11 Years ago this month I woke up on a chilly Monday wondering, like so many overdue women before me, if I’d be pregnant forever.
8 hours later I was having an unexpected (unwanted but necessary) C-Section. Please do notice that even in the crazy surprise of that day, I managed to get my bright lipstick on.
I blinked, and that tiny baby – my first to birth but second of 3 to mother – sauntered into my house this week and handed over an invitation to his middle school registration/info night. The NERVE of these children, to keep growing up on us!
I thought the second time around would be easier, but with 7 years between my oldest and middle, I’m responding with similar light-headedness and the need to repeat, “CALM, the thing to do is BE CALM.”
In the service of holding tight to CALM, I decided to think back to what I learned the first time we face Middle School, remembering the conversations I had with other moms, and the things I journaled back then.
I know I’m not the only parent reminding herself to breathe over this particular milestone. When I asked Facebook for advice for sending a kid to Middle school, the responses were everything from warnings about more homework and the need for organization (likely to be a a bigger problem this time around than it was for my type A firstborn) to “I am absolutely terrified.”
For those of us freaking out about sending our babies to middle school next year, here are the Top 3 Lessons we learned from surviving Middle School the first time around (with high hopes for surviving it two more times!)
3 Tips for Parenting Middle Schoolers
1. My kid is more ready than I am, or than I think he is.
I remember thinking this about middle school and high school (note to our future selves!)
When I took Luke to middle school registration, I remember locking eyes with mom friends I’d made back when our kids were in kindergarten, wondering how in the world anyone thought our shrimpy 5th graders were ready for this big building and all it represented.
And yet when the first day of 6th grade arrived, he walked into that building like he belonged there. Because he did.
Going to middle school makes your kid a middle schooler. She’s not ready now because you’re not there yet. But when that day comes, we’ll all be ready (though if anyone wants to meet me on that day and cry a little into our coffee over the cruel passage of time, I am here for that.)
2. “Not yet” is easier to hear than “no”, and it keeps the conversation going.
About halfway through Luke’s 7th grade year, I had an epiphany: Parenting middle schoolers is just like parenting a 3 year old. The battles are over different things, but it’s the same fight. Your kid wants more freedom and independence than they are ready to be responsible for. But they will be ready some day. And it is hard to wait.
6 years ago we found ourselves with a 7th grader who wanted more autonomy and freedom in his relationships with girls than he had proved himself ready for. We told him it wasn’t no forever, but the freedom he wanted was definitely “not yet.” And we insisted on being involved in the conversation, in continuing to talk about wisdom in this area. As the oldest, he is our guinea pig, and there are certainly things we got wrong and are still getting wrong. But we promised him that no one has ever said to their parents, “Gee mom and dad, you really should have let me mess around with girls more in middle school.”
We said “not yet” to lots of things through middle school that we later said yes to, as he proved himself ready and responsible. And more importantly, we stayed in the conversation.
3. The hard things are where growth happens
I hate that this is true, but it is. In the middle school years we faced parenting issues that kept me up all night. There were hard things in his friendships, in his personal decisions and struggles, and in his academics. He is a great kid, but he is not a perfect kid, and he made big mistakes in middle school.
Because that’s what middle school is for.
So we cried, we prayed, we told him we love him no matter what, and we reminded him that it’s super hard to be 11…12…13… but that we knew he’d figure it out. And you know what? He DID. And the biggest areas of battle and struggle and pain were his biggest areas of growth. When he shares his story now, these areas are the places where he met God.
Don’t be afraid of the hard stuff that comes with middle school. If you hang on tight, that’s where the good stuff is too.
Trust God, trust your kid.
Less of a tip, and more of a mantra: God loves your sweet kiddo more than you do. Growing up is hard, but nearly all of us manage it (eventually.) So we embrace parenting: the slow process of letting go of the humans you love most in the world, releasing them into God’s hands (where they were all along.) I’m buckled up and ready to start this train again.
We can do this! If you have any tips or advice for surviving the middle school years as a student OR parent, I’d love to hear it!
For what it’s worth: Our kids have iPod touches, but they won’t have smart phones or access to social media until they are 13 at least, and if I can keep them off of Snapchat until college I totally will. Making flip phones cool again, 1 Meyer at a time.