Being There for my Tween

I recently had a life wake-up call. It wasn’t an accident, health crisis or anything else of that magnitude. In fact, nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened at all.  My wake-up call was simply this:  It occurred to me that my eldest child is now ten.  And, with that, came the realization that over half of my official parenting is over.  Done.  For better or for worse, irreversible. And that gave me pause.

My husband feels I’m being melodramatic. He reminds me that, nowadays, kids live at home seeking homemade meals and a shoulder to cry on well into their twenties. Nevertheless, there is something about that first double-digit birthday that can cause parents to sit up and take notice, and to reevaluate how they have been doing things.    

Years ago I left a demanding job and profession, in part to spend more time with my young kids.  Although I have been present in body much of the time since then, I feel as though my head has not always been in the same room as my body. I recall many instances of walking my kids home from school on a beautiful sunny day, when my mind was on the to-do list, the family disagreement of the night before, my new career plans and my assorted worries of the week. I was, in fact, everywhere except that very road I was walking on with those very kids I aimed to be with.  

I came into my daughter’s bedroom the other night to turn off lights, and paused for a moment to watch her sleep.  There is something about the reprieve from the daytime fussing, fighting and commotion that allows parents the opportunity to see the big picture, the parenting forest so to speak.  As I stood, I pondered what she most needs from me, as her kid years fall behind her and she enters her tweens and teens.

The answer that came to me was simple: She needs me to be with her. She doesn’t need me to fix her, to change her, to fuss about this or that or to battle over whose views should prevail.  She doesn’t even need me to be supermom; in fact, that is what she least needs from me. She simply needs me to be there for her in heart and in mind; to be fully present, open and accepting, to love and enjoy her for everything she is, each moment that I can.    

We have a new family pastime of recent:  Sitting in the living room.  We live in one of the most active communities in our country; at any given moment, local families are to be found hiking, kayaking, biking and pursuing other outdoor adventures. It is all good, and I feel very blessed to live in an area where we can enjoy the beautiful natural world around us.  At the same time, the best times I have had with my family in recent years – perhaps the best times of my life, actually – have been those times when we are sitting together, simply enjoying each other, doing absolutely nothing.  To me, being with is the precious part; I don't need doing with.  

The irony of all this is, of course, that these new profound realizations are coming at the same time as the shift.  You know, the grade 5 shift.  Lately, when we walk to and from school, my ten year old wants to walk ahead of us, and takes her younger sister with her.  And so now I walk only one child to and from school, instead of three.

An 80 year old man lives on our school route. He is often sitting on his walker out front of his home, saying hello to families as they walk by on their way to school.  I wasn’t in a rush on my way home the other day, and so I stopped to chat. He told me how he has had a stroke in recent years, and how he can no longer do the things he enjoys.  I asked if he has kids.  He said he has two grown sons, and a couple of grandkids.  I asked if he gets to see them. He replied, “Oh you know, they’re busy.”

As I continued on home that day, I couldn’t get the ‘70s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” out of my head. The one that goes:

My son turned ten just the other day,
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play,
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do," he said, "That's ok.”
 

As the song progresses and ends, the tables have turned:  The son has grown up and moved away, and is too busy and preoccupied to spend time with his dad. 

I think that was the day I had my wake up call.  Since that time I have come to know something I always knew in my head, but didn’t necessarily always feel: Life is beautiful.  Even when the to-do lists are a million miles long, and a million-and-a-half miles long the next week, and the kids are fighting and the kitchen is a nightmare and the house is a zoo and the mortgage is too big and mom’s dementia is so bad she doesn’t remember who you are and the van is full of screeching, recorder-playing kids and you feel like smashing the recorder on the window because your headache is big… even then, life is beautiful.  If you let it in. 

Yesterday my 10 year old asked me if I would sit with her while she showed me the rules of soccer on her new sports whiteboard.  I glanced to the left at the messy kitchen, to the right at my flashing phone, and in front of me into her eyes.  I settled into the couch and replied, “I’d absolutely love to sweetie, right now.” 

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For strategies and information about engaging and connecting with tweens and teens, check out these articles and learning resources by the Vancouver School Board's School Age Children and Youth - Substance Use Prevention Initiative (SACY) at Heart-Mind Online:

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Melody Schalm is the principal of Kind Kids (www.kindkids.org).  She teaches kindness, mindfulness and related social and emotional learning to kids in school and after-school programs in greater Vancouver, and provides related adult workshops.  She is the parent of three elementary school-aged kids, who teach her as much about being mindful and living life to the full as she teaches them.

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