There are so many warnings out there to enjoy your children when they are little because the tween years hit and things are never the same again. It’s strongly implied that the years are difficult and the parent-child relationship becomes a constant struggle.
I’m here to say this was not the case for us.
Our daughter is wrapping up her tween years (9-12) and I can honestly say that we have all thoroughly enjoyed the past few years as a family. I easily identified some choices we made that greatly contributed to this. I asked my husband why he thought these years have been so positive and he also made some excellent observations.
So here are the big things we think we did right with our tween daughter. Each one of these could be a lengthy post in and of itself, but I’m going to keep each point brief in order to keep them in one place.
I’m also smart enough to know that we still have a lot of parenting years ahead of us and no one knows what can happen in the future. But to this point of our parenting journey, the following have worked very well for us.
We Parented the Child We Had
We parented the child we had, not the child we thought she should be or we wanted her to be. We have worked hard to be in tune with how God created her and parented accordingly. This has involved lots of prayer and lots of research.
For example, when it became clear that she was struggling in certain areas, we had her tested so we could all better understand her strengths and weaknesses. We’ve adjusted our life for her since very early on and we’ve continued to do this. We firmly believe that it doesn’t matter what any other family is doing with their child. We are the parents of this child. It’s our privilege and responsibility to parent her in the ways she needs us.
Parenting the child we have has impacted our homeschooling choices, curriculum choices, church choices, and so many other things I’ve written about at length on my site. It didn’t matter what we thought we would like to do as parents if it didn’t square with the child we had.
We parent her.
Relationship Was the Most Important Thing
Building strong relationships takes time, energy, focus, and listening. We prioritized these above other aspects of parenting because we believed we could better accomplish things as parents with a strong relationship with our child.
This has meant that while we have always expected and required respect, we did not obsess about authority and being in charge. We thought of our family as a group of relationships, not a power structure. We respected that she had her own agenda and priorities because even a tween can have a strong idea of what is important to her.
Because Caroline was a challenging baby/toddler/preschooler, learning to control our anger and exasperation was very important. Early on we had to remind ourselves daily (and sometimes hourly) that we were making choices not just for the moment of frustration but also for two, five, and eight years down the road. That meant learning to deal with our expectations that could provoke our own anger and exasperation that didn’t need to be expressed because it was not beneficial to building the parent-child relationship.
We carried that attitude on into the tween years.
We Modeled How to Be Wrong
There are some things that can be caught even better than being taught. David and I have modeled how to be wrong so Caroline can see it in action. We’ve never told her how to do this. She simply saw us do it and started doing it herself.
When David is right about something, I say, “You are right. I was wrong.” He does the same thing to me.
We don’t say, “Fine” in anger and then stomp off to sulk. That’s not admitting you’re wrong. That’s just being someone with a bad attitude.
If Caroline is right and we are wrong, we acknowledge it the same way. She is due the same level of respect as an adult who is correct. Truth is truth whether it comes from the mouth of an adult or a ten year old.
If someone presents a better argument and shows us that we are wrong, we say, “Good point.” We’re not afraid to acknowledge that someone else in the house is correct and we’re wrong. It’s part of the ebb and flow of our relationships. It’s what healthy families do.
The bottom line is how could we expect our daughter to acknowledge when she is wrong and we are right if she has no idea what it looks like? We all have the opportunity to be right and wrong in this house. And we respect each other in the process.
We Modeled Failure and Success
We made sure she knew that we understand success and failure are a part of life. We expect to fail. We expect to succeed. We expect her to succeed. We expect her to fail. There is no shame in failure in our home.
Because we’re self-employed and have been for a long time, we’re entrepreneurial so we are constantly teaching ourselves new things. We are always showing her something new we’ve learned along the way.
As an example, she’s watched me recently go through the process of launching my podcast. She saw the work that went into it such as researching equipment. She saw what worked and what didn’t. She heard all of the music tracks I sampled and we joked about the different moods they evoked and what kinds of movie scenes they could be used in. She heard all the ones I rejected and when I found the right one, she knew why. She knew I had to record the first few podcasts multiple times to learn how to get them right. She saw David teach himself and experiment with multiple editing techniques to get the right one for my podcast. She literally heard the failures and successes as we worked for weeks to get it right prior to launching. She knew all the work that went into the successes and failures.
