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IssuesI'm parenting the tween years—and I'm not ready

I’m parenting the tween years—and I’m not ready

I can pinpoint exactly when I realized my daughter was growing up and into a different age bracket, a.k.a., The Tween Years. To celebrate her 11th birthday, we opted for a small Covid-safe “hang out” in the park (I have, at least, progressed as to not call them play dates anymore). I was looking forward to meeting some fellow neighborhood parents, as she had entered middle school in the fall and was making some new friends who lived nearby. To my surprise, everyone arrived solo, without a parent in sight. Perhaps it was living in a pandemic bubble for the last year, or maybe it’s simply my reluctance in recognizing children her age are becoming more independent, but that birthday play date, excuse me, “hang out”, really hit me hard. It’s here: I’m parenting during the tween tears. 

I know that parent-free outings, a cell phone and social media are barreling my way faster than I can stop them, and I am plagued with the uncertainty that comes with all of these changes.

Every stage of parenting has its challenging moments. But right now, I’d give almost anything for a sleepless night of teething issues or messy, sand-filled shoes at the playground.

We live in New York City, and I’ve seen middle school kids (the aforementioned tweens) taking the subway to school on their own for decades. I used to think this was pretty remarkable, until I considered the fact that one day it would be my kid doing the same thing. Living in an urban environment, I’ve been forced to tackle difficult subjects earlier than I would have liked (imagine explaining homelessness to a toddler). She attended a progressive elementary school that explored various social justice issues along with math and reading, and I’m grateful for that. I’m proud to be raising a child who’s a mature, independent thinker, and a pretty cool one at that.

One thing’s for sure, independence is coming whether I like it or not.

And yet at the same time, I’m scared to death to unleash her onto the world, even if it’s just to the park with friends, because I know what the real world can be like. How do we keep our children innocent, but not naïve? How do we keep them safe when they’re out of our grasp?

One thing’s for sure, independence is coming whether I like it or not. Puberty has already arrived, and with a changing body, there have been many more questions, all of which I am happy to answer. After a year of remote learning, she will be headed to school in the fall, most likely taking the subway with all the other middle school kids. I will begrudgingly buy the cell phone to keep that line of communication between us when she’s not at home, and I will join TikTok if it means keeping up with what “the kids” are up to (and yes I am aware of just how old I sound).

I suppose it will be like ripping the band-aid of childhood off in a way, though I never expected it would happen so fast.

Can you mourn the loss of your little girl, but be excited at the interesting young person she’s becoming? I don’t have any answers, but I do know that I must learn to trust both her and myself. Trust that I am raising a child who can make smart decisions, and trust that the world she’s about to begin experiencing on her own won’t disappoint her. And when it inevitably does, that she’s resilient enough to dust herself off and keep moving forward.

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