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Battling My Moody Tween Became a Daily Struggle — Until I Realized What She Needed Most

Sarah Bregel's tween daughter sits sipping a milkshake with a grumpy expression on her face.
Image Source: Sarah Bregel

My daughter bursts through the door after school and I ask her a simple, straightforward question: “So, what do you want for dinner?”

She shoots me a silent, angry glare before storming around the house, slamming cupboards.

I try and ask what’s bothering her. I pry for information. But there’s no use; it only seems to irritate her more.

And then it happens, just as it always does: Suddenly, she’s not the only one in a bad mood — I am right there with her. She’s only been in the house for a few minutes tops, but already, I want to run and hide from her fiery emotions. The ones that rear their ugly head nearly every single day now. The ones I can’t seem to wrap my head around, no matter what I do.

Later in the evening, it’s more of the same. She’s snapping at me over nothing. She’s ignoring my existence. She’s so rude, it takes everything I have not to scream at the top of my lungs and tell her to go to her room and stay there ’til bedtime.

A few times, I actually have — but it only serves to make her nastier. Even worse, it riddles me with guilt, and leaves me feeling like a horrible parent for losing my temper and raising my voice in the first place, even if she is acting like a pre-teen nightmare.

If you’ve got an 8 to 12-year-old kid at home, otherwise known as a “tween,” then you’re likely all too familiar with this scenario, too. These are the awkward, hormonal years. The transitional period kids spend doing tons of self-reflection and identity-searching. They’re trying to figure out just who and what they are, navigating tricky social situations at school, and coming to terms with their changing bodies.

I remember this time well myself; and logically, I get it. But that doesn’t erase the fact that as a parent, it’s frustrating as hell. Not to mention, my daughter is only 8½, and to be honest, I didn’t think we’d be here so soon.

Nevertheless, here we are — right smack dab in the hormonal, angry mess of tweendom, with plenty of years left to go — and tonight, I completely lose my cool. After hours of rude behavior, I send my daughter straight to her room and then sit fuming on the living room couch, listening to her sob upstairs uncontrollably.

It’s a constant battle between trying to figure out who you were yesterday and who you want to be today.
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Of course, I feel bad. But she’s been so incredibly awful to me lately, that I simply can’t take it anymore. I’ve reached the end of my rapidly fraying rope, and that’s that.

So there I sit, arms crossed and breathing rapid. Until finally, I calm down and come to my senses.

Because in those silent moments spent stewing in anger, I also get to thinking — really thinking — about what’s going on in that head of hers.

Yes, the tween years might be filled with a bit of rudeness that seems to come from nowhere. But the truth is, it’s not exactly without reason (much as it often feels that way to the parent). If I know anything about being a young girl — especially one who’s been thrust into those turbulent tween years all too quickly — it’s that this phase is filled with uncertainty and nagging insecurities. It’s filled with hard days and emotions I’ll never fully understand, even if I was a young girl once myself.

It’s a constant battle between trying to figure out who you were yesterday and who you want to be today. And if I try really hard, I can remember vividly just how overwhelming that self-doubt felt inside. I can also remember how it made me take all those conflicting emotions out on the people I loved the most.

Still, that doesn’t mean I have all the answers or that I’m constantly overflowing with compassion for her rapid mood swings. Believe me, I’m not — especially when I’m being talked to like garbage from 3 PM until bedtime. But tonight at least, I am able to sit still for long enough that I can once again face my angry child with some calmness.

Finally, I make my way into her room and knock on the door. She’s not ready to come downstairs and talk, but I tell her that I’ll be waiting for her when she is.

I give her brother a bath in the meantime, and then suddenly, I hear her feet tromping down the stairs. She’s not angry anymore; she’s just sad. And though she won’t say it, I can tell she’s remorseful.

We sit and talk calmly, and I listen as emotions suddenly pour out of her — ones that I can see even she doesn’t quite understand. And in this moment, I’m filled with empathy.

Bad behavior doesn’t happen for no reason. It happens when we need something from someone.
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She doesn’t know why she acts mean sometimes, she tells me, but that when she does, it only makes her feel worse. She tells me about awkward social situations happening between friends. She tells me about things going on at school I’ve never heard about before. She pours her little heart out, and I just sit there, listening.

While we sit, I rock her and hold her like a little girl, and she lets me.

Sarah Bregel hugs her daughter and son in a close-up shot.
Image Source: Sarah Bregel

I realize now just how much she still needs me — perhaps even more when she’s treating me like absolute dirt. In these moments of anger, she doesn’t need to be scolded or sent to her room; she needs me to be steady. Because the truth is, when you’re a young girl, sometimes everything else in your life feels chaotic and big and scary.

She needs to know that I am here, that I’m not going anywhere, and that she’ll always have me, even when she’s rude or nasty or downright awful.

My daughter might know how to test my emotions (and boy, does she). But I’m also the parent, and it’s my job not to take it personally. That doesn’t mean her words (or lack thereof) won’t hurt my feelings from time to time, but I also hope I can hold onto giving more love when I feel like turning away or exploding with anger.

Bad behavior doesn’t happen for no reason. It happens when we need something from someone. And while I know her needs will change from year to year, right now, I am ever so needed. And I’m not turning away.

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