My youngest turned ten recently. She lovingly reminds me that she is officially a tween now, along with her eleven-year-old twin sisters.
Having three tween daughters would scare most people, and it should. Navigating puberty times three is not for the faint of heart.
While my girls seem to be handling it well, it is much harder for me.
You see, I have always been confident, even steadfast, in my parenting decisions, doing what I felt is right for my little family. Facebook was not around when my girls were infants, so I didn’t feel the pressures so many young moms now face due to social media, and I am lucky to have a strong network of supportive women in my life.
I didn’t always do everything by the book, and if you wanted to label me it would probably be “Crunchy, detachment, needs her sleep, part-time working mom.” I nursed all three of my kids. And also bottle fed. We eat mainly organic fruit and vegetables, unless we are at a friend’s house that busts out a packet of Oreos, then we are all in. I let all three of my kids cry it out at one point or another and I rarely let them sleep in our bed, but I am all for early morning snuggles or late-night reading in my bed together.
It worked for us.
But now we are at a different point in our parenting journey. Sometimes it involves eye rolls, sighs the size of a hurricane and huffing and puffing — and that’s not only by my three daughters.
Parenting tweens is hard. They want their independence. They want to be heard. They want to grow up.
I just want them to pick up their stuff.
But more than that, I want to raise kind, compassionate, productive members of society, which is hard to do when you constantly feel like you are screwing them up.
The past few weeks have been particularly difficult. For some reason, the four females in our house are on edge. We cried a river of tears and are often an ocean apart on our viewpoints.
We argue about hair and taking showers and homework and eating habits. And after every bad interaction, I feel like a failure, like I screwed them up.
Raising tweens is hard. Talk too much about the food they consume, and it can lead to an eating disorder. Discuss their appearance too much will cause poor self-esteem. Pressuring academic success can lead to depression. And although I never negotiate on good hygiene, I do wonder at what age I will have to stop saying the words, “We take showers so we don’t smell.”
Raising tweens shakes my confidence as a parent. As hard as I try, I feel like the wheels fly off a conversation faster than I can put them back on the bus.
Finding balance in our new relationship is difficult. I want them to be independent and think for themselves, yet we still have rules and expectations. I want them to understand the basics of health and appearance, yet I do not want them to feel judged. I want them to excel in all they do, yet I do not want them to feel pressured.
We are in the eye of the tornado, and I am unsure where we will land.
Last night was a good night in our home, filled with love and laughter and joy and kindness. I pulled one of my daughters aside, one who I had a particularly trying time with, and said, “I’m glad we had some fun together after all that went on this week.”
Her big blue eyes looked deep into mine, and she replied, “What do you mean?”
I was surprised by her response. “I mean, you and I had a rough week, and I know we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. I’m glad we could end it on a good note.”
And then she laughed. “Oh, Mom, it’s not a big deal. I know you are just trying to help.”
As I watched her turn and put her backpack away, I sat in shock. Here I thought I was crushing her self-esteem and body image, and she showed me compassion.
Parenting a tween is hard, but it doesn’t need to shake your confidence. I may need to work on my delivery, but my girls are getting the message loud and clear. We will have bad moments, but I will continue to remain steadfast in teaching them all the things I want them to know, and then adapt accordingly, as I have done since the beginning. And the good moments will far outshine the bad.
Parenting a tween is hard, and it should be. We want our kids to push, explore and question. Sometimes these actions lead to positive outcomes (defending a friend or deciding to walk away from illicit behavior) and sometimes it ends up with mistakes and the opportunity to be held accountable. It is all a part of growing up.
Parenting a tween is hard. And I am so lucky I get to do it.
This picture continuously shows up in my Facebook news feed. Every time I see it, I feel depressed, and then relieved I had my kids before Facebook was the norm.
I never truly experienced the mom shaming that is so prevalent in today’s culture when I had my kids nearly eleven years ago. After facing infertility for three years, and then experiencing a challenging pregnancy that resulted in twins born five weeks early, most people in my circle rejoiced in the mere fact my babies were healthy. When I had my third daughter sixteen months later, people were more interested in how we survived through a day as opposed to the specifics of my parenting regimen.
