by Jennifer Mathews
Have you recently found yourself buying more sticks of deodorant than diapers? Washing more sweaty sports socks than burp cloths? Have the long days of chasing pitter-pattering feet been replaced by shuttling larger, stinky and very busy feet? If so, you may be, like me, going through the parenting “tweensformation.”
It’s the age when children are stretching their emotional and social muscles as well. It’s quite a change from the time when there were just a bunch of innocent and adorable, albeit dirty and chaotic, little things running around. Now, they’re awkward, funny and interesting as their talents, opinions and dreams are taking shape.
Three major areas where family life may indeed transform along with your growing tween are: family time, social life and family dynamics.
Family Time When my older kids were younger, I had a rule that we would only leave the house once each day. Not only did this allow me to wear sweatpants 75 percent of the time, it minimized the number of times I had to haul car seats, diaper bags and strollers. Now, though the “little” ones can pretty much deal with whatever equipment it may require — backpacks, basketballs, dance shoes — we seem to leave the house at least a bazillion times a day.
Rather than letting go of some of our favorite daytime activities, like singing and dancing in our pajamas in the mornings and reading to the kids after nap times, we’ve found ways to accommodate to our busier schedule. For example, one of the older kids will read a book aloud in the car and we save our pajama dance parties for Saturday mornings.
Two small changes in how I approach the evening meal have saved me from giving up and serving cold cereal or hot dogs every night. I remember my grandmother always said, “Through by two,” which meant dinner was planned, groceries purchased and the meal was prepped before 2 p.m. Then, whenever the family rolls in that evening, all you have to do is throw it together. The only way this was possible, was for me to spend more time planning.
My Sunday night ritual is to evaluate the pantry, make a menu for the week and a grocery list on my smartphone so it’s with me everywhere I go. This alone has almost saved our mealtime.
Gathering the family for dinner was also getting increasingly challenging, so we added “dinner jobs.” When the meal is nearly ready, I call out “dinner jobs!” and my four hungry munchkins come running. One brings place mats and napkins, another silverware and salad dressing and another fills cups with ice and water (the toddler’s job is to try not to get trampled). Not only does it accomplish two tasks at once (preparing for the meal and gathering the family), this prep time is also magically conducive to meaningful conversations and even a lot of fun.
Social Life As your tween’s social life becomes more important, YOUR social life may become more difficult to maintain. Parents of tweens often notice they have less time interacting with other parents in a social environment. Play groups become a thing of the past, and when parents do get to interact, they find that conversations about daily life are less adorable than they used to be. For example: Nothing lightens the mood or conversation like the story of my 2 year old‘s inconspicuous burp in line at the supermarket. If the same story were told about my 12 year old it may not have the same effect.
Rachel Anne Ridge, the author and creator of homesanctuary.com, recently posted a letter titled, “Dear Lonely Mom of Older Kids,” wherein she sympathizes with moms who no longer have the freedom to post cute photos on Facebook of their kids doing silly things for fear of tarnishing their kids’ increasingly precious reputation. Some moms with older children are going back to work, and most are as enslaved to their child’s busy schedule, as I am. It can be a lonely phase of life.
As Rachel explains, your child is a person who needs you to be their safe place. This is the time when spouses can really draw closer to one another. My parents and siblings have often, under a vow of silence, been willing to listen to me vent frustrations or celebrate my older children.
Family Dynamics As my children have grown, rewards, consequences and discipline methods have evolved. Sending my 9 year old to “time-out” stopped working about the same time rewarding him with a big hug and kiss failed to thrill him like it used to. Time seems to be the motivator these days. I shamelessly bribe my kids with time: more time for doing what they love to do if they behave or perform well, and less time for these things when they don’t.
Parents know well the word STRESS and what it means for the family dynamic. How about sleep-deprivation? Are parents of small children more sleep-deprived than parents of older children? When you compare your list of reasons for losing sleep, you see that a crying baby can be soothed and sleep can be resumed more easily than you can relieve the stress and anxiety of having a teen who is struggling with self-confidence or who wasn’t invited to the party. Answering questions about why the sky is blue or the grass green is a piece of cake compared to dividing fractions or having “the talk.” Arguments are a whole different animal. They’re going to be bigger, and these tweens of yours are going to shock you with their newfound reasoning skills. Life in general can seem much more complicated. So, we COMPROMISE.
With each challenge that the parenting “tweensformation” has thrown at us, we are constantly compromising. Still, I’ve learned it is important to take steps to make sure you don’t compromise your own health for your child’s happiness. For myself, I have listened to recommendations from friends and family, done my own research and then tried coping mechanisms that seemed like they might help.
The further I get into this tween phase, and the closer we come to the teens, the more I can see that peaceful, happy families are run by happy parents who find time to make peace with their circumstances.