You ever traveled? I’m not talking hit the beach or visit the lake. I’m talking traveled. Have you ever packed your bags, jumped on a plane, and gone somewhere completely foreign to you?
Take yourself somewhere.
Lets try out Paris. I’ve always wanted to go. Well, kinda. In my mind, France has always had this duality of wicked awesome and utterly pretentious. Like I can sip coffee on the sidewalk of a two hundred year old cafe, but I’ll have to put up with the angry Parisian chain smoker next to me, blowing intentionally in my face and uttering french expletives because every fiber of my being screams “MURICA!”.
Picture it. You step off the plane and are greeted by signs you can’t read. You exchange your dollars for euros, which are entirely too colorful to be real, and step out in the street. Everyone walks like they know where they’re going, except you. You stop in the middle of the street to get your bearings and create a roadblock that leads to lots of bumps, sideways glances, and not so quiet mutters. You realize for the first time just how out of place you are and note just how alone you feel. You line up for a cab and finally one arrives. You step up to get in and are elbowed by a dozen other people wanting the same seat. Having no way to protest, you just step aside bewildered. After an extended time of holding your heavy luggage, having your toes trampled, and a close call with a street sweeper, you get a ride. You clamber in the backseat and try to tell the driver where you want to go. After more dirty looks and breathy mutterings, you’re finally on the same page. You’re watching dreamily out the window, passing shops, cafes, monuments and for a moment, you’re euphoric; a brave traveler in a whole new world – until you start getting further and further from town. You thought you booked a hotel in the heart of the city, only to find you’ve got your own room at Le’ Craphole hotel, tucked behind an alley with flashing neon lights and loitering drunks. You somehow manage to get your key, after more than a little struggle. You make it to your room, go to charge your phone, and realize the plug doesn’t fit. You mutter your own expletives, all in English, and decide you need a bite to eat. The first thing you pass is a small bakery. What’s more French than a croissant? You go in, order your food, and sit at a small table in the center of the room. You look to your left and your heart stops. You’ve spotted the most attractive frenchy France has ever seen. Your eyes meet before you can look away. You want to chat, but you’re so dumbfounded and nervous, you just spend the rest of the wait staring at your lap. You’re finally freed from your navel gazing by an angry little frenchwoman who brings you something totally not what you ordered. Now you’re arguing with the shopkeeper, who keeps throwing sharp little french words over your shoulder to the ever growing crowd around you, explaining to them that the stupid American doesn’t know what he’s doing… at least you think. Once again, you’re alone, confused, embarrassed, the focus of undesired attention, and agitating the masses.
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Now think back to middle school and tell me the difference.
Through childhood, we parent a child to function in the world we create for them. We tell them our rules, we give them our best practices, we teach them our language, we begin their basic education, and we allow them to practice them all in the safety of our little circles and under our watchful eyes. We try to build their skills and their confidence and tell them they’re doing a good job if they can navigate our world.
Then middle school hits. They’re no longer in the world we created for them. And they’re told that if they want to survive this new world, they’ll need new rules, new best practices, even a whole new language.
But they’re starting to look grown. They can hold a conversation with us. They’re becoming much more physically able. And so we start treating them like adults, completely ignoring the fact they they’re essentially babies, learning to navigate all over again.
And God love them, they try. They try to find where they fit and where they thrive. They try to learn what they think and what they believe. They even try to make an impact and a name for themselves. Sadly, it usually goes something like this…
Is that not the epitome of life in middle school?
My point in all this babble is this: you did a great job helping your kid navigate your world. But your preteen is no longer in your world. You need to have the same patience, compassion, and composure leading them now as you did way back then. And regardless what they say and how they act, they want your help. You were so gentle and encouraging when your little baby was learning to walk – wobbling through your living room with shaky legs and wide eyes. You were always there with a kind word and a kiss to heal the boo-boo’s. Keep it up. Because they’re not just another year older. They’re not just one grade higher. They’re learning to walk all over again. And they still very much need you. Don’t give up on you. Don’t give up on them. Your love, grace, discipline, and persistence brought them this far. Keep it up and it will take them further than you can imagine.