This is not the case for new moms today, however. Now, most people highlight the ways in which they choose to parent, wearing it like a badge of honor. To me, sometimes it is like wearing your gang colors on social media. Some moms post pictures of baby wearing and breastfeeding in the hopes to “normalize” these parenting choices; other parents post pictures of their messy houses or children sleeping on top of a laundry machine in a car seat to show others that they are not alone facing the challenges of raising kids.
I believe that everyone who posts these types of commentary do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes it backfires. When it turns into mom shaming, like in the photo above, we all lose.
A funny thing happened the other night when I went out to dinner with a group of moms, all of whom had children in elementary school or older. We talked proudly of our kids’ accomplishments, but also shared some of our fears.
When one mom confided that her son was having difficulty making friends, no one asked if she let him cry-it-out as an infant or if she responded on-demand. Instead, we nodded our heads ,because it was a fear we all shared at one time.
Another mom described how her daughter continues being a picky eater. No one pummeled her with accusations on whether she was bottle or breastfed as each of us had felt frustration with our kids’ eating habits.
When I shared that my nine-year old, once my best sleeper, was now waking up several times a night, not one single mother asked if I co-slept with her or put her in a crib as an infant. In fact, many of the parents went through a similar stage with their children.
I suspect the six of us moms all chose different parenting paths in the beginning. Somehow, despite our different starts, we all ended up in the same place, facing the same problems.
I was a combination of the above photo, breastfeeding and formula feeding all three, and baby-wearing my third, but my first two were always contained in a double stroller when ever we went anywhere. Letting one of my twins cry it out was the best parenting decision I ever made, and co-sleeping would have been a disaster in my house; yet I have friends who loved the experience.
These first decisions we make as moms are important. It sets the tone for the type of parent you will be and gives you an opportunity to provide your child with the best start possible —whatever that may be in your eyes.
But it is also important to remember that these decisions — these personal choices — are all okay.
What I learned that evening, is that as parents we’re all headed to the same destination, but we take different vehicles to get there. And no matter what we drive, we’re all going to face the same parenting pot holes.
I doubt that picture will stop making the rounds on Facebook, and I’m sure there will be a meme retaliation from the rival “gangs”.
For me, I am no longer interested if you bottle or breast feed; carry your infant in a sack made from a tribe in Africa or use the latest in car seat technology; or, if you respond to your child’s every whimper or let them cry it out. I know that any of these decisions can turn out a great kid.
I am interested in those delicious, naked newborn photos that show the most adorable little butt cheeks. I am giddy when seeing chubby thighs and round bellies that only babies can pull off so well. And you will make me ugly cry when I see that first picture of you holding your new son or daughter.
I hope we learn to rejoice again each time a new baby is born into this world, instead of grilling the mom on every parenting decision. Our choices should be viewed just as that — choices — and certainly not used as weapons to shame new mothers.
There is a reason why raising a child is often called a journey, not a race. No matter what you drive, we all need some help in getting there.
I was recently on the soccer fields waiting to pick up my daughters when a mom started chatting with me. She asked who my children were, and after I pointed them out she excitedly told me how great my daughters and the other two girls in the group were doing with the larger group of boys. I then of course asked who her son was and as soon as she pointed him out she began to ramble on about how he wasn’t having a good practice today and they weren’t sure if soccer was his thing and he had a growth spurt recently so he wasn’t as coordinated as the other boys and he wasn’t as fast. I could barely keep up with all the things she was saying, and I got the distinct impression she thought I had been watching how poorly her son was playing on the soccer field (which is a big laugh since I don’t know much about the game!)
What did I see? A cute kid kicking the ball back and forth with other cute little kids. He looked the same as everyone else.
I thought about that mom again when I took two of my three girls on a bike ride to the park. I ran into a mom I had met previously who has an adorable little girl. I smiled as I watched her chase her brother around the playground squealing his name. I turned to my new friend and asked how old she was. This is the answer I got:
“She’s almost three but she has a speech delay so that’s probably why you may think she’s younger. We’re working on it but I know she’s hard to understand and I’m concerned with her going to school soon because other kids don’t understand her and I don’t want them to make fun of her although she’s made so much progress and…..” she went on and on.
