I’ll never forget that fall day two years ago, right after my oldest turned 12 — I was trying to talk to him about why he didn’t want to try out for basketball that year. He seemed so angry when I said, “But you’ve played every year. I really think you should this year, too, Addison.”
I was expecting him to say something like, “I just don’t want to play anymore, Mom,” but instead, he stormed out of the house as I stood there in disbelief. I’d never seen him act like that before.
This was not my child. This was not the sweet boy who used to get so excited over things like homemade chocolate chip cookies, lighting a bonfire as a family, and ordering pizza for dinner.
He’ll come back and close it. He will feel awful about how he is acting. He will apologize.
Only he didn’t do any of those things. I chalked it up to him having a bad day. But as the weeks went by and his mood swings continued, I thought maybe it was just a stage and surely he’d come out of it soon.
But the weeks turned into months, and it became very clear that my sweet boy was going into hiding for a while.
His sweet innocence had been hijacked by a moody, tense boy who didn’t want to talk about his day at school or participate in some of the activities he used to love.
He stopped hugging me and would pull away if I reached out for him. The backtalk started, and then the eyerolls followed. He started retreating to his room and needed more privacy. He was much quieter about things that were going on in his life. He wasn’t like this all the time, but it was a side I’d never seen before, and honestly, this new attitude was frustrating the hell out of me.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if maybe I’ve done something wrong. Am I missing a message he is trying to convey? Are my expectations too high? Am I doing enough for him? Am I doing too much?
I’ve read books about teens and tweens, and I’ve talked to other mothers who have kids older than mine. And it seems to me that most tweens — once they hit 7th grade or so — start to change. Their brains are different. They will feel, think, and treat you differently than they did before. Normal? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
About a month after my daughter turned 12, she changed, too. Her friends became her top priority. She was so emotional any time I questioned any of her decisions about what she wanted to wear, who she wanted to hang out with, or if she could have tried harder on a test. I literally couldn’t keep up with her mood swings. I never knew if I was going to be met with a cheery girl, or someone who murmured to me under her breath.
Her new attitude seems to mimic her brother’s a little too closely. And even though it’s the second time around, and many people have told me it’s the way tweens and teens act, I’ve still questioned myself and my parenting. I still feel like I can somehow take away their angst.
Then, I remember the year I went through puberty and everything changed for me. I was definitely moody and thought my parents were super uncool and embarrassing. There was nothing they could have done to pull me out of my puddle of hormonal soup. I needed to be alone in my room. I needed to be with my friends. I would try to pull myself out of my bad moods, but it felt impossible some days. And when I got criticized for it, as dramatic as this sounds, I literally felt like the world was against me.
It’s difficult, but I am trying to remember that my kids are confused about their changing bodies and brains, too. Trying to find balance between giving them their space and staying involved in their lives is exhausting. Letting them know they are loved while still having certain expectations about how they treat other people in the family makes me want to tear my hair out.
The year that everything changed for my kids has made me realize how mentally exhausting raising teenagers is going to be. And I have one more to go — right now, he is 11. He still loves me very much, he hasn’t rolled his eyes at me yet, and he never spends time in his room. But I know it’s coming. Please send wine.