I’m just going to come right out and say it.
I’m a smug mum. I try to quell it, I do, but there really isn’t any escaping it. I’m smug.
I’ve got a thousand little reasons to be a smug mum and two enormous ones. At least, I used to.
But this year, my eldest son turns eleven.
And it’s like the universe just smacked me in my smug mouth and said “There you go. Now you have a tween,” and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Oh yeah, the joke’s on me.
What kind of fresh hell is this???
I don’t even recognise my kid. I know we’ve been slowly heading in this direction for a little while now but BAM – now we’re really here!
Overnight he’s become impolite and arrogant and stubborn and bossy and disinterested and sassy and every now and then he opens his mouth… and his mother falls out.
He’s so bloody unpredictable too! Just when I think I’ve worked out his new groove he switches it up and suddenly my gorgeous son is back. Nestling up with me on the couch. And I fall for it EVERY.TIME. Because I want that boy back! Instead of the eye-rolling, attitude giving, testosterone fuelled, baby-faced terrorist who has taken up residence in my offspring.
Everyone warns you about the teenage years but no-one really lets you in on the unexpected world of parenting a tween.
So buckle up and pour yourself your most favourite drink of relaxation. You’re going to need it to get through the top 13 things I’ve learned from my tween spawn.
1. FFS is an unspoken but totally legitimate tween development stage
The tween walks around in a constant state of disdain. Like, really? You want me to what?? FFS. Of course, they don’t actually say FFS. But they imply it with every annoyed bone in their rapidly growing body. The FFS stage usually occurs early on in tweenhood and is often the first indication to parents that there is a tween in the house.
2. Compliance is the enemy
This kid refuses to do anything he’s asked to do or expected of him. EVEN IF HE WANTS TO DO IT! The tween is nuts and will regularly cut off their nose to spite their face. Some switch has been flipped and his standard response to ANYTHING is “no.” Nothing emphatic or dramatic. Just a quiet and definite “no.” For example:
“can you clean your room?”
“can you come for dinner?”
“can you not beat your brother?”
“can you not roll your eyes?”
“can you go outside to play?”
“can you come inside to play?”
“can you please grow out of this stage immediately???”
3. Embarrassment is the number one currency
Threatening to humiliate the tween in front of anyone, but particularly their peers is the single most powerful bargaining tool you can use. And I do it. Often and without shame. Example “If you do not [insert thing I want them to do] I will tell you off LOUDLY in front of all your friends AND their parents” This usually results in three things – door slamming, FFS and me winning.
4. There are many slamming doors
Slamming the door must be incredibly therapeutic to the tween. It MUST be because it goes on all fucking day. “No!” *slams door.*
5. The boundaries are blurred
Are they are a child or a teenager and how long until they’re a man? They can go from spending the day on the slip n slide, doing epic pool bombs and playing backyard cricket to instigating a conversation on atheism or world events. Every day I am barraged with questions like “When can I watch MA15?”, “When can I play R rated games?”, “When can I go out by myself?”, “Mum, can you please rub my back before I go to sleep?” It’s all very confusing.
6. Everything starts to smell
No more can I ruffle his hair and breathe in the boy. Now his hair smells musty. His cheeks are salty when I kiss them. The bedroom has a distinct odour and the pong in his sports bag is off the charts. Last week at shopping we bought deodorant… and then spent the next three days explaining that wearing it DOES NOT replace the need for showering.
7. The body clock has shifted
They’re staying up later and sleeping in longer, which is ok in the holidays but not as much fun during the school week. Staying up later means they’re around during ‘grown-up time’ a lot more too. They’re seeing things on tv that screen for an older audience and hearing conversations between mum and dad that have been put on ice until at least the youngest has gone to bed.
8. The family dynamic is unpredictable
Sometimes the tween is happy being one of the kids and other times he’d prefer to sit up the front of the bus with the older folk. This involves a lot of eavesdropping on interactions probably not appropriate for a young kid which in turn leads to a lot of attempted adult censorship. I cock this up all the time. I simply have not yet adjusted to my kid flapping his ears in my very adult and sweary business.
9. Negotiations are intense
The tween wants what they want NOW and they’re prepared to fight for it. If it is something that I don’t want them to have/do then high-end negotiations ensue. The outcome can go either way and often depends on our own individual energy reserves on that day. Some of my best and most challenging work in communications and social strategy have occurred in the last six months. With my ten year old son.
10. You can begin to see the adult they will be
This is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. I see such beautiful things in my tween but sweet baby cheeses, does he have an ‘arsehole’ streak in him! I can’t even blame his father… that’s definitely from my gene pool.
11. They are harder to love
Oh don’t get your knickers in a knot! When a kid spends most of his time scowling, rolling eyes, slamming doors and outright refusing to do anything you ask of him it does not activate the affection emotion. There have been many an occasion recently that I have slammed my own doors, rolled my own eyes and silently counted to ten as I muttered ‘for fuck’s sake’ under my breath. Tweens ARE harder to love but they have never needed it more.
12. They can’t keep up with their bodies
Dear God – how much do the tweens eat?? Their bodies are growing so quickly that the food intake can barely keep up… let alone their clothes. The tween is all arms and legs and massive feet. Their teeth are too big for their mouths and their attitude is too big for their boots. It’s an expensive time for mum and dad trying to keep on top of their food and wardrobe requirements.
13. They don’t know what the fuck is going on either
Here’s the rub. As confused as I am at his mood-swings, volatility and fluffy evidence of pubic growth – he’s one hundred times more confused. No amount of sex education at school can ever properly prepare them for the changes going on and each day brings something new in their development.
But that’s where we step in. Listening to the things they’re NOT saying. Recognising the boundaries that can be shifted and those that shouldn’t be yet. Being accessible even after they’ve slammed the door to shut you out. Acknowledging their own person, independent of you and loving them when it’s hardest. No-one ever said this parenting gig was going to be easy.
If your family has been infiltrated by a tween, I’d love to hear from you and if not yet… then get ready. It’s quite a ride!