Spoiler Alert: I have no “quick fix” or “magic pill” hacks, tips, or ideas to magically navigate you through raising tweens. But I can share stories about how I’ve learned that loving children is to love unconditionally. The truth is that parenting through this season of life takes all of the positive parenting skills, empathy, and unconditional love that I’ve got to offer. But no matter what happens, my son and I know that we are each loved unconditionally. And we each go into different rooms. A lot.
Tweens just may force you to re-examine everything you thought you knew about mothering with empathy and how to love unconditionally. For me, showing my son that I’m learning how to love unconditionally, has meant taking steps down a road to deep dark places within me that I never wanted to visit ever again.
Raising Tweens Ain’t For Sissies
Mothering my tween has forced me to expand my empathy beyond reasonable limits. Skinned knee? I could serve up empathy like an order of scattered, smothered, and covered hash browns and with much less effort. But tween moodiness, overwhelming emotions, and eye-rolls?
Pardon me, but I’ll need a minute to collect myself.
Now that my son is growing older, empathizing without exhausting every shred of my emotional control is about as likely as Rodney Dangerfield sticking a landing with the precision of Gabby Douglas.
Every single time, it takes all I have to rein myself back in from going bananas. Because, the truth is, selective tween hearing-itis, reversion to cave-man like grunts instead of the extensive vocabulary to which I exposed him, and eye-rolls that allow him to see the dark side of his brain just damn well make me rage-y. #modelselfcontrol
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I Wasn’t Loved Unconditionally – But My Boys Alway Will Be
This transition into the tween years has been my hardest yet in this journey of motherhood.
It pulled more empathy from me than the first time my baby cried uncontrollably for no apparent reason.
I’ve found and used more restraint out of me than not racing to put my youngest in a protective bubble as he tested his mountain goat skills on Maine’s treacherous rocky coastline last summer.
This transition has pulled more unconditional love from my heart than I could ever have imagined. As filled with love as the moment of his birth was (ok and also drugs – it was an emergency C section) I dare say this season is filled with more unconditional love. This love is filled with more understanding of and appreciation for who my gentle boy truly is than any other moment.
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What Is Unconditional Love?
My love for him sees the good, the bad, and the ugly. And still, I can’t exist without loving him. I can’t exist without discovering who he will become. He is loved unconditionally. Raising tweens requires you to demonstrate your unconditional love each day.
It is not unconditional love when other people like us for doing what they want or because we give them what they demand of us. Under those conditions we’re just “paying” for love in a way (or literally in some cases) with what we do to get that attention. We can be certain that we’re receiving unconditional love only when we make foolish mistakes, when we fail to do what other people want, and even when we get in their way, but they don’t feel disappointed or irritated with us. When we make a seemingly poor choice about our lives, take a wrong turn, undo or sabotage our own happiness… its unconditional love that keeps them right there, not judging or punishing but loving without conditions. It’s that love alone that has the power to heal all wounds, bind people together, and create relationships quite beyond our present capacity to imagine. (Unconditional Love: How To Know If It’s Real)
Unconditional love flows regardless of whether the other person’s behavior, desires, or passions are agreeable. It just is. I cannot stop, control, or reign it in.
But there’s a dark side, too.
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Going to The Dark Side
On one day in particular, it had been a long day of pre-historic grunts, a half dozen attitude-laden “whatever’s,” and eye-rolls so far back into his head and so constant that I feared they would get stuck back there.
It was at the end of this particular day that I lost all confidence in my ability to mother this otherwise beautiful, smart, and gentle boy like the precious treasure that he is. At that moment, I was emotionally gutted like a fish. There was nothing left. Or so I thought.
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Raising Tweens Is Making Me Rage-y
I discovered that in the midst of this gutted inner city home that was my heart in that moment – there was something left. But it wasn’t empathy. It was rage. Real, hot, fiery, uncontrollable rage. Rage that no child ever deserves to face. Flat out, terrifying rage.
It’s embarrassing to admit that this tween transition has revealed a rage within me that is more appropriately directed at adults than at my sweet, smart, and gentle ten-year old boy.
I was so angry that before I knew what had happened, the words “I want to eat your face off” sprung into my head.
I know. You were looking for something hopeful and heartwarming, weren’t you? Nevertheless…
I completely didn’t see it coming. And it was frightening.
There the words lingered.
In my brain.
Like an infestation of wretched little squatters.
“I want to eat your face off.”
As much of my revelatory thinking does – my moment of realization came while I was in the bathroom. I won’t make you endure more detail than that. “Oh, snap.”
Parenting a 10 year old boy is no easy task; and here’s why.
The tween years are when your children hold a mirror up to your face. Forget listening and watching you for the past ten years. Of course, they have been doing that.
But they hold this mirror up – and what the mirror reveals is that they have been absorbing the essence of you. For better or worse – they have been absorbing you.
For example, I’m an emotional eater. Emotional eating plagues me as a result of childhood trauma. While I recognize that this served me well as a protective strategy, it’s not part of myself that I’m proud of or that I share often.
So when I see my son eating emotionally? Rage. Disproportionate, fiery, adult-level, rage.
My son has grown into a veritable guru of snark, condescension, and sarcasm. All of which he learned from a master.
And do you see where I’m going here?
My rage is not about him or his developmentally appropriate behaviors. It’s about me. All about me.
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Loving the Differences – No Matter What They May Be
This is an amazing TED Talk about raising a child that is different from us in some fundamental way. In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What’s the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance? A terrific watch!
Love Unconditionally – What That Really Looks Like
For me, everything about my son’s behavior that makes me rage-y…is a mirror image of the things that I don’t like about myself.
My darling son, you are love unconditionally.
I love you so much that I’m willing to explore my own darkness that I’ve sheltered from the world until now. I’m willing to exercise the demons there in order to be the best mother that I can possibly be.
I will strive to be the mother that you deserve.
I will be a mother who models courage. Yet, I cannot model courage without experiencing fear.
I want to show you that I am a mother who does scary things. Because I ask you to do scary things.
I want to travel to the most frightening place of all for me – my mind, my heart, and my past – where I’ve kept secrets and hurts hidden for decades. Taking this journey will show you that you need not fear your heart or mind.
I can be there for you if I face these fears. That way, I can be my best in order to offer you my best.
If my heart breaks for you sometimes, then I must learn to allow my heart to break for myself too. So that I can heal. For both of us.