Finding Ways to Relate to Your Tween

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The ghost of preteens past takes this mom down memory lane in hopes that she can find ways to break the cycle of mother/daughter angst and find understanding through the tween years.

best friends tween years
The wonder years. My daughter (left) and two of her closest friends. Photograph ℅: Evelyn Laws Photography

I remember being their age like it was yesterday.  

I can hear the muffled tunes playing from the AM/FM radio I had strapped to the handlebars of my teal ten-speed bike, otherwise known as Freedom. When a day’s success was solely based on whether or not ice cream was involved. When girlfriends reigned supreme. When dance routines and movie scenes were the big conversations and the only liberating move I had in my arsenal was whether or not I should cut my own bangs. 

Somewhere in there, though, with no sign or warning, things change.

One day, you find yourself standing in your living room screaming at the top of your lungs because your mom is making you return the “buy-1-get-1 free” thong you and your best friend went halfsies on at the mall. Just before slamming the bedroom door in your mother’s face and crying yourself to sleep.  

A pretty confusing morning of slipping apologetic notes under my parents’ bedroom door,
while gently sobbing and despairingly pulling at my freshly butchered bangs would follow.

Now, I’m the mother and there she stands, arm and arm with her best friends, teetering (or more likely, tik-toking) on the precipice of childhood and adolescence.

Where they are clumsily, yet fiercely running out from under the protective wings of their mothers and challenging the world in new ways. Their small little bubble is starting to expand. They’re given new freedoms and a little more space to explore, but not yet fully aware of the physical and mental transformations ahead or the vast abyss of boundaries they will soon be pushing hard to break through.

These are the days of a tween, when life feels like it’s just getting started, and “parents just don’t understand.”

Flashing back to 1995 for a moment, to the scene of little pitiful 11-year-old me sitting outside of my parents’ door…I wonder what my mom was doing and thinking on the other side?  One thing’s for sure, neither one of us had a clue that the next seven years, we would be engaged in somewhat of an agonistic war.

Tragically, we both missed out on some major moments in each other’s lives. Moments that we could have definitely chartered better together had it not been for what felt like some prewritten-in-the-stones, mother/daughter, bogus Freudian destiny that required we be at odds with one another.

Another sad truth, we are still working through some of those battle scars 25 years later.

Now, here I stand and my own daughter will soon be sitting outside of my door, confused and distraught, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity… not only with her, but for us.

Life seems to be moving faster now more than ever before…and exponentially so.

The fact that my ten-year-old daughter knows what contouring is, bothers me to my core. That homemade dance routines of yore have now been replaced with gyrating pop-star tik-tok mashups (that can be shared with the world at a click of a button!)it’s just plain scary!  But, I’m pretty sure it’s all still relative to how many tween parents have felt no matter what decade they were in.

My childhood must have seemed like an alien planet to my parents just as theirs did to their parents and so the cycle continues. It seems as though most of us grow up thinking our parents just simply can’t understand our struggles.  The truth is, they felt their own version of feeling misunderstood and most likely tried their hardest to make up for the mistakes their parents made. Unfortunately, they were still reactive to them, though.

So, what do we do?

How do we break the cycle, flip the wheel, not shatter the moments that feel so fragile and vulnerable?  How can we heal the wounds from the generations of women that have come before us and create new richly bonded and stronger matriarchal traditions that will be handed down through future generations?  

Sorry to report; I can’t offer any guarantees to all of these big questions.  

I can, however, offer up this Questionnaire: “Are you emotionally stable enough to get bangs,” that you can rattle off to your daughters if you happen to catch them lifting a trembling pair of scissors to their foreheads. And also a little virtual support from a mother that’s figuring this all out as she goes. 

I believe for me and my family tree, it starts by seeing each other as human instead of mother vs child and allowing for individual differences. Giving mothers the time to meet their basic needs, so they aren’t resentful towards their children’s wants and needs.  As our children grow up, it’s important that we stop buying into the archaic belief that we aren’t allowed to share certain information and instead be inclusive, open and honest with them, so they can see what that looks like and model being inclusive, open and honest with us.

So, to my children I make this vow:

I will never stop leaning into the challenging spaces of their hearts. I promise to honor innocence and create and uphold boundaries accordingly, to fumble through the painful conversations even if I don’t have the answers. I will always be honest with them and listen, even if I don’t know what to say. I promise to seek to see them and not my version of them and will always remind them of their own unique voice in loving memory of my own palpably awkward pre-adolescent self. 

I’m faced with surprising challenges daily, as all parents are, and I feel completely unprepared for most of them. But then late into a slow evening, when I finally get to curl up with one of my kids, like magic, they begin to open up.  

It’s in those golden moments of innocent vulnerability that my heart skips a beat and I find comfort in the realization that I’ve been preparing for these moments my entire life.

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Kelly was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, and is proud to call Pensacola home. After graduating from FSU in 2006 and spending some time in New York City, she moved back to her beloved hometown, where she met her husband, Harry. They were married in 2008 and welcomed their son Harry (IV) later that year. Shortly after, they moved to Gulf Breeze, where they welcomed their first daughter Claire in 2010 and, after a few years of recuperation, had daughter Celia in 2015. Throughout the years, Kelly has juggled many roles while also being a mom; freelance writer, florist and event designer, restaurant owner, business coach, and philanthropist, but the role that has always been held front and center is being a stay-at-home mom. She is passionate about supporting fellow mothers and creating a safe and welcoming space for women to share, grow, and connect.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Love this, Kelly! Really got my heart! Today I just received my copy of Love Her Well by Kari Kampakis. Similar theme. Brand new. I hope you’ll check it out!

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