I spent an hour yesterday priming the chalkboard wall in Lainey’s room, painting over her friends’ signatures and rainbow doodles that have represented these past two years. I’ve loved that chalkboard wall–an artistic canvas and a billboard of her thoughts, so many of them that say “I’m still just a kid.” But she’s ready for something a bit more sophisticated or “modern” as she’s requested. She wants black and white like her cousin’s room with millennial decor touches like succulents and candles and geometric art. So I’m following her lead, happy for the opportunity to scratch my decorating itch and right in line with what I’ve promised I will be for her, especially during these middle school years…embracing of the changes.
The beginning of seventh grade this year has been a smooth transition, a welcome shift from the beginning of last year. Last year we went from the bubble of the most wonderful elementary school where everyone felt like family, and parent participation was welcome and celebrated; to a jolting they-need-to-grow-up environment where doors keep parents out and kids are encouraged to advocate for themselves. While I agree for the most part with the importance of self advocating and letting kids fail, the drastically different middle school environment was a hard pill to swallow for a long time. I cried every day after drop-off for the first two weeks last year. But it got better, we learned so many things and had wonderful friends and teachers who helped make sixth grade as good as it could be given the circumstances. I’d be lying though if I said I’m not putting a giant check mark through sixth grade as the first in a “1-down, 2-to-go” hold-your-breath, get-‘er-done experience. Speaking of, this was hilarious.
Middle school isn’t just new to me as a parent; it’s new to me, period. I was homeschooled from middle school through high school, so I don’t have much to go on. However, I can offer great advice on how to quickly change the channel back to your trigonometry VHS so your mom doesn’t know you were really watching Saved by the Bell during.
Here’s a few things I learned about parenting through middle school.
Don’t be fooled by this “They need you less stuff.” They need you more.
Sure, they might not need you to send notes to their teachers anymore because they’re talking to them themselves, but don’t be fooled. They need you more now than ever. The big life questions begin–the complicated social situations, the exposure to real life stuff they’ve been protected from, all the internal dilemmas–“Who am I?”. I feel the responsibility to be on, present, listening and supportive more now than I ever did when she was little. You may have pulled the training wheels completely off their bikes because they’re riding on their own, but now the real work begins because you have to run faster to stay beside them while they pedal. Pay attention.
It’s okay for things not to be perfect.
We were lucky in elementary school to love all of our teachers. If something ever felt off, I e-mailed or called to schedule a meeting, and it was amended in no time. Making sure Lainey had the most loving, supportive environment to learn was an important goal, and it was always met. Now she has more teachers, and while we had a few who stood out as remarkable last year, we didn’t love them all. But I didn’t jump to fix it as quickly as I would have in elementary school because, as long as it’s not majorly affecting learning, I want her to learn how to handle not-so-good teachers too. She’s not going to love every boss she ever works for, and she’s going to need to know how to work through that.
Stay in the know.
It takes a village. Stay connected to it. My kid is a girl of few words which is great for staying out of drama. But I still like to know what’s going on at school and in friend circles beyond her “everything’s fine” answers. Staying connected to other parents–even for things as simple as projects kids are working on for school–helps me understand a broader picture of her world so I can support her appropriately.
Compliment them A LOT.
Sometimes I think I’m subconsciously aware that my time is running out for packing Lainey with all the things I want her to know which compels me to shell out advice. Middle school years are easy targets for parents to try and fix things, but that can come across as fixing them–pointing out things they could do differently. These middle school years are also the prime years for self confidence building though, and I am often reminded of the imbalance of my compliments/advice. Middle school has heightened my awareness of the importance of compliments. Let them know you notice all their amazing qualities. Specifically point them out. Tell them how proud you are that you can trust them. Don’t take for granted that they’re responsible, that they study without being reminded, that they’re kind to their siblings, that they keep their room clean. Point it out. Internally, at this age, they could very well be comparing themselves with everyone else. Your authentic compliments and reminders of their gifts could very well be turning down the volume of those comparisons.
It’s Going to Get Better.
All those This is the Most Tragic Thing Evers that feel so overwhelming at the time? They aren’t going to last as long as you think they are. If there’s anything we learned last year from experience, it’s that the things that felt so BIG as we were heading into them actually turned out to be completely surmountable–maybe even good. “This too shall pass” is the tattooable phrase that will carry you through middle school.