I finally interrupted her to let her know that she didn’t need to explain anything to me because first, I couldn’t even tell that her daughter had a speech delay; but second, I got it. In fact, at one time I was her.
It’s funny how sometimes you can change the course of your own history in your head, but one small conversation can jolt your memory back to another time. I feel like my persona today is that I am very open about my parenting style and resolute in advocating in the best interest of my children, particularly when it came to raising my twins and the developmental challenges they both faced, one a little more severe than the other. Despite appearing like typical kids now, we have spent hours with physical, speech and occupational therapists to get them to this point. And although my mantra has always been that sharing my story could help someone else, in the beginning — when my daughters were under three — I did the same thing this sweet mom did. I was all about the preemptive strikes with other parents, assuring them that I was aware my kids were not the same as others.
Like when we went to our first two-year old Mommy and me class and my kids were not talking yet, couldn’t sit still, and spent more time gnawing on the books and blocks then interacting with the other kids. I made sure to let the other moms know that my girls were preemies and still catching up, because of course in my mind, all the other kids were behaving exactly as they should.
Or the time a grandmother stopped me in the grocery store and started chatting with my duo and I quickly told her that they had speech delays — because the fact that they were just staring wide-eyed at her face meant she could tell they didn’t have a vast vocabulary yet.
And the time a mom told me how cute it was that my daughter walked on her toes like a ballerina and I blurted out that I had already tested her for autism. That one was really smooth.
Let’s face it and call a spade a spade. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed and insecure that my kids weren’t like everyone else’s, so I tried to make sure other parents knew that I was aware that my girls were different. Because yes, it was all about me, and although I wasn’t sure if they were judging my kid I certainly didn’t want them to judge me. So not my finest hour, and it is painful to admit this now.
But fortunately I’ve grown a lot since that time, and in fact, I think dealing with my kids’ developmental delays back then really prepared me for when things got more challenging later on with educational issues, team sports or even social interactions. And I recognize it in other parents now — that painful conversation you have with strangers because you are feeling insecure and in some cases, a little embarrassed.
Does this mean we don’t love our kids? Absolutely not. Does this mean we need to get a grip on our own insecurities? Absolutely. But how do we do that?
I had to realize that it is never my kids’ job to make me look good as a parent. It is never my kids’ responsibility to do things on the “typical” developmental schedule. It is not my kids’ duty to be the best at school, at sports, on the playground. The only job my girls have is to become the best people they can be — and my job is to help get them there.
When you let that fear of judgement go — essentially making it not about you — then you can actually start enjoying your child’s activities and their progress, or sometimes even be content at their pure joy in participating in an activity– even when they suck at it.
As the mom of two pretty competitive soccer players, my husband and I have worked hard to tone down our pre-game, during the game, and post-game coaching of our daughters. We took to heart what researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller discovered when they asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great when they played sports:
College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response:
“I love to watch you play.”
This also rings true for those of us who know we are not the parents of a future NFL pro or an Olympic athlete, and especially for those of us whose kids struggle at life just a little bit more than others…for those of us whose children’s achievements come in different forms, such as graduating from therapy, making their one basket in a season or learning a new life skill — even if it takes them a little longer than everyone else.
I love to watch you play. No matter what it is. So powerful and so liberating.
When you know your kid may not be the best on the team, instead of saying that you know he isn’t as athletic as the other kids we should just respond with: “That’s my son, and boy does he love to play!” When you meet someone new at the park with your developmentally challenged daughter and they ask how old she is, your first comment should be: “She’s three and I love to watch her whip around the playground!” And when a sweet grandmother comes up to you at the grocery store and starts talking in your daughters’ faces about how cute they are, the only response should be: “I know. Aren’t they delicious?”
Because our kids don’t need to be explained — and we have to stop worrying that we will be judged, even when judgement might be happening. They need to be celebrated. Every single one of them.
And I’m starting with mine.
