Terrible Twos or Terrible Tweens!?!
The Tween male in its natural habitat. You will observe that the tween male is not often without his uniform. Track suits, sport shirts and jogging pants. His main source of nutrition is scattered amongst the dirty clothes and sports memorabilia. Wrappers of every single prepackaged thing its mother had stocked the pantry with, can be found in piles across the ground.
Oh no! Our male tween appears to be in peril!! He’s lost power on his iPad. What a terrific opportunity to see the lesser observed behaviour of the tween at large in the house! No! He’s not headed to the basement to the sanctity of his X-Box! Instead he scurries to steal the only charger that has no exposed wires, and slinks back into his den.
If you listen carefully you can hear the Dude Perfect and Tanner Braunggardt videos from here. From dabbing, to bottle flipping, to turns of phrase like ‘ya boi’ and calling his mother ‘bro’, the young tween simulates the behaviour he finds on YouTube and Instagram. Not yet mature, the tween is completely oblivious to the innuendo in most Instagram photos posted by his favorite athletes. Instead, the tween studies the athlete with precision. He will Odell the ball at his next football game, he WILL dangle around his opponents like McDavid the next time he’s on the ice.
On the precipice of childhood to adolescent, the tween can be observed catapulting between aggressive stand-offs with his siblings and parents, and moments of highly irrational emotional meltdowns.
The tween is indeed an exotic creature, a creature that leaves his mother and father quite simply, baffled.
Let me start with this.
I dislike SO much when someone overhears a mother venting, or complaining about the stage their child is in, only to respond with, “Oh, you think a toddler is hard… JUST WAIT!!”.
It’s the worst.
And, when you’re in that moment, you want to turn around the exclaim, “Ya know what Karen!?! Maybe my toddler taking a dump on the basement floor WILL BE as bad as it gets. Ok?”.
So, while Karen was wrong in her approach, there are a few things I think moms try to teach each other as they navigate the turbulent waters of parenting. What Karen may have meant is that she wants you to enjoy the stage you’re at now. Because, as sure as the kids will finish all the snacks, all the cereal, and all the bread and not tell you, parenting never stops being challenging.
That’s why we try to warn each other a bit. Like the next set of people heading onto the Gravatron after there was a puker. "Guys.. heads up.. that shit is fun but also very messy."
It's a way of reminding each other that there are things that you should relish in every stage. Because as they get older, the problems don’t necessarily go away, they just change and evolve, and often times, feel more difficult. So, if you have toddlers right now, and they are driving you crazy by touching everything, being into everything all over the house, and having sleep patterns that leave you exhausted, remember that one day you too will miss this.
I’m just moving into the tween years with my oldest. He’s by all accounts a fantastic kid. He works hard at everything he takes on. From grades, to sports, he is always trying to be better than he was the day before. Of course, on the other hand, he can be a total jerk that makes me want to duck tape his mouth shut every now and again. But, this blog isn’t specific to him, rather more to stage that I think as parents, takes us by surprise.
Every once in a while I try to really look at my kids. Not just a glance or eye contact with them when I’m speaking. I like to watch them go about their routine when they think no one is watching.
And I found that my tween is very much still my baby. From the sneaky snuggles they require, to the naïve and innocent questions they ask about the world, it’s obvious that they still need our help to figure out so much.
But then, there’s the telltale signs that puberty and teenager-hood are around the corner. From the voice crack, to the widened shoulders and an increased willingness to talk to, and about girls, we can see that pretty soon we are going to be shut out of what was their childhood. Adolescence is knocking on the door.
And, it sucks.
It feels like a really difficult stage to parent. They still need you like a child in a lot of ways, but also need independence and some distance like a teenager needs, to make some difficult decisions you can’t make for them. (Difficult being relative. Like whether they want to go to a sleepover birthday party when they had already committed to helping Grandma and Grandpa out.) You can advise and guide, but they are at the age when they need to start taking accountability for their own decisions.
But on the flip side, there’s some tough decisions we need to make FOR them that we know will break their hearts. They aren’t old enough, or mature enough, to understand. So as parents we suck up the anger directed at us, and hope one day down the road they’ll get it.
Being a parent never stops being a thankless, terrifying job. I remember having this realization when I was pregnant with my oldest about how the worry never stops. From the first positive pregnancy test until.. well, forever, you never stop worrying.
Choking hazards, walking hazards, broken limbs and stitches- to friends and influences, drugs and alcohol, DRIVING- to ending up as a productive member of society. I really can’t see an end in sight. I mean, because that’s all we want, right? To raise great humans who are a benefit to the world?
I guess what I’m getting at is that I knew the teenage years were the treacherous ones, but no one really told me about the tween years and how important they seem to be in setting up the teenage ones to be manageable. My tween has already asked me some insanely brilliant questions, challenged me on my own views on certain topics, and has demonstrated a worldliness I definitely did NOT have at his age. He’s already asking about SATs and how much things cost, the general salary of different professions, and what kind of degree he’d need to do it.
The internet is definitely a scary place for parents to try and patrol, but it has also enlightened my son to a limitless future. He can achieve whatever he wants by putting the work in (hey.. there's probably a YouTube video to show you how). But at the same time, the knowledge that so much is possible, seems to lead to anxiety about what they need to be doing ALL THE TIME to get there. They know what their favorite athlete’s times and stats were in high school, they know which schools are the ones you want to go to (my son would like to go to Stanford. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the tuition is as much as our mortgage….).
They are figuring this world out, and they understand the power of social media and getting noticed. Many of my son’s friends are trying to get their videos to go viral, boost their Instagram followers up over a thousand- sharing so much of themselves with a harsh, unsympathetic world.
This need to be noticed, to be known is freaking terrifying as a parent. It feels like we are in uncharted territory. Which, I think is probably how every generation of parents has felt, ever.
So exhausted moms, trying to get a hot, sticky baby to latch underneath your nursing blanket, we don’t mean to lessen what you’re going through. It’s just that as they get older it does certainly make you long for the days of busy feet, and lack of sleep, because at least you knew where they were and what they were thinking.
I like to think of this post as both a commiseration of us moms with tweens; that we are not alone in being scared and unsure and trying not to mess them up too much.
But also as a reminder to the burnt-out moms of little ones, to enjoy this stage, even if you aren’t sure you can right now. You will look back to these days of simple trouble with misty eyes when you hug your tween, and feel those wings starting to stretch and grow underneath your arms.
So when you hear “oh, you JUST WAIT!!” (but we’re gonna try not to do that, right ladies?!?!), know that hidden in that know-it-all tone, really is us moms of older kids assuring you that potty-training will happen, they will eat other colors of food than just orange, and you are an AMAZING mom.
While things might not get easier, you will wish you could time warp back into the hugest of all toddler tantrums if it meant you could kiss that little face again…without him groaning, “MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM”.
Hang in there mamas of kids of all ages.
We are totally going to rock the crap outta our 80s.
(But probably not. Is there any advice to parenting middle-agers? Oh man I bet that shit gets weird).