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MilestonesFor The Mom Whose Child Is Going To Middle School

For The Mom Whose Child Is Going To Middle School

Nothing can prepare you for parenting a middle schooler. One morning, you bid your sweet and compliant child goodbye, sending them off to school as you’ve done for years. Then, that afternoon, they return home and nothing is ever the same. The child who walks back through your door is not the same one who left. This one is moody, snarly, dramatic, and always hungry. 

Middle school, to me, is the closest we’ll get to a zombie apocalypse.

If you don’t believe it’s possible, you are either the parent of a unicorn child, or you aren’t there yet. The moment your child loses their ever-loving mind, you’ll know. I’ve walked, stumbled, and crawled my way through the Middle School Apocalypse three times now, and while all three of my kids were different, the experiences through these middle school years were fairly similar.

What is it about this middle part of childhood that makes it so hard on them—and us? There are a few common culprits, but knowing about them does little to stop the chaos.

Elementary school handholding ends

The onset of the Middle School Apocalypse starts on day one. Gone are the soft embraces and confined spaces of elementary school. The kids no longer need a buddy to walk them to the bathroom or clinic. They’re left to wander halls and shuffle between six or seven classes. They go from a single folder and binder to juggling six or seven.

Your nightly duties of checking homework and signing planners are over, and teachers stay in touch less and less. You now have to pay close attention to schoolwide emails to have any clue about what’s going on. If you depend on your kid to tell you anything during the first year of middle school, you will miss something, like picture day (and your kid will happen to wear a green shirt that day). Don’t count on your kid to tell you anything you need to know about—they lack the brain capacity for it.

Social lives get so complicated in middle school

Social circles expand, contract, collapse, and re-form many times over during this time. Lunchtime acts as ground zero in the Middle School Apocalypse. “Securing” friends to sit with who “aren’t annoying” was my youngest’s strategy, something he likely learned from listening to his older siblings groan and gripe about how awful the lunchroom is. Without a friend group, it can be the loneliest and most stressful 35 minutes of the day. All this will fuel your kid’s emotional subterfuge, which they will then bring home.

In short, getting and keeping friends is really, really important—more important than grades and chores. And you will no longer be the center of their world because that honor goes to their friends. Yes, it is as scary as it sounds.

There’s the influence of chemicals

A fundamental influence embedded within each middle schooler fuels the chaos: hormones. If you haven’t had the pleasure of parenting a child whose body is in the throes of puberty, the flood of hormones drowns out almost every other sense. They lose their hearing. They fixate on the wrong things. They hate their clothes, their rooms, their hair, their families. They are hungry ALL THE TIME but don’t eat or drink too much during the school day because they don’t want to use the bathroom. That’s too embarrassing.

Deep breaths. You’ve got your work cut out for you here. Every kid will go through it at different times, but the common staging area for the hormonal commotion is middle school. It will accelerate the shift from whatever you say is gospel to whatever you say is demonic. They will argue more, cry often, listen less, and cooperate even less than that.

Middle school = season of changes 

Middle school starts a season of transitions. Kids lose their bodies in a sense and their minds in every sense. They want to change their rooms, their clothes, their hair, their activities. They try new things they conquer. They try new things they fail.

Your parenting will be challenged more than you can fathom. Your buttons will get pushed. Your patience stripped away one eye roll at a time. Try to exercise grace and kindness when you can. Set rules, but for your sake and theirs, be willing to bend or modify them. Definitely hold your ground on things that are important. Because even though they don’t show it or act like it, kids from this time on actually need you more than before. It’s just different.

Even amid the chaos Middle School unleashes, there is magic. We get our first glimpses into who and what our kids value. How they handle love, loss, defeat, and triumph. We get a front-row seat to the people they’re becoming.

They will make it through, and you will, too. They’ll come out smarter, taller, and smellier, with deeper voices and a better idea about who they are. You’ll have a little more gray hair, a few new wrinkles, and a lower threshold for middle school shenanigans. Once your teen gets that certificate, you’ll fall to your knees in gratitude that it’s over and you never have to go through it again.

Then, a month or so into summer break, you’ll get that email welcoming your child to high school.

And the next stage of fun begins.

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