One spring-like evening a few weeks ago, I headed to the local middle school to catch the parent orientation meeting. As I sat on the bleachers in the auditorium among many a familiar face, I realized what a difference there was between those parents attending as "virgins" and those who had obviously been down the path once or twice before.
Or was there?
A difference, I mean.
There were the moms and dads (with the very best of intentions) highly concerned about making sure their offspring be placed in the proper Pre-AP curriculum, those who worry about what insanity the drop-off line will hold for them each morning, and those whose anxiety compels them to help their son or daughter come up with an organized plan to meet their buddies in the lunchroom so they aren't completely panicked while swimming among hundreds of other sixth graders with food trays.
But... did I just describe a "newbie" middle school parent, or a seasoned veteran?
I cannot speak for anyone else, but this mom (who has already travelled through the "kids in the middle come first" jungle THREE times), is more concerned about my fourth son's entry into the next phase of his social and academic journey than I was about sending my eldest son Nick.
(With Nick I was totally green, and without knowledge I just rolled with the punches. Besides, I had several smaller children constantly biting at my ankles and was very easily distracted. However, as I am sure you understand if you have more than one of your own, each child is a different story. For example, where Nick was pretty chatty in middle school, Maddux is already an extremely quiet entity).
That being said, I admit I am not the least bit concerned about what level Maddux is placed in, or chooses to be in academically...
Me: "Maddux, there is a sheet the folder about Pre-AP stuff, what do you think?"
Maddux: "I only want to do the science Mom."
Me: "Alrighty, sounds good to me."
Nor am I concerned about what will happen in the drop off line (my last stint at the middle school brought me face to face one day with not one, but TWO kids barfing outside of the school building! This was right after I'd eaten my morning Chobani Greek yogurt...so, I am pretty sure I can handle whatever the line throws at me this time around).
Although I am mildly nervous Maddux will freak out in the lunch room the first few days, I am choosing to have enough confidence he'll be able to navigate the sea of sixth graders well enough to find the few friends he'll want to sit with. If not I know he'll figure it out quickly. Or he'll make new lunch buddies, or he'll eat alone...
My biggest worry lies in making sure MY eyes continue to stay wide open to the challenges all middle schoolers face. Namely, his feeling accepted into the community, his feeling "good enough" (without being arrogant), and our ability to instill in him the confidence he is able to make his way through, with pride, the middle to the high (school, that is, of course).
Just because I've been down this path thrice before does not mean I can take it any less seriously. If anything, working in the field with teens who have drug and alcohol issues and knowing full well these things often START in the middle school years, makes me want to pay even closer attention to my parenting and to our family life.
Kids today battle different, sometimes more challenging, demons than we did in junior high (show of hands as to how many of you would love to relive that period in life....NOT). Social media, academic pressure (internal and external), keeping up with technology, the insane sports and extracurricular schedules, not to mention body changes (or the lack of them) all point to the fact that while they are growing up and becoming more independent, it is a critical time for moms and dads to be engaged.
I know Tom and I are the best line of defense Maddux has in helping him succeed at this transition in his life. So, we are taking it seriously and investing time and energy with one another and with some other couples to study the differences in parenting adolescents in today's culture. One thing I know for sure is this...we cannot parent our kids the way we were parented. It does not work. If you desire to have a solid relationship with your teenager it is built around a mutually respectful relationship and open communication.
As we head into the middle school waters this fall, we will be as prepared as we can be by having conversed with some other parents and acknowledged the challenges all of us face (whether we want to admit to it or not) around raising kids in our confusing, complex world. I can't think of a better way to help our middle schooler get off on the right foot.
What are the parenting challenges you face with your adolescent? Could you benefit from talking about them with some like-minded parents in your community? Would love your thoughts on this, email me at email@example.com!