We celebrate loudly when one of us has a major success. We help each other try to figure out how to fix a mistake or learn from it.
There is no fear of failure in our home.
We Emphasized Learning to Negotiate
I’ve written an entire post about the fact that we negotiate with our child and why. I honestly think it’s one of the most important posts on my site even though it has never generated a lot of traffic or comments.
I wrote it when Caroline was nine and a half. I stand by what I wrote and I’m confident this approach was a great help during the tween years.
Caroline has learned how to negotiate a compromise, understands the reasoning behind it, and can approach a situation with a give and take attitude in which both parties think win-win. Can she clearly articulate that? Probably not. But she’s had experience practicing it and has begun to internalize those skills. Our job in the coming years is to help her continue to hone those skills to prepare her for adulthood.
We Let Her Sleep
I cannot emphasize enough how important this was.
Too many parents are worried to almost obsessed with making sure their tween is “responsible” to the point they won’t let their growing child get the sleep she desperately needs.
An observant parent can generally tell the difference between a child who is growing and needs massive amounts of sleep (and food!) and a child who is lazy. If we woke Caroline up at her normal time, gave her another nudge ten minutes later, and she was barely comprehending it, we let her sleep. Sometimes she slept for hours past her normal wake up time. Her body needed rest, especially since most growth happens while children/tweens sleep. (Remember when your toddler would get up and look like a different kid? Yes, children can change that much overnight.)
Allowing her to sleep meant she was rested and could tackle her life without running on fumes just so we could keep up the appearance of being “good parents” who make our child stick to a schedule.
I truly believe she was pretty even keeled emotionally during this season of life in large part because she wasn’t tired all the time.
We Were Strategic with Social Situations
I think this also offered tremendous benefits during the tween years. We were selective about social interactions, including peer activities.
Before someone accuses us of keeping her locked up at home and keeping her from the “real world,” nothing could be farther from the truth. For privacy reasons, I’m not going to list all the things she’s involved with, but she has a number of activities she enjoys and that allow her interaction with people of all ages, including people who would be considered her peers.
However, we controlled peer interaction so it was generally positive. Does that mean we never had any drama or hurt feelings? Of course not. But it does meant that she (and we) wasted almost zero energy on excessive social drama and peer pressure that most kids that age deal with on a daily basis.
We Utilized Humor Frequently
Caroline’s humor developing to more mature levels has been a fantastic part of the tween years.
The truth of the matter is that we laugh as a family if we’re in the room together for sixty seconds. Quips, puns, good-natured teasing, quoting movies or television shows, etc. are all part of our family culture.
We simply have fun and enjoy laughing together. There is plenty of give and take in the humor department in our home. Because we love and trust each other, we can trust each other’s humor as well.
A family that can laugh together at the drop of a hat is a healthy family.
We Adjusted Academic Expectations
I’ve written so much about this part of our journey already on my site that I’m only going to mention it here in brief.
We have emphasized that we are interested in Caroline learning and finding life interesting, not performing. We’ve been low key regarding academics and grades to this point. She has had massive amounts of time to pursue the things that interest her and that she is especially gifted to do as an artistically inclined child.
(For those freaking out about what I just said about academics and grades, here is what happened when we gave her her first standardized test.)
This is one area where my thinking and strategy are very long term. I reviewed a book this week in Homeschooling a Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLD) that showed me I’m correct in my approach in this which has thrilled me no end.
We’ve Shown Her She’s Safe with Us
David made this observation and it really is the summary statement of all of the choices we’ve made.
Our daughter knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that we love her and she’s safe with us. She can trust us to do what is best for her because we’ve demonstrated it time and again. We’ve also explained to her why we make the choices we do so we get buy-in from her. When necessary, we back it up from other sources.
This trust was not automatic and it is something we’ve earned and she’s bestowed on us. We might think that children should automatically trust their parents, but I don’t think this is the case. Trust is something that is earned and re-affirmed over time. It’s not something to take for granted. We continue to make trust and safety a priority so this does not erode in our relationships.
We Have Enjoyed the Tween Years
We truly have enjoyed these years which honestly surprised me because I thought there was something to the fear mongering that is so prevalent. It was hard work to get to the tween years and I anticipate parenting will continue to be hard work. But David and I both feel like we’ve already reaped a harvest for all the sowing, weeding, watering, and such that we’ve done over the years.