Recently, someone asked me how things are going, and I replied, “Fine….we are just floating through middle school.”
I have been through middle school twice, and I am currently in the middle of my third cycle of it. I know you think that is not possible, but it is! I suffered through middle school and then I went through it a second time with my oldest son, who is now 20. I learned valuable lessons the second time around. Lessons, I am sharing with my 13-year-old middle schooler.
The first time I went through middle school was awful. I was often pushed into moving closets, which was the side effect of a school with no walls. And I was bullied for wearing a dress every Monday because that’s what happens when your Dad is a preacher. Finally, I was mocked for bringing the lunch Mom insisted on making (sandwich, fruit, and chips).
So, when my son entered middle school, I tried to remember all the things that made me cringe and worked to make sure they did not happen on my watch! Walls in school… check. No church clothes on Monday….check. School lunch with fun food….check. I figured I was set! Little did I know that I was far from winning the war.
My son’s middle school years were riddled with competitive sports and complicated friendships based on school affiliations. I felt undue pressure to be friends with the parents of his friends and to go to so many sporting events; I eventually bought a bleacher chair. There was also testosterone. No one prepares you for the moodiness of a boy who grows overnight, only wants to wear the same clothes (that no longer fit), and eats everything in sight. I had to recalibrate if we were going to make it through.
So, I took his lead. I let him navigate his friendship waters, and I navigated mine. That meant that sometimes we had different friends. I bought two sizes of the clothes he loved so that when he awoke larger than when he went to sleep, I was ready with new clothes. Finally, I learned to keep lots of food on hand, so he was never wondering what there was to eat. I am happy to say we survived those years, and he is thriving as a sophomore at Arizona State University.
Now I am in the weeds of middle school again, only with estrogen this time. I can report that the moodiness is the same, clothing decisions are a bear, and my daughter's food choices are much more sophisticated than mine! Once again, I am following the lead of the tween. I am not forcing my parent friendships on her friend circle. I try to keep all of her food choices on hand (smoothie ingredients, Brookstone chocolates, and Sprite are favorites). I am also steering clear of clothing battles. How do I do that? I ask her if she is comfortable wearing it, then I am okay with her wearing it. That includes those cropped tops that are back in style again. Yikes. Thus far, giving her agency in decision making has panned out well. She makes good choices, and though I am not a fan of a cropped top, I can say it is likely because I can’t wear one now.
I have a couple of “middle schoolisms” that have worked with my two kiddos:
- “It is only middle school,” which means that this is a short period in an otherwise long life, so don’t get too mixed up in the drama.
- “Don’t feed the frenzy” covers all the silly stuff that creates panic with tweens.
- “Be a part of the solution, not the problem” typically keeps them from making bad decisions or griping and complaining all the time.
- “If you wouldn’t do it in front of me, then don’t do it at all” can be a checkpoint for kids when they are wondering if they should try or do something they know may not be a good idea.
For those of you floating through middle school, enjoy the ride. Try not to jump into the water and flap around too much, and let your middle schooler lead the way. I promise you by giving them a little space, allowing them to find their way, and supporting them in the process will make the transition to high school less frantic!