As the famously dreaded middle school years approach for our triplets, I have tried to have my eyes open to what this new chapter will require of me. Since we haven't officially begun, it is safe to say I am now the most knowledgeable I will ever feel about this subject. ;-) I decided I needed to go ahead and write while I still know everything.
No doubt, I will review this post three years from now with chuckles, but I also believe there is a gift of perspective from outside that often gets distorted by our own fears and rationalizations once we are in the middle.
Here are a few (perhaps naive, but hopeful) notes to myself as I become a "Middle School Mom."
1- It is time to start taking my prayer game seriously. In recent weeks, I have been inspired by Priscilla Shirer's book, Fervent. We, as parents, and our children are up for far more of a fight than we fully understand as we enter the adolescent years. There is truly a war raging for our children's hearts, passions and loyalties. They are bombarded at every turn via media and marketing in addition to traditional peer pressure. We cannot prepare them for every specific scenario--but we can invest in their hearts and bathe them in prayer.
Additionally, quiet time is essential to keeping me centered, grounded and focused on what matters. When exhausted, not-yet-mature, hormonal people come home I want it to be to a Mama that is prayed up and ready to receive.
2- Clear my plate a bit to make space to be available. One thing that has already starting to happen is the tendency for my kids to come home and 'disappear' for a bit. Because we are doing this adolescence thing three different ways simultaneously, I can see that it takes on many forms. I have one that goes straight to her room to draw, read, make origami, listen to music or otherwise zone out. I have another that grabs a ball or looks for a neighbor to play with and yet another that turns to screens.
The one thing they have in common is their decompressing frequently doesn't start with coming to me. I want to give my preteens space for self care and rest, but I am finding that if I go to them after a few minutes, they generally open up and talk.
My almost twelve year olds aren't always asking for me anymore, but I am finding that they sure don't seem to mind that I am here. Even when friends are over, being a room or two away seems to be a great freedom/security combo.
In those increasingly rare moments when they do initiate a conversation about issues in their world, I want to be able to press pause on what I am doing and be physically and emotionally there. I am reordering my day so that, when possible, the most pressing things are handled while the kids are in school--freeing me up for more flexibility in the time they are home.
3- To stay the adult and not get sucked in to the drama that accompanies hormones.
I probably should just leave that sentence there and walk away.
Kids are surrounded by peers all day long. They do not need a 41 year old woman rolling around in the mud with them when they get home and share hurtful or hard things. Even if I do have personal feelings about a kid that has wounded one of mine, my job is to stay above the fray.
I am to be rooted, rested and ready to guide my children through the turbulent waters with maturity--not jump in and start insulting another child or their family life to assuage my offspring's hurt feelings.
At the end of the day, these are children--even the hurtful ones--learning how to navigate relationships in this big world. I pray when the shoe is on the other foot (because it undoubtedly will be at some point) the person we offend's Mama will be modeling grace and understanding for their child in return.
Frankly, extending that same grace to the other Mamas in the midst of this season isn't such a bad idea either. Most of us are figuring this out as we go, stumbling a bit even with the best of intentions.
4- To love them fiercely (which includes boldly speaking the truth to them)
As long as I can remember we have told our children that we are FOR them. Same team. Biggest fans.
It is a mantra in our marriage as well: "We are on the same team."
But being on the same team does not mean refusing to see and discuss flaws or potential pitfalls. Truly loving our children involves pointing out the areas where we see they are at risk of going off the rails. Perpetuating a false sense of perfection is not a healthy long term strategy.
Quality time and relationship build the strong foundation for earning the right to be heard on these matters. We've had quite a few conversations that start with "because we love you, we need to address this."
I really believe foundation is everything.
"It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men."
5- To not parent in a vacuum.
The Lord powerfully used many families in my adolescence to mold and shape me in addition to the one I was born into. Perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about this point.
Parenting my children well means investing in the lives of their friends and classmates too. One of the most disappointing things about our early foray into middle school is watching the scarcity principle begin to rear its ugly head. It is, of course, human nature/survival instinct to make sure our pack is OK before we think about others, but I believe God calls us to more.
Not only is it the right thing to be concerned with more than just "us," it is wise. One of the best things I can do for the growth and health of my children is to remember that their community is shaping them. A rising tide lifts all boats.
This means volunteering at school when we can, supporting the children's/youth ministries that are pouring truth in their life, cheering for peers and classmates whose interests and accomplishments may or may not coincide with theirs, loving those I am co-parenting with and seeking to support them as their village.
It is a travesty when parents become all consumed in making sure their child gets their share to the detriment of others around them--not so we can all be the same, but so everyone has room to grow and blossom. We don't raise kids in a vacuum. Healthy adults have the fingerprints of lots of people and experiences throughout their life.
I know I am just starting this journey so I submit these thoughts with great humility. I am under no illusions that it won't come with bumps, bruises and lessons learned the hard way--but starting with a strategy certainly can't hurt!