When they Start to Fly

You’ve heard the old adage a hundred and one times: Enjoy it while it lasts!

It’s true – time flies. But we never know what only time can teach us. Day after day, year after year, our kids turn into grown people. At some point, they’ll stop holding our hands, they’ll be too heavy to hold, they won’t want us to wave them off to school, and one day, they’ll even slam their bedroom door in your face.

The early years of motherhood were not easy for me. Solo-parenting two kids while working full-time is no walk in the park. I’ll forever be indebted to my parents for picking up much of the slack and meeting me halfway for every worry, fear and anxiety. These days, I take many deep breaths and sighs of relief that my kids have grown to the point where I don’t feel like I’m in the thick of parenting (even though I’m still very much in the thick of it). It just looks and feels much different now.

Growing their wings

When they’re crawling and drooling on the floor, it’s hard to imagine what life will look when they’re pre-teens – tucking themselves into bed (though I always go in for a little snuggle), making themselves breakfast, walking solo to the grocery store, or getting them their own house key. The pre-teen years are fascinating, liberating and, if I’m telling the truth, a little sad (cue the feeling of losing them while they grow their wings to fly). It’s both exhilarating and heart-wrenching to watch them grow into young adults. These small people who were once tiny humans no longer depend on you for their every need.

It’s a time of rapid physical, emotional and social development that can leave both the child and parent wondering what the hell is going on and constantly thinking that you must be doing something wrong (but simultaneously thinking that you’re getting it all right because they are turning out ok – just with a bit more pizazz than you were hoping for). Needless to say, parenting a pre-teen is a whirlwind. It requires patience, understanding and a willingness to adapt to the changing needs of our children (sometimes by the minute). Instead of diffusing tantrums and picky eating, you’re helping them navigate peer relationships, academic pressures and hormonal changes. You’re diffusing bad attitudes while holding on to empathetic ones. You’re hosting sleepovers, feeding kids (read: boys) that eat like a football team, and giving them just enough freedom so that they can relish a new-found independence and feel trusted – like bike rides, walks to the bakery and going for a run.

It’s not easy to let them go. It’s not easy to handle their strong opinions and attitudes. It’s not easy when they’d rather go to a friend’s house after school than come home to eat dinner. It feels like magic when they hug you or ask you to lie down next to them in bed so that you can talk. It’s a delicate balance between holding on tight and letting go.

They want freedom to explore the world on their own terms. We want to protect them from harm and shield them from disappointment. Deep down, you know it’s imperative that they gain the confidence and skills to spread their wings and discover who and what they want to be. Pre-teens are discovering their own identities and beliefs, and they’re not afraid to challenge authority (read: mom) or push boundaries in the process. As parents, we’re grappling with conflicting emotions of pride and frustration.

Tips to navigate the pre-teen years

While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve learned a thing or two on how to nurture and navigate raising pre-teens. Here are few tips to navigate this challenging and extraordinary phase of parenting:

  1. Foster open communication: Pre-teens will seek more independence and begin to assert their own opinions and preferences. It's important to create a safe and supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their thoughts and feelings. Encourage open communication by actively listening to your child, asking open-ended questions, and being non-judgmental in your responses. 
  1. Set clear boundaries: While pre-teens crave independence, they still need structure and guidance. Set clear and consistent boundaries around screen time, bed time, homework and chores. Be firm without scolding, and be prepared to negotiate and comprise when necessary – it’s important for them to feel they also have a voice. 
  1. Be a positive role model: We all know that children learn from example. Model the behaviours you want to see in them. How we deal with stress is how they will learn to deal with stress. How we treat others is how they will learn to treat others. Tread each situation gently and with intention – they will follow your lead. 
  1. Encourage independence: While pre-teens still need structure and guidance, they crave independence and autonomy. It’s important to give them age-appropriate responsibilities and let them make decisions for themselves. Start small, like allowing your pre-teen to ride their bike in the neighbourhood – set a geographic boundary with a time limit and off they’ll go, relishing in their freedom and gaining trust. It’s ok if they make a mistake – they’ll learn to take ownership of their actions so that they can learn, grow and do better next time. 
  1. Nurture their interests: Whether its sports, music, arts or academics – support your child’s interests to help them cultivate their talents and skills. It gives them something to look forward to and builds their confidence as they improve their skills. 
  1. Be patient and understanding: The pre-teen years are challenging for both parents and children. Both parties are learning and adapting to new ways of living, new-found freedoms and emotional changes that come with it. While you’ll sometimes feel like you need all the support you can get during these years, be sure to stay steady for your child – despite their new independence and wings, they still need you. Offer support and encouragement during this transitional phase and remind them that you’ll always be there for them (even if they slam their bedroom door in your face).

While the pre-teen years are met with a whirlwind of emotions – from exhilaration to heartache, pride to frustration – there’s magic in the moments of connection and growth. So, embrace the delicate balance, trust the resilience of your children (and yourself), and watch them fly.

As difficult as it may be to let them grow and go, they’ve got this, and so do you.