Arizona State University published a study in 2016 that identified the most stressed out parents as those who have middle school aged children. The findings surprised the researchers who had thought that infancy would naturally be the most stressful time of parenting. What they discovered is that parents with middle school aged children are by far the most stressed out. Turns out the tween years are this crazy time between childhood and the teenage years and that this transition is incredibly difficult as a child tries to define themselves and find their place in the pack. Those ASU researchers nailed it because as a mother of a middle schooler I can tell you I am single-handedly going to rebuild Napa with the copious intake of wine that is helping me get through seventh grade.
My seventh grader is my “spirited child.” He’s always been a handful. So I felt that after twelve years of parenting a high-octane child, I had things somewhat under control. Big mistake. Middle school turned out to be the perfect storm of hormones, new school, new friends and girls. Throw into the mix that I had taken him off of his ADHD meds at the end of elementary school because I felt he “had himself under control” and you can see where this is heading. My son went from a straight A student to struggling to maintain a C average and outright failing at least one class—because he was caught plagiarizing twice in two days. His attitude towards me and his father was contemptuous at best. There were days when I thought to myself that I might not be the right parent for this job. I felt like a total and complete failure at what I feel is my most important job of all: being a mom. I actually looked up boarding schools at one point thinking that if I couldn’t fix what was wrong with my son I had to find someone who could because failure wasn’t an option. It was my darkest time as a parent.
I’m happy to report that I have pulled myself and my son back from the brink of despair. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows just yet but it is good and getting better each day. It hasn’t been easy and there is still work to be done but if you are in your own parenting hell let me share some of the tools I used to get me and my son back on track.
- Talk to Your Girlfriends: The brotherhood of the motherhood is a powerful sisterhood. Use them to help build you up, give you perspective and be your cheerleaders. It’s incredibly difficult to admit what feels like failure as a mother to anyone. It also feels like you are betraying your child by spilling their secrets and their struggles. But I will tell you that the insight and perspective my friends gave me helped me figure out what I could do to fix what had been broken. They also helped me sift through all the issues affecting my tween son to break down how to effectively deal with each. Like there’s not much I can do about hormones and girls but I can significantly limit his time on social media to free up some time for, I don’t know, studying maybe? The sisterhood reminded me that medicating my son for ADHD is not a parenting failure. It is a medical condition. If my son needed glasses my answer wouldn’t be to squint harder. They helped me get over my own hang ups and give my son a chance to succeed.
- Bring in the Big Guns: As mothers we want our kids to be “normal.” I didn’t want my son to be the weird kid with ADHD who needs special accommodations from the school. I didn’t want there to be a red flag in his file alerting future teachers or colleges that he is a problem. So I resisted the suggestion that I get my son a 504 designation. It sounded so serious and awful. But again, with the encouragement of the brotherhood of the motherhood, I raised my hand and asked his school to help me. Turns out having a meeting with his teachers and school counselor was empowering. It gave me and my husband a chance to give context to these teachers about who my son is. How he had always been an A student and how the stress of middle school and lack of medication had completely derailed him. I shouldn’t have been surprised that these teachers were interested in helping my son get back on the right path. But the fear of the unknown almost kept me from taking another step to help get my son some extra help in the areas he needs it most. Take it from me, don’t be a scaredy-cat. Ask for the help you and your child need.
- Don’t Take it Personally: After lamenting the fact that my tween son had lost his mind to a friend she gave me the best piece of advice which I will share with you: tweens aren’t fighting with you, they are fighting with themselves. They are torn between wanting to be grown up and wanting to crawl into bed and cuddle with their mommy when they have a bad dream. It’s this constant internal tug of war that comes out as insolence. That’s not to say that you should tolerate bad behavior. It just means instead of flying off the handle at every eye roll, keep in mind they are experiencing internal emotional tornadoes and sometimes they just can’t help but at like punks. Stick to your boundaries and keep them in line but don’t take it personally. What you are witnessing is a symptom of their own internal struggle. It’s not really about you. I find this makes it much easier to keep my cool when dealing with my son.
- Wine: Or yoga, or mediation, or exercise, or talk therapy—but really wine. Don’t forget to give yourself an outlet to help vent your frustration. These are some tough years we are going to be dealing with. Don’t be a martyr. You need to give yourself a way to release your frustration. Because if you don’t it will just build and come out when you least expect or want it—like the next eye-roll.