As a parent to a child about to turn double digits, I'm confused. For example, I still send her to bed the same time as her little brother (because she is a nightmare if she doesn’t get her 10 hours of sleep), but her favorite thing to do is borrow my phone to chime in to a group text message with nothing but cat emojis. She crosses streets by herself, but still sleeps with her baby blankets. In other words, the signs your kid is officially a tween are there, but sometimes they’re hidden by your kid's (read: my kid's) desire to curl up with a bunch of their old board books like a 3-year-old toddler.
My partner and I try to talk to our daughter like how she wants to be treated: as a more mature person who can be trusted. But then she’ll get in a dumb pushing match with her brother and exhibit especially juvenile behavior. I get pleasantly surprised when I catch her using sophisticated vocabulary, and then I have to remind myself, “Oh yeah. She is reading more advanced literature now.” It’s hard because our daughter is on the small side, so she kind of looks like a third grader. But trust me, she’s definitely a tween.
How do I know? Well, as confusing as this particular stage of her life and my parenting may be, there are some obvious signs I just can't ignore. Here are just a few of them:
They Answer You In Eye Rolls
It was a sad day when my tween became self-aware. She suddenly realized how hard she had been working, living this 9-year-old middle class life. So she stopped going to the trouble of formulating sentences, or words, or even grunts. Her sole method of responding to me was with eye rolls and dramatic sighs.
Everything Is The Worst…
She used to spill her goldfish crackers and eat them off the floor, NBD. But now it’s cause for outrage. Her brother looking in her direction at the breakfast table is a major transgression. There is no gray area.
… Or The Best
A new episode of her favorite Disney sitcom doesn’t make her happy, people Oh no, it drives her to ecstasy of gigantic proportions. There is squealing, leaping, clapping, too-hard hugging. I love seeing my kid in a good mood, but this version borders on too good.
You Suddenly Need An Invitation To Enter Their Space
I respect boundaries, but I’m a parent and this is my house. So I will give my daughter the courtesy of a knock on her closed door, but I will not tolerate it being locked. I remember being around middle school age, as my daughter is creeping towards, and wanting so badly to have my own space. I shared a room with my brother and hated it.
Two years ago, we moved to a bigger apartment, specifically so that our kids could have their own rooms. I sympathize with my daughter’s need to be left alone, but I could do without her exclusive admittance process. It sometimes feels like she’s running a speakeasy in our apartment (and I would like a cut of that action, as the landlord).
Their Bestie Is Now Their Mortal Enemy…
My kids luckily didn’t have much issue making friends, and I think a lot of it had to do with being raised in a crowded city, surrounded by children, and attending group daycare. Everyone seemed to be getting along great, until halfway through third grade. All of a sudden, a couple of my daughter’s friends apparently “turned” on her.
I have no way of knowing the intricacies of these relationships, but I could only rely on what my child told me and I did feel for her. She was so sad, missing her friends and wondering what she did wrong. The only thing I could think of, that I knew was true, was that friendships sometimes go through ups and downs. There are cycles. Sometimes you love someone, sometimes they annoy you.
“Be patient,” I told her. “This may change.”
… And Then Their BFF Again
Sure enough, whatever this friend group was going through worked its way out of its system. The bestie was back, and my daughter fell right back into step with her like nothing had transpired. I expect this will happen many times before she is out of her teens.
They Won’t Stop Pleading For A Phone...
My husband and I decided that in seventh grade, my daughter can get a smartphone (which we will be monitoring). That is the year she will have to get to school herself, so it was more a matter of safety than social status. But she thinks she can wear us down by asking for it… daily. She does so very sweetly, offering to do all these extra chores to “earn” it. But it is less a matter of money (though that is part of it) than about the responsibility of managing her digital life. She is turning 10 this year, and she still can’t remember to consistently hang up her wet towel, so what makes me think she has what it takes to not lose her phone or, worse, respond to strangers on the internet while she’s looking up antonyms to her vocabulary words?
… So You Find A Million Selfies On Your Phone
It’s always a surprise, opening up my photos folder and finding a ton of self-portraits of my kid. She is posing so hard, and it’s hilarious to me. But it’s also a little creepy, to scroll through the dozens of selfies she has taken. Why is she obsessed with herself? Who did she learn it from? Should I be worried?
They Are Particular About Their Footwear
I used to buy whatever was on sale that had velcro closures and offered decent ankle support and that was good enough for my kids. But my daughter’s shoe preferences have gotten very specific. They have to be white, but fabric. They have to have laces. They can’t light up or have an ounce of sparkle on them. And she prefers a bit of a heel. I draw the line there.
Everything You Do Embarrasses Them
My kids used to laugh at my puns and goofy voices when I read them stories. Now, they find me mortifying. I vividly remember feeling embarrassed by my own mother when she was just doing regular mom things, like greeting me after school or smoothing my hair. I understand how my almost 10-year-old daughter feels, and since every damn thing I do is going to feel humiliating to her, I really lean into the silliness. I’m the mom, after all, and I need to have fun during this horrible tween phase, too.
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