And then she turned 11, and nothing was ever the same.
This year, my oldest daughter Sara* celebrated her 11th birthday, and what a difference a year makes! So many changes in such little time, and in every way one could imagine. Sara doesn’t only look different than she did a year ago (read: taller), but she also acts, reacts, and thinks differently as well. Over the past year, I’ve often wondered where my little girl has gone, and who this young lady in her place even is!
Parenting “Sara the adolescent” has indeed had its challenges, though overall, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive to date, as well as an incredible learning experience for both of us. As I navigated the complex, unfamiliar waters of pre-teen parenting this year, one truth has stood out above all others: As my daughter evolves and grows, my parenting must do the same. I truly believe this notion is paramount in order for a mother-daughter relationship to remain strong.
So, how did my parenting change? In at least five ways I can think of. While many of these changes appear small, don’t be fooled; the overall effect has been tremendously beneficial to us both. What may seem to be one small step for Mom, has felt like one giant leap to my daughter, and in turn, to our relationship.
1 | Every request deserves consideration
Recently, Sara expressed an interest in staying home alone while I went to the dentist, which she has done in the past many times. However this time, there was a twist to her request: She wanted to babysit her three-year-old sister Summer* as well.
My first instinct was to say, "No way." Summer is a high-energy, not-yet-potty trained, at-times-defiant preschooler. Out of respect for Sara, however, I decided to feign consideration of the idea, though I was sure my answer would be no. In discussing all that’s involved in babysitting Summer, Sara repeatedly assured me that yes, she could change a poop diaper if she had to, no, she wouldn’t attempt to cook, and yes, she could 100 percent handle this. Due to her persistence and enthusiasm, I found myself seriously considering this. After laying out specific rules, setting check-in times via text, and giving Summer a “listen to your sister” pep talk, I was as astonished as Sara was when I agreed to let her do this. And to my delight, she (and her sister) did great! All because I took a moment to consider Sara’s request, instead of immediately waving it off with a “no.”
2 | Every frustration isn’t always my concern
With my three-year-old, every bump, bruise, and disappointment requires immediate, absolute attention from me. And I get it: Emotion control and secure attachments to parents are still developing at Summer’s age, thus when Summer cries because her Frozen bathing suit is in the washing machine, I will hold her until she’s okay.
However, by age 11, in certain situations, its time to learn how to deal.
The night that Sara lost both her favorite headband and the book she was reading, coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t dye her hair at 9 p.m., led to my daughter’s eyes filling with tears as she collapsed on my bed in a heap.
Oh, the drama!
Considering the fact that she spent the whole day watching television, and the issues popped up a half-hour before bedtime – let’s just say that my sympathy meter wasn’t exactly on high. Though I wasn’t going to play into her drama, I didn’t want to make her feel worse, either. So I used humor to diffuse the situation.
With a sincere smile, I took a moment to both introduce and explain the phrase "first world problems" to my daughter. After a few moments of silence and thought, Sara began to laugh, as did I, and with a giggly hug all was again right in her world, and she found the missing items less than 10 minutes later.
3 | Mother knows best most of – but not all of – the time
As much as I dislike admitting it, there have been times where I’ve argued with Sara, and to my astonishment, I found myself actually in the wrong. Though it has always been extremely difficult for me to admit when I’m wrong, I make sure to do it every time it happens with my daughter. Why? Its simple: My daughter deserves to know.
Winning a (polite and respectfully argued) disagreement has been incredibly empowering to Sara, as well as a teachable moment where I choose to lead by example. By admitting I am wrong and she is right, I am also attempting to teach Sara to do the same. Has it worked? A little. She has begrudgingly conceded a few times, though I’d still label our current status as a “work in progress.”
4 | My gut sets the rules – not the crowd
With young children, parents often look to their peers to ensure what their doing is "right." Heck, I still do that now, with my three-year-old. However, by age 11, while I may still survey my peers, I’m less inclined to simply "do what they do."
Pre-teen issues are complex, often with more than one possible "solution," and with stakes that can be tremendously high. For example, my 11-year-old is not allowed on social media. Most kids her age currently are, a fact that Sara has informed me of numerous times. However, I don't feel she's ready to handle social media at 11 years old.
Now I could go along with what everyone else seems to allow and let her have an Instagram, which I’m sure would make her very happy. However, my gut tells me no – the possible consequences are not worth the risk in my mind. Thus when I hear the phrase "everybody else does it," my response is sorry babe, but I truly do not care.
5 | I’m her mom, not her friend – but sometimes I can be her buddy
My kid has lots of friends, but she only has one mother, and she doesn’t need me to be just another friend. However, just because I’m Sara’s mom doesn’t mean I can’t sometimes be her buddy too! Scheduling mother-daughter time has always been important to both of us, especially since her little sister came along. And at age 11 our mother-daughter time often consists of activities that interest both of us, instead of activities that just Sara likes.
We’ve attended rock concerts and Broadway shows, we’ve had in-depth book discussions on novels we’ve both read, and we’ve watched movies together that we both have wanted to see. It’s truly twice as much fun as before, as now I enjoy not only the company, but also the activity we do as well. Sharing my interests and passions with Sara this year has been an absolute blast for us both.
My daughter’s journey through the pre-teen and teen years has only just begun, and I am well aware that the future is uncertain. Can I predict all the possible challenges I will face in the coming years ahead? No! Right now, all I can do is to try my best to evolve as a parent while she grows, striving to give her the best balance of guidance and autonomy I can.
How am I doing? So far, I think I’m doing pretty well.
*Names have been changed