It’s Coming, Parents of Preteens!
Ready or not, the day you drop off your kiddo at either college or boot camp or first apartment comes quicker than you think it will. Dr. Harley Rothbart, author of No Regrets Parenting, has done the math – there are 940 weekends between birth and 18. That’s a lot of pressure to “make memories”.
And preteens are hard, we all know that, right? They don’t want anything to do with you at that age. Just when you are beginning to get sentimental that high school is coming, and then graduation, and then… Boom! They turn into creatures from outer space that slam doors and roll their eyes ALL OF THE TIME. They stink, they are moody, and they don’t listen when you say “wash your face with soap that prevents acne”, but it is all your fault that they then have breakouts! And did I mention that they don’t want to be around you?!
It takes creativity, determination, and thick skin to survive the preadolescent parenting years. I messed it all up so much, especially with my first one. Poor kid – he got the reactive, hurt, and ticked off mom many days.
I’ve always been a big fan of studying my kids, though, so I know what to do the next time around. This post goes out to those parents today, rather than my usual high school and college and new career parents. Just a few tips I have learned over the last fourteen years of raising preteens.
How You and Your Kid can still Like Each Other When They Leave Home
· I will just get the first boring, cliché one out of the way first – pick your battles. It is cliché because it has been proven, over and over. Some things simply aren’t worth the argument. What clothes they wear, how they style their hair, how much body spray they use to cover up the funk… It’s a rite of passage to try out bizzaro looks in junior high – check out your yearbook from 7th grade!
· But set the boundaries of what is acceptable and stick to it. Do you want your kiddos have to wear something other than athletic wear for Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s? Can your kids protest when they think you are being unfair as long as they keep the language and tone respectful? Sometimes this one becomes a moving target as they grow but you need consistency as much as possible. Church was non-negotiable at our house – but we eventually ditched “Sunday School.” They needed their rest and I needed a “Sabbath” from the war.
· Don’t be a hypocrite. If you make your kids not cuss, you shouldn’t either. Or at least have a swear jar where the swearer puts money or a privilege for when you inevitably mess up. Kids this age are quick to pick up on not-fair. You can’t expect them to make their bed every day without fail if you don’t.
· On that note, apologize when you are wrong. The easiest way to raise a compassionate, humble kid is if you yourself are. Did you hurt their feelings in a moment of anger? Did you overreact? Wait for a moment of equilibrium and say that you are sorry.
· Also, expect an apology in return. Not right away and maybe not as gracious as you would like, but our children need to learn to regret their action. This is why, as silly as it sounds, everyone needs a timeout – parents and preteens, not just toddlers. When everyone has a cooler head, come back together and make room for negotiation, if there is any. Express how their outburst made you feel and set your boundaries. Clear up anything you need to from your side and ask for their input on what they could have done differently.
· Going along with that is don’t take it personally when they act like, well – preteens. Think of it as how being pregnant felt (sorry, dads, I know that isn’t in your worldview, but imagine.) Your hormones are going nuts. When you were tired, you were really exhausted. When you were energetic you went a bit nuts bustling around. You frequently cried and sometimes yelled. You forgot stuff all.of.the.time. You wanted to eat 24/7. As the kids say, “Same”. (They even get a bit chunky at this time – saving up for the growth spurt they will soon go through. )
· Another cliché since they were little, but one that still works in the preteen years is choose to see the good. Don’t just point out when they blew it. Congratulate them on something done right that you know they’ve been working on. Notice when they are kind to their sibling; don’t just yell at them when they fight.
· When they do act up, count to ten before responding. This is where I messed up most royally. I was too emotional in the heat of the moment with my first. It fostered a level of distrust between us that took awhile to build back up. It feels manipulative when you cry. You say things you don’t mean when you are overly mad. They know how to push all the buttons at this age, but you have to be the mature grownup.
· Now, on to the fun stuff! Or, potentially fun. Make it fun, okay!? Set up traditions that are unbreakable, except in dire emergencies. When they were little and there was less money, we had pizza and movie Friday nights. Now they are older and out on the weekend and have extracurriculars on many weeknights, we save Wednesday nights for “eat-out night”, at a restaurant where someone serves us and we just sit and talk. Sometimes (like this past Wednesday) one or the other is tired or cranky and doesn’t want to go. Inevitably, though, by the time the chips and salsa are passed around (because, Texas) we are all enjoying one another’s company. And yes, it was a bit harder to pull it out of them when they were eleven, but sibling rivalry worked in our favor – they each wanted to have the funniest/grossest/most shocking story. Even if they moan now, those will be the memories they cherish. I know I do.
· One-on-one time is priceless. If you have fifty-eleven kids, it may be for an hour, but try to make it half a day, at least. Another way to build memories.
· But you will have to find “your thing”. My guys didn’t want to go to a flea market or museum, but they might go to the zoo or to a movie.
· If you are really in a tough place, take a road trip. I’ve mentioned this before, but boys especially, but even girls, are more prone to talk about what is one their mind if they aren’t the center of your attention. It doesn’t have to be a long getaway. It can just be a two hour drive to something you have both wanted to see in a different city.
That’s all I’ve got! Let me know any of your ideas to build up memories and positive interactions with your kids. I still have my baby at home! For three more minutes, anyway…