so.” You cringe the first time it comes out of your mouth. You’ve just spoken like your mother. You promise you’ll keep yourself together next time. Only it gets harder—to the point where you delve deep into your memory to pull out other one-liners from your childhood.

One day—it seems to happen overnight—you say goodnight to him, he says goodnight back and gives you a hug, and then the next morning, you are greeted with an eye roll and a grunt. “I’ve literally seen you for three seconds. How could you possibly be mad at me already?” you’ll say as you walk down the hall to get your first cup of coffee. This is where your foot makes its way to your mouth.

Fighting over the simplest things begins. Shoot for a balance—pick your battles, right?

You’ll try to put on a strong front with him. You are the mom. And as things get unbearable some days, you’ll long for your little buddy from the playground. You’ll fight the desire to give it to him straight because that will make for more arguments with doors being slammed. Give in sooner. Say sooner, “I don’t know what I’m doing. You have to help me by talking to me.” When you say this standing in his room in tears, he’ll get it. He’ll understand that while he is learning to go through life as a tween, you’re also learning to go through life as a parent of a tween. The conversations will get easier. He’ll understand you’re having a hard time, too.

Days go by, most often with one-word responses to questions: How was your day? Fine. How do you think you did on your test? Good. What do you want for dinner? Whatever.

You’ll think back to the days of your younger son wanting to be read one more story, have one more hug, get one more drink of water, and you’ll hate that you were just trying to rush them along so you could have you time. Don’t do that. Read them one more story. Give them 10 more hugs.

When they become a tween, you think their need for you is over and all those memories are just that—memories.

Until …

They say they are going to bed. You say goodnight, and they walk down the hall.

Five minutes later they return to say, “You can come in and say goodnight if you want.”

(Mother’s Day Guide)