I resisted the use of the word tween for many years. I thought it to be a made up term by the advertising world so they could target a specific demographic in their Ads. Single out the kids before they hit the teen years and market stuff that makes them feel special, more grown up even. And then as life regularly does I got a good ole slap in the face when my son entered what I am now confidently calling the tween years. I now see this tween time as a very important stage, perhaps a bridge between childhood and the teen years. I know folks have been talking about it as that all along, I’m just a bit slow to catch on sometimes.

In my efforts to be the partner my child needs me to be right now, I have picked up a few things that I would say are essential to surviving  thriving this transition.

1) Don’t take it personally. I know this is a cornerstone of a lot of awesome parenting moments. It has never meant more to me then it does now. It requires a whole new level of deep breathing, tongue biting, tear withholding. I remind myself that when your body has brand new, changing, levels of hormones, there’s gonna be some big emotions coming out, without the proper filters. I also remind myself I am the safest place for these outraged things to land. I am, shall I say, the testing ground. This is not to say it’s okay to shit all over me. It’s to say, it’s okay for right now and later when things have stabilized we can trouble shoot some tools to help manage, deal with, understand those moments when hormones surge and reactions spiral off course. As a woman, I have some first had experience with monthly changes in hormone levels, what I also have, that he does not, is years of experience handling this and adjusting to compensate. It is my challenge to not take the words personally, so I can be a trusted ally, in the calmer moments, when things are ready to be processed.

2) Space and time alone – RESPECT IT. I love it at the end of the day or on the weekends when we all gather as a family to watch a movie or play a game. It’s what I imagined my life in a family would always be. Increasingly my tween wants time alone. And I am learning to respect that, to give him the space he needs to be alone in the world. This is him figuring out how to be an independent person. Even if for now it is just behind his bedroom door. He is trying out things that are him, doing them his way, with us close enough by to check in with. Giving him this time and space, says I see you separate from me and I trust you got this. It also makes room for me to be invited in. And that’s the magic. The time when he chooses me to be the person to share this new inner world with.

3) Listen more, talk less. This has always been a huge piece of my parenting philosophy it seems even more crucial now. And requires even less words that I have been using. He wants to be be heard as an individual. To have ideas that are his and not just copied from what I have seen or done in the world. He wants to figure things out for himself. Like the plunger example I shared before, sure he could have called me to plunge the toilet but then he wouldn’t know how to plunge a toilet. This is what this phase is full of. Searching out information and skills on his own that help him feel capable of tending to his own needs. ¬†Knowing when to insert “when I was your age” is an art form in the tween years. It’s rarely empowering to here his parents say “been there done that” when he is forming a brand new sense of his unique self. Sitting and listening is about supporting him in knowing who he is outside of who I am. When I insert my stories or experience too liberally, I build up walls. This is not a time to know it all, it’s most importantly a time to be a most curious advocate.

4) It might be “just a phase” but keep that under wraps. There is a passion, an all in enthusiasm that is magical in my tween right now. And the best thing I can do is jump on the crazy train whatever direction it is headed in. Even if ten minutes later we are derailed and heading in the opposite direction. This is the place where childhood is colliding with teenage hood most brilliantly. Where the imagination and possibility that brings stuffed animals to life collides with the skill set to film and edit a You Tube series chronically the life and times of these stuffed friends. A delicious mix of innocence and reality. Deciding these things, idea, dreams or projects are just a phase robs my son of the chance to give it his all. To dig deep in to ideas and find their edges, to push through mistakes and discover the lessons. My role now is only to believe in him and all his wildest thoughts so I can be there to celebrate and commiserate. I want now and for all the phases of his life to be the loudest, craziest, president of his fan club.

5) Love it today hate it tomorrow. I have a really hard time keeping up with this one. Especially, as you have seen from above, I am jumping on the crazy train every time it leaves the station. So when it crashes into the I hate that wall I am generally stunned and confused. I am coming to see this is just a piece of the journey right now. And it’s gift for my son is that he is becoming increasingly clear and confident in who he is and what he likes. In a very specific sort of way. For my son this is best being illustrated through his food preferences. The boy has loved pizza forever and now he is over it. He indulged and now would prefer to only eat it once in a while. He knows there is a world of foods out there and he would like to try them all while keeping his very specific tastes in tact. This means there is a lot of time spent trying and rejecting. I have to be okay with this. I want him to try new things in the world, I want him to find those things he enjoys most. This is not going to happen if I am deciding for him what he will or will not like nor if I am making him finish a box full of cereal he knew he didn’t like after one bite. Now is the time to really roll with the love hate relationship knowing it truly is at the heart of defining his one unique self.

I know there is more for me to discover on this journey with a tween (cause his brother is right behind him and is a unique human being himself so I surely know I can not expect it all to be the same), however, I trust these guidelines will get me through with our relationship in tact.