Moving up to Middle School (As a Parent)

My daughter began middle school this fall. Things have changed around here. The whole family now gets up before dawn, when the sky is so dark that even the possibility of a sunrise seems remote. D has always preferred staying up, and sleeping in, as late as possible, so the adjustment has been difficult. She tends to be in her deepest sleep phase when the alarm sounds, and continues to sound, unheard and unheeded. The intervention of a parent is required to get her moving. Because she can talk coherently and convincingly from the abyss of sleep, any mere verbal claim of being awake must be ignored; some physical proof is needed. It’s best not to leave the room until seeing her open her eyes or begin to transition from the horizontal to vertical.

 

After completing my duties as wake-up enforcer, my willingness to make breakfast and lunch is still expected. Reminders to bring permission slips, homework projects, violin, etc., continue to be appreciated. The revised parenting rules for middle school apply as soon as D steps out the back door.

The first rule is very specific: No parents at the bus stop. Unless, of course, it’s raining hard and the shelter of a car is valued. For seven years, I accompanied my elementary-school child to the bus stop. For the last four, Kiko came along; he loved to smell the children and their lunches, maybe meet another dog. The elementary bus stop offered a quick social opportunity for parents too busy to get together any other time. I’m fine with not going to the bus stop, now that no other parents are there. Kiko, however, is not. He wants desperately to be in the center of that cluster of kids, and if he can’t, he wants to watch as the bus leaves. If I try to pull him in the opposite direction, he balks and performs his dead-stop move. When the bus passes us, he’s ready to get going, but I can tell that his feelings are hurt.

The second rule is more general, and may be summed up simply in two words: step back. Parents are not to hover, meddle, or fight a child’s battles.  Physically, I’m content to step back.  I’m relieved not to be volunteering at school in some aspect once a week or more. I’m glad to let D email or speak with her teachers to resolve homework difficulties. I don’t want to be the mother who tries to be one of the kids, who pals around with the gang and discusses tween gossip. And it’s gratifying to see my daughter developing a sense of responsibility and maturity.

What I find difficult, however, is distancing myself emotionally. Watching D undergo disappointment or rejection really is more painful than experiencing it myself. I had often heard parents say this, but until I became a mother I doubted its truth. In some cases, my own past sufferings have led to a sense of perspective, and even, once in a while, to a degree of wisdom that allows me to help my daughter cope. But other times, when her hurt is intense, I get the sensation of a scab being ripped from a wound. Various forgotten disappointments in my life come roaring back. I feel my old pain and her young, new, fresh pain, all at once. And then I get angry. I want to stomp around and yell. I’ve learned not to throw or hit things, because the revenge of inanimate objects is sure and swift. My display of anger, I’ve learned, only makes D feel worse.

This school year, I will try to remember that I can’t protect my daughter from all life’s difficulties. I will remind myself, over and over, that a certain amount of frustration and failure is a requirement for growth. I will recall that we didn’t bundle her in bubble wrap while she was learning to walk (although we wished we could have). I will tell myself repeatedly that she won’t learn to deal with and heal from disappointment if I try to bubble-wrap her emotionally.

It doesn’t seem like seven years ago that my husband and I watched the Kindergarten bus pull away with our daughter on board for the first time. We saw her little blonde head peering out from the window, and both of us were overcome. We hurried toward home, fighting back tears. That was in the days when we couldn’t be too involved or protective. We had asked a reliable neighborhood boy, a safety patrol, to see that D got to her classroom. For an extra measure of reassurance, H followed the bus to school in his car. He watched from a distance while D waited beside the patrol as the other children exited, and he saw the two of them walk into the school. He called me to report that all was well. This is the kind of parenting I really understand. I was starting to get the hang of it just as it fades into obsolescence.

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