If “emotional cocktail” is a thing, it’s how I’d describe those phases when you can feel your child changing and growing up that little bit more – the joy, the worry, the sadness, the anticipation. As the tween years loom for my eldest birth child, I find myself experiencing a whole range of emotions at the thought of this next stage.
I’m not new to the tween years. Having taken a back-to-front journey into parenting, I’ve done this before. We started with teenage, then tween foster children and eventually had our birth children. But as each child changes and grows there’s a whole heap of different emotions and each experience is unique. The glimmers of the change to tween are getting stronger and I am acutely aware of both the losses and the gains.
So as I watch the next child spread their wings a little wider, and we embark on this new chapter of the gloriously messy adventure of family life, here are three things I’m reminding myself about and three questions I’m exploring:
I’m reminding myself:
It’s okay to allow yourself to grieve
Change brings both joy and loss – what is ending? What are you sad to lose? You don’t have to just breeze through. Pausing to acknowledge and mark these transitions and the emotions they evoke can be an important part of processing them. Just because this is typical doesn’t mean it’s insignificant – permission to feel.
Letting go is hard
Opening up my child to the big wide world and having less control (i.e. less means of protecting them) is a challenge. It’s not just social media – that’s just the obvious one. It’s seeing how the influence of friends is growing, how they are increasingly aware of the wider world with all its joys and flaws, and my ability to filter, regulate and manage that is so much more limited. I can still be proactive, but there are more things which come our way for which I can only prepare not prevent! Letting go, watching them make their own mistakes and trusting them, and that all I have taught my child will bear fruit, is easier said than done. This is going to feel like a stretch!
My identity and role in their life is shifting
After the all-encompassing need of the younger years, we’re beginning to see the push and pull of the teenage years. My children’s needs have intensively shaped my whole world the last few years – down to knowing pretty much every bowel movement and thought. As this new stage with greater independence looms, I am aware that this means my whole shape and world morphs too. This is going to feel strange and take some adjustment.
I’m asking myself:
What are you worried about/afraid of?
There are a million worries which come with each stage of parenthood, but general worrying is rarely helpful. Once you identify the real concern, you can begin to think ahead and turn fear into proactive action. One of my concerns is social media and the difficulty getting away from it, so we’re already creating spaces in our home which are technology free.
I can’t prevent online bullying, but I can create safe spaces and teach my child about healthy relationships and how to be assertive. I can read and prepare. You know your child – when you can tap into your wisdom and explore your fears, you are well placed to prepare for what’s ahead.
What might you enjoy in the coming years? What are you gaining?
“You’re lucky because you’ve done this before and you know what’s coming...” This has been said to me more than once. Believe me I have no idea – each child is so different. What I do know about the tween and teenage years is that it is bumpy (just like pretty much every other stage in its own way), but it brings its own joys and privileges.
What opportunities are there? What can you now share with your children you couldn’t before? What can you do for them that wasn’t possible when they were small? I have some amazing memories from these growing up phases with my foster children. There were plenty of challenging moments, but lots of positive too. This phase offers so many opportunities, but maybe you just have to look a little harder to find them.
What do you want to be the defining features of this phase?
It’s so easy for everyday urgencies to distract from what’s really important. If I have one eye firmly on the big picture goals, then this is less likely. My goals for family life haven’t changed – it’s just how we move towards them as my children change and develop. What are your family goals? What kind of relationship do you aim to have with your children and how can you make it happen? Giving time and thought to this is key.
If nurturing connected relationships are a priority; if fun and making great memories are important, then what does that look like in this new era? What does that mean for how you schedule your time? What do you need to be willing to do which you may not be so keen on? What do you need to equip and prepare you? If you know your goals, you’re already part way there – you then just have to work on the how.
I regularly remind my clients that parenthood and family life is gloriously messy. This is no less true for my family. We have ups and downs. Days where it flows and days which are bumpy. If I expect and embrace the bumpy with the smooth, then I am already in a much better place to cope – we’re all constantly learning.
I know the tween phase will bring its own unique bumps and joys, but I also know that when I pause, think, remember my priorities and tap into my knowledge of my children and what works for our family, then I am as prepared as I can be to navigate through whatever this next phase may bring.
Wish me luck!
Julie Cresswell helps parents whose children find everyday activities difficult, to tap into their expertise on their child and find ways to make family life a more positive and happier experience for the whole family. If you’d like to know more about working together, get in touch.