Friday, January 13, 2017

Notes from the Field (Observations of a Middle School Mama)

I have never had the desire to go skydiving, but I have done my share of adventure ropes courses. Part of the thrill of these types of activities is the fear. You know you are participating in something dangerous--and even though all sorts of protection is worn and utilized there is the realization that from time to time there are still terrible outcomes.

Engaging the various obstacles is challenging--and the feeling you have as you complete each implement is a mixture of accomplishment that you made it through and dread at what the next task will involve. I think this is an adequate metaphor for my current status as middle school Mom.

My children returned to school last week to their second semester of 6th. How in the world can it be that I will have three teenagers in 4 months?

It is hard for most people to even say "middle school" or "teenagers" without groans. I'm reading everything I can get my hands on about the developmental stage we are entering. I know to brace myself for the turbulence on the horizon. I have three preteens who are growing and changing emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually. I am under no illusions that this will be clean and smooth. I know there will be bumps and bruises as we go through this awkward phase--and that to try and protect against that would be depriving us all of the growth, change and maturity that is necessary.

But, right now? Right here? Life is good. I love experiencing my people at this age. I mean REALLY, truly. I am enjoying almost every minute.

As a mama who goes through each age/stage/grade three different ways with three different people at the same time, I have always strived to savor the present. This often involves choosing to accept the annoying parts of a stage in order to focus on what is good and rich.

I don't get most of the middle school humor. I am not interested in becoming a Pokemon expert. Bottle flipping drives me crazy. We have a long way to go with hygiene, manners and self control, but we are in a good place.

None of my three are active on social media yet. Crushes aren't a thing. Skin is still clear. Friends are not yet eating each other alive. Emotions and attitudes are mostly in check and when they are not, we talk about it. Conversation lines are open--and they are rapid fire doozies!

Over meals and during car rides we are having talks that are so rich, so real and so very important. Just this week, gender identity, racism, hormones, euthanasia, depression/suicide, politics and evolution. Whew!! Here's the thing: I am so glad we are discussing all this. Yes, the pressure is on in car rides to make sure I am ready for any conversation that may unfold, but I want to be the source they are coming to about these issues. Blowing these subjects off or covering them up because I am uncomfortable will simply send a message to my children to get their questions answered elsewhere. I don't know all the answers and I tell them so when I think I need a timeout to collect my thoughts. But, honestly, the talks we are having are my favorite part of being their Mama.

So, to the Mamas coming behind me this is my advice from what I am seeing here in the beginning trenches: Fear Not, but pray up! I wasn't sure how I was supposed to use my downtime now that my children are increasingly independent, but I can now see it is for reading, equipping, consulting with older Godly Mamas, alignment with my husband and recuperation so that in the time we do have together in the mornings, evenings and weekends I can be physically and emotionally present and ready for whatever is fired my way.

It is important to set aside your own anxieties about this age and stage. Confess it to God, pray through it, get support, but don't transfer it onto your kids. I am noticing that for many of the most anxious mamas these things become self-fulfilling. Their anxiety/fears/wounds from their own adolescences can unwittingly set their kids off on that course. Let your tweens start to stretch their wings in semi-controlled ways, then show up and coach them on the playing fields they are choosing.

At the end of every quality high ropes course is a free fall drop or swing of some sort. The moment before you pull the release or step off the edge are the height of fear. You must look down and realize what is about to happen. I feel as if this is where I stand in parenting. I know the days are coming where we all step off and trust that our Heavenly Father's protections are going to hold--but there will still be a jolt.

Last week I had to circle back with my children on a conversation I felt like I had flubbed. As I brought it back up I said, "I feel like I might have messed that conversation up because I was nervous and scared. You know, you haven't ever been 12 year olds before and I just started parenting kids this age. With God's help, we can do this. We won't be perfect, but if we keep talking we can help each other through it."

The smiles on all three faces were all the affirmation I needed that authentic conversation, patience and love and going to be powerful tools as we navigate these waters.

These are the days...


Alison F said...

Ahh, I love reading your thoughts on this stage. Only I find myself wishing I had read this 5 years ago. Your study and reading are paying off, these things are right on target (I have a 14 and 16 year old). I love the teen years (not all of the time, of course, but most of the time)! The two things you said that ring most true with me are: 1, use your downtime for rejuvenation! It can be easy as a stay at home mom to think you're not needed by your teens, but that couldn't be further from the truth! I finally realized that my job is mostly from 3 pm-10 (or 11) pm now, so I don't have guilt about taking time for myself during the day (I occassionally take naps, too-sometimes teens want to talk late at night)! 2, your thoughts on anxious moms are so true, I know that firsthand. It took me awhile to recognize that my own teenage experiences were totally effecting my parenting and causing all of us to be anxious. Thank you for sharing your parenting journey, I know it will help so many moms. Oh! And enjoy those conversations--one of my favorite things about teens is listening to their opinions developing and changing. They are smart and savvy! They do not always share my opinions but I try to share my perspective and respect theirs. Sorry for the long comment, you sparked a lot of things in my mind!

Denise Ross said...

Love your thoughts here. I have a 21, 18 and 11 yrs old children, and there are definitely some things I'd do differently with ,y older two if I had my time over with them again, but I'm learning to face on better with topics and life's realities with my 11 yr old and hope I do better. I was an avoider with some things because I didn't know how to face them or talk about them. My upbringing was very much straight answers with no option of discussion on topics that my parents didn't want to talk about, all of course due to their upbringing. But Interestingly enough every time I feel like I didn't do as good as I would've liked on my parenting, my older two assure me that they wouldn't be the people they are without my parenting, and I did a great job parenting them. Wow huh. I do a lot of praying and still do for them all now for each of their different seasons of life. The main thing that I do hold onto is that God hears my prayers, my kids will make their mistakes, but I'm always their for them and more so God is here for us all.