The idea of having teenagers has always freaked me out. If I’m being completely honest, it’s the reason that I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids in the first place. The thought of dealing with a tornado of hormones, opinions and eye rolls, coupled with a hefty dose of that delightfully adolescent “I’m always right” attitude, was enough to completely terrify me until my husband talked me off the ledge and convinced me that we could handle it when the time came.
Of course, thank goodness he did, because making the decision to become a mom is the best choice I ever made. But now I’m somehow on the precipice of those teenage years, and let me tell you: Dealing with an 11-year-old tween and an almost-8-year-old who might as well be a tween too is indeed terrifying, though in a totally different way than I’d thought.
For starters, I can’t believe I’m here already. The last 11 years have gone by in the blink of an eye, and it’s concerning in an all-consuming way. Have I taught my son enough of the right things? Have I given him the tools he needs to be a functioning adult? Have we made enough memories as a family? What hang-ups have I inadvertently given him that he’ll tell a therapist someday? Will he like me and still want to spend time with me when he’s an official grown-up?
Oh, I could go on, but I’ll spare you (for now). So, that’s me and the big things I’m stressing about right now. And then there’s my son, the sweetest boy you’ll ever meet. (I’m sure that’s mom bias, but really, he’s great!) He’s always been incredibly kind and empathetic, from the time he was a preschooler, and also super sensitive. I guess that should have clued me in for what the tween years would bring, but you can never fully understand something like that until you’re in the middle of it, can you? I was truly not expecting all the BIG EMOTIONS of age 11. And yes, BIG EMOTIONS deserves all caps every time I write it—or even think it.
Part of it is the way he’s wired (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it), but the other part of it is simply the age. He started middle school last year, and I’m not sure that he or any of the other kids were truly emotionally prepared for it. The fifth grade just seems so young! Friends, fitting in, figuring out all the things, being given the license to be more independent, wanting to push boundaries while still having one foot firmly planted in childhood—it’s a lot, and it’s a lot at that age. The problems feel overwhelming, and truly, some of them have been really challenging.
But … those moments late at night, when we still cuddle up and talk things through after the big emotional outburst, are also wonderful in a way I also hadn’t expected.
It’s not like I forgot how difficult and awkward middle school was, but I didn’t start it till the seventh grade—and hey, I made it through! I’m sure that colors things. Maybe I also thought that my magical mom skills would somehow shield him from all of it. (I know, I know.) Or that he would just let things roll off his back because he’s be confident enough in himself not to care. After all, he is an amazing kid—how could he not see that?
Well, because he’s in the middle of it, of course. And now, so am I. Again.
The other thing I didn’t fully understand is just how emotionally grueling it all is for a parent to go through. Sure, I heard people say that, but I didn’t get it. I feel every one of his hurts, and even though I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel in a way that he can’t, they still keep me up at night and can actually be physically painful. And that’s even before the anger that gets lobbed my way because those BIG EMOTIONS of his have to come out somewhere, and that’s right at me. While I’m glad I’m his safe space and he feels he can let all of that out, it still makes me want to cry, and it does sometimes.
I wish I could hit rewind and go back to those snuggly, sleep-deprived newborn days and crazy toddler days. That’s not to say they weren’t hard—of course they are, and hey, that’s why this site exists—but there was the knowledge that you could soothe your adorable little savage beast eventually and fix almost anything with a well-timed kiss and cuddle. Now, that’s not guaranteed. I want to say it’s all going to be all right, and I do, but I know it’s not that easy. The issues suddenly have a lot more weight, and his actions and decisions will affect more than just this moment.
It’s heavy. And it’s exhausting. And I worry. But … those moments late at night, when we still cuddle up and talk things through after the big emotional outburst, are also wonderful in a way I also hadn’t expected. I have this child who is still my baby but who is almost as big as I am, who is so amazingly articulate and self-aware and fascinating, who wants to talk things through with me—and who, at least for now, still needs his mama.
This messy tangle of big emotions from the both of us is terrifying and it may not be pretty … but it is surprisingly beautiful sometimes.