We started horseback riding lessons for my daughter to combat a mild case of CP in her lower extremities. Now she is a beautiful rider.
Team Fleming trying to look tough
One of the best things about blogging is meeting other bloggers, particularly when you find one that is as twisted as you are due to similar life experiences. Today my new friend Leigh from Eat Clean, Live Dirty is guest posting about one of my favorite topics: snacks at activities. I encourage you to read her post and visit her site because she is, well, hilarious and informative. I’m only a little guilty of being jealous of her, but we’ll save that for another post. Enjoy, and don’t forget, it’s Friday so time to free yourself of any parenting guilt!
Spring has sprung. The flowers are in bloom. And Little League is in full gear all across this great land. You know, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet.
I can handle games and practices three times a week. I can put a smile on my face while getting soaking wet cheering on my son’s baseball team (I live in Portland, after all). I can even have dinner prepared and on the table at 4:45 in order to make the 5:30 games (most days). Early Bird Special!
What gives me the most angst about baseball season (or any other organized sporting activity in which my kids participate) are the snacks. The gosh. darn. snacks. Apple pie, Little Debbie style.
My four-year-old twins (2 of my 3 Dirties) played basketball for the first time this winter. I was thrilled they were finally old enough to join a sports team after sitting on the sidelines watching their older brother for years. To my surprise, they ho-hummingly participated. And they were WAY more excited about getting a bag of Goldfish crackers and a Capri Sun post-game than making a basket. Snacks were all the talk on the bench and spurred a race to the goody trough post-game. I had obviously failed them as a basketball mom. I write a blog on clean eating, after all.
When did snacks become such a focal point? A calorie trophy? Compensation for merely showing up? A necessary part of the game plan?
It pains me to see how this is playing out on tracks and soccer fields across America. And it creates guilt. Do I sit back and allow my children foods we discourage at home – at (even before) the dinner hour? Foods that are sugar-laden with Red Dye #40. Or do I put my foot down and take a stand for something I whole-heartedly disagree with – and deny my children a bit of happiness while looking like a total ass? After all, it’s not much fun being THAT parent.
Don’t get me wrong, while working on my own Eat Clean agenda I tried to toe the line. I raised my hand to organize snacks for our fall soccer team last year. I sent out an email that was short and sweet (so I thought): “A healthy snack (minimally processed and nut-free) is encouraged. Fresh fruit is always a good option. Drinks are not necessary since kids will have their water bottles. Thank you in advance!”
Um…yeah. It apparently took [soccer] balls and was not well received. I was told I sounded “bitchy” and “like a Snack Nazi.” Of course, people didn’t heed my suggestions. I believe cupcakes with whipped frosting and flavored juice boxes were the all-season low (not only did we have a soccer game, it was the kid’s birthday that week). Of course! Who doesn’t want a large helping of partially hydrogenated oil for dinner left over from a Charles Cheese Extravaganza? And by the end of the season, I totally succumbed to the “norm” and bought a cake at Costco for the year-end celebration. I was fighting a losing battle and a tub of Betty Crocker kicked my butt. Here people, I know how much you LOVE frosting.
In all seriousness, I know parents advocating snacks are well-intentioned. And while I’m pretty sure the Costco sheet cake wasn’t the best choice I’ve ever made, I am choosing to let go of the guilt over post-game snacks. Yes, there are more extreme measures I could take – like contacting the sports associations and requesting that snacks be eliminated all together. But I’m not going to. At least not until my blog goes double platinum (wink, wink).
Why? Because each and every day, I am setting good examples in what I put on the dinner table. I am teaching The Dirties that healthy foods fuel our bodies and make us feel good. I am showing them how colorful and fun fresh fruits and vegetables can be. True learning starts at home. An unhealthy snack two times per week post-game isn’t going to make or break my efforts to bring up my family as healthy as possible. And my kids need autonomy to learn to make good decisions on their own. Having said that, I will continue to provide frozen grapes in eco-friendly bags when it’s my turn to bring snacks. Without a drink. Sure, some Candyland kids might complain like their mom’s iPhone battery just died. But they’ll survive just as they would 30 minutes without Minecraft until they can calmly and happily plug back in.
