As soon as my daughter hit Middle School, I knew things would be different. I knew she would demand her space and her independence. I knew her focus would move away from our family and center around her friends. I knew she would most likely start dating. But, what I did not know is how closed off this would make me feel. I am not a helicopter mother at all, I try to give my kids the space they need to fall down, fail, explore, and discover the world around them. I am not the type of person that likes to be needed. Quite the contrary, actually, which is why this new way of life with my tween gutted me so.
I thought I was ready, really. I thought I was ready to watch her handle her own issues with school, friends, whatever would come her way. However, what was so hard to adjust to was how isolated I felt from her. My kids have always told me everything, too much sometimes, so this newfound notion of limited information was odd. Rather than dropping her backpack and regurgitating her day, she would drop her backpack and head up to her room. After about thirty minutes, I’d head up to chat, but met a closed door every time. Most times, I took a deep breath and turned away. I figured she needed her space and I was trying to respect that. However, day after day of this closed door was hard to digest. I was not being nosy, I was concerned. Why this sudden door in my face? Was it normal? Was there something wrong? Do I respect her space everyday or does doing this send a message that I no longer care? My stomach churned with these questions. Was there a balance between respecting her space and showing I’m still here?
One day, I decided to knock and she let me in. I asked about her day and got only curt responses while she looked at her phone. I sat there in silence, not really sure what to do. My feelings were hurt because I did not want to be shut out completely. I wanted to be more important than what was on her screen. I sighed a deep sigh and walked away. I closed the door behind me and began to cry. I’m not really sure what I was crying for, the time passed so quickly from infancy to tweenhood, the nostalgia of simpler times, the loss of my little girl, the fear of the future, or the abyss of the unknown going forward. Maybe all of it put together. As I wiped the tears away, the door opened. There stood my girl staring at me in wonder. “Why are you crying?” The only thing I could get out was, “I just miss you.” And, that is exactly what it was. She stood there for a minute then gave me a huge hug. We both cried a little bit, because just like I was having a hard time with this, so was she. She wanted her space from all of us, but still wanted to feel valued and appreciated. She wanted to spend the weekends with her friends, but still never missed a sports game of her siblings. The push and pull of growing up was just as hard on her as it was on me. We both just needed to honor our feelings to each other. By doing so, we realized we were both feeling the same exact way.
I liken tween parenting to that of a photo filter. You have an image of what you’d like, what you hope for, what you fight for, but the tweens are in control of that image. It is like taking a picture on your phone, handing them the phone, and letting them use the correct filters to produce the image they want to project.
Tweenhood is a time of self-discovery and I owe my girl the time and space to do just that, whether behind closed doors or not. Being a tween is not easy, especially in our current environment. Being a parent is even harder. I still struggle with this balance every single day, but I’m getting much better at handing over the photo to my girl. Some days, she may choose a black and white filter and block me out. Other days, she may choose a vibrant filter and want to share it with me. What I hold on to is this: no matter where she goes, what she does, I know her foundation is solid. I know she will make mistakes, get her heart broken, and struggle–she has to in order to grow. But, I know whether it be in front of a closed door or next to a phone screen, she can always lift the barrier and know I’m there. That is the only thing I can do, that is the only thing she wants me to do. I’ve stopped focusing on what I’ve lost but rather, started to focus on what I’ve gained. I’ve gained a girl with a heart so compassionate, a mind so creative, and an intelligence beyond her years. I no longer wish for the simplicity of toddlerhood, but relish in the complexities of this new relationship. Yes, there are hard days where we both cry. There are days we both have no idea how to deal with each other. There are days we both say mean things. But, every day ends. A new day begins. The door sometimes opens. I’m always there when it does with open arms.