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Are the Preteen Years More Painful for Kids or Parents

Do you ever look back at pictures from your preteen years and cringe? My own awkwardness is well documented in family photos.

By the seventh grade, I was living in my adult body. At 5’11”, I towered over most of my peers, especially the boys, and my figure had taken on the form of a young woman’s. I looked like an adult, but I certainly didn’t feel like one.

Naturally, I was self-conscious of my height and assumed slouching was the answer. I spent years in men’s Levi’s as I struggled to find women’s clothing made for someone with my build, and that just made me feel incredibly unfeminine. I was pretty sure I could compensate by tweezing my eyebrows and wearing eye shadow and finding that perfect shade of lip gloss. But these things eluded me until I mastered makeup in college.

During those preteen years, I wanted to fade into the background. It was better to go unnoticed than be ridiculed for the slightest uniqueness, after all. It was such a rocky period of transition, of uncertainty in myself, that I would never want to go back.

This weekend, as I sat in my hairdresser’s chair with a head full of foils, I remembered that preteen awkwardness in all its glory. For two hours, I watched a girl of that age stand near her mother’s chair, an almost invisible onlooker. She patiently observed her mom’s ritual grooming, standing on the sidelines, neither a child at home playing, nor an adult in the seat herself.

She was dressed in a bulky softball uniform that did little to hide her changing figure, her hair pulled up in a disheveled ponytail. As she grew bored, she stepped out and returned with an oversized soda that she sipped while she followed her mother from the chair to the sink and back to the chair. Hardly anyone acknowledged her as she wasted a beautiful Saturday; not even her mother seemed to note the oddity of the scene. When our eyes met, I smiled at her, knowing how she must have felt.

Maybe it’s the fact that we celebrated my baby’s fifth birthday this month, and I can see the years barreling past me, but this girl in the salon made me think of what it will be like to raise my own girls during these years. I wondered if I’ll be the type of mom who buys her kids trendy clothes to help them fit in, the one who shows them how to apply makeup and use a flat iron to tame their tresses. I wondered if I’ll encourage them to care for themselves in the ways that will bring them popularity and sometimes unwanted attention, or if I’ll let them navigate these rough waters on their own.

Will I try to keep them children or help them jump that awkward hurdle from child to full fledged teens? Will I advise my own daughters not to indulge in that extra large soda, full of calories their changing bodies can’t metabolize the way it would have years ago? Will I acknowledge the societal pressures they’ll undoubtedly feel or will I pretend that the only thing that really matters is “being yourself”?

Every stage of parenting has its own unique set of challenges, but none of them scare me as much as those we’ll face as our girls start to become women. Can you relate?

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2 thoughts on “Are the Preteen Years More Painful for Kids or Parents?

  1. I found raising a daughter through those tender, awkward years to be painful. I always struggled with the best way to guide my daughter through those years. Watching her struggles brought back a flood of my own traumatic childhood memories, but I tried not to add my drama and baggage to her experience. I also remember so desperately wanting her to recognize her own beauty, but knowing that any progress I made would be quickly unraveled at school the next day.
    As much as we want to take the sting out of the pre-teen and teen years for our children, we can’t. But, we CAN let them know they are loved unconditionally, that we have high expectations, and that we are going to get involved when they need us to get out of a bind of set them on the straight and narrow. Just be there. Teens will never let us know it, but they need us as much as ever.

    1. I can imagine that even though teens and preteens push their parents away, they need their love so, so much! I also feel like we might be able to set our children up for some success during these turbulent years by building their self-esteem and sense of worth while they’re still little. Fingers crossed!!

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