And if my kids happen to have a tummy ache after eating crap on the ball field, I will chalk it up as a win. So go ahead, eat that Nutty Bar, kiddo – and wash it down with a Dr. Pepper while you’re at it. Because this mom is letting go!
You can read more from Leigh at www.eatcleanlivedirty.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/eatcleanlivedirty.
The other day a friend and I were chatting on the phone when she told me about her daughter going to the prom.
Exciting, right? But then she mentioned how her daughter asked if she could have a “coed sleepover” at the home of one of the boys. Together. All the boys and all the girls. In one house.
Oh, how proms have evolved…
“Back up the bus,” I think I said. Now kids are doing Prom sleepovers?
She explained that the parents said the girls would sleep on one floor and the boys another. It was most likely innocent, but as the parents of this extremely trustworthy, responsible 16 year-old girl, they were not quite ready to say yes. It did not fit the values they were trying to teach her, it did not match up to the rules they had in place, and it just seemed unnecessary. There were better options.
And apparently, they were the only parents saying no.
A similar situation happened at Homecoming earlier in the year, but when they put the kibosh on the sleepover, the other parents buckled and also said no. Unfortunately, this time it looks like her daughter will be the only one not attending the Prom Pajama Party. Ouch.
So, of course now my friend has a little guilt. It’s hard to be the only one to say no when all the other parents say yes. Especially when you have a good kid.
I feel this way a lot too. Not with co-ed sleepovers yet, thankfully. But with a lot of other small things that I find important, such as not drinking soda, limiting what movies I let my daughters watch, no unsupervised YouTube, etc. When I hear other parents — or their kids — talk, sometimes I wonder if I am being too strict, am I too Pollyanna, am I just a stick in the mud parent? Will my kids be mocked because they are the last kids in their grade to watch Pitch Perfect or because I will probably not buy them an iPhone on their 10th birthday?
Now, I’m not here to debate whether coed sleepovers are okay (because I’m guessing they are in certain situations) or what age is right for a cell phone. These are personal parenting decisions. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some guilt when you are the parent that always says no or has more rules than others.
When my kids were younger, it was much easier to say no, and I had zero guilt about it. ZERO. “No you can’t have another cookie,” or “no, you can’t ride your scooter down that gravel hill” is a no-brainer. But before, all I was risking was a potential temper tantrum that could easily be combatted with a big glass of chardonnay.
Now, as my children get older, saying no can have social consequences. It can make them feel alienated. It can alienate me from other parents. It can make me feel guilty.
When I was growing up, I was one of the few in my social circle who had an early curfew (or sometimes a curfew at all.) My mom stayed up until I was in the house and she would check with other parents to see if I was where I said I was. I got grounded if I wasn’t (not that this EVER happened.) She said no. A lot. At her heaviest fighting weight, 101 pounds, she scared the crap out of me. And I don’t think she felt an ounce of guilt.
And I’m the better for it. Having a curfew probably saved me a few times from getting in big trouble or doing something stupid. Saying no when I asked to do something ridiculous like go to a sleepover where she knew the parents were out of town probably was the right decision. Not indulging in my every request — and more importantly — making me pay my own way on such things as car insurance, gas and some social activities, made my transition to college smoother and ensured I understood the value of a dollar.
She had rules, and she wavered when she thought it was appropriate. Although sometimes, like any teenage girl, I thought she just plain sucked, as a mom myself now, I admire the steadfast approach she took. And I think she’s pretty okay with the way I turned out.
Can we ever free ourself of guilt when parenting?
In today’s world, we have to let the guilt go when we say no for a good reason. It might be for a safety, moral, spiritual, financial or just-because-our-gut-says-so reason, but as parents, we have to stick to our guns — to what we feel is important and what will shape our kids into being the people we believe they can be. There’s no reason to feel guilt when you’re acting in the best interest of your children.
A bonus: sometimes all you need is one parent to say no to get every other mom and dad on board with you. And there’s certainly no guilt in doing that.
Free Yourself Friday. Go forth and enjoy.