What’s the hardest stage in parenting? According to experts – and several parents we’ve spoken to – it’s the early teen years. 12 to 14 years of age, to be exact.
A survey of over 2000 well-educated mums by Suniya Luthar and Lucia Ciciolla at Arizona State University found that, on average, mothers of middle schoolers (12- to 14-year olds) generally feel worse than parents of infants, preschoolers, elementary school children, high school children, and adult children.
Mums with children this age reported more stress, emptiness, loneliness and lack of fulfillment. They also viewed their children’s behaviours in a less positive way compared to other stages, such as toddlers and preschoolers.
This can be a pretty scary thing to think about, especially if you haven’t entered teenagerhood yet, but it’s also helpful to understand why this age is so tricky and hopefully come up with some strategies to ride the wave more smoothly.
Every child is different. Every stage is different.
Let me start by saying every age and style of parenting can be difficult. And every parent may have a different age that gave them the most grief.
Truth be told, my 13-year-old is no drama at all now but I found that we went through a rough patch when he was about 8 years old. My daughter is 11 and this is a tricky age for her – the trickiest so far in our journey.
Many parents find their footing around the preschool/school years and things remain settled, for a few months or years at least. The school years bring a whole new ball game of homework and sports, friendships and birthday parties, and must-have skincare, water bottles and weird charms that attach to their crocs.
What makes the 12-14-year-old age the hardest stage in parenting?
And then they hit the tweens. And something changes. Actually, a lot of things change, leaving you feeling like a parenting beginner all over again. It’s at this stage that we truly see our kids are growing up and we’re officially entering a new era of parenting. There’s less cuddles but more requests for snacks, rides, and money, of course.
There’s rudeness and ungratefulness and backchat. There are eye rolls and door slamming and selfishness. You are no longer their everything and, some days, it may seem like you’re nothing to them.
A rough road for mums
The close relationship with your child, which once felt so stifling in the toddler years, now seems to be slipping away and this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s a transition that can feel like it comes out of nowhere and it can hit us straight in the soul. I’ve heard it called a slow breakup and this is so incredibly accurate but also the nature of parenting.
It’s literally our job to ensure our kids are independent enough not to need us anymore. But through this process, it can feel like we are slowly losing them.
And, as they find themselves during this tricky 12-14 age, we see a version of our kids that we may not necessarily like.
It’s a rough road for us as we get to play ‘punching bag’ for our kids. It can make us feel undervalued, angry, alone, and sad that this is what our parenting journey is now.
More importantly, as hard as this transition is for us, it’s just as hard, if not harder, for them.
12, going on “I hate you”
Developmentally, the early adolescent years are absolute hell. There are the hormones and puberty but there’s also friendship pressure and complicated social hierarchies and academic and sporting demands.
According to Eileen Kennedy-Moore Ph.D. from Psychology Today,
“Kids this age feel constantly judged but are also often very critical of others. They tend to be acutely aware of what is or isn’t cool. They vacillate between acting arrogant and feeling insecure. They’re argumentative, and sometimes even vicious, but also easily hurt. They can be sullen and moody at home, but excited and outgoing with friends.”
With all of these changes, our tweens may not come to us for cuddles anymore. But they will come to us with rudeness and eye rolls and even intense anger directed at us that’s actually totally nott about us at all.
Sometimes your teenager will need to fight you, hate you, and take their anger out on you. Kind of the same way our toddlers often act out when they are with us because we are their safe zone. This is the same with your teenager. Except instead of tears and a tantrum, it’s swearing, slamming doors, storming out of the house, hissing insults at you, and pushing you further and further away.
Less reward, more eye rolls
Another thing that makes this stage so difficult is that there are not a lot of rewards involved.
There are a lot of rewarding moments when parenting your little kids. The first smile your newborn gives you makes those sleepless nights worthwhile. The first “I love you mummy” makes every tantrum seem trivial. The tween years don’t bring this same level of affirmation and positivity.
We don’t get told we’re the “best mummy ever” when we give them apple slices. We don’t even get called ‘mummy’ anymore.
But remember, the sweet little toddler who once clung to your leg and needed you for everything is still inside your moody teen. He just no longer clings to your leg to let you know he needs you.
The transition from childhood to adolescence
And here’s another thing – no one seems to TALK about how hard this stage is! We’re warned about newborns and toddlers but there’s not a lot of support and guidance for mums of tweens and teens. That’s one of the reasons we formed our Mums of Tweens and Teens Australia if you are interested in joining.
How can we get through this??
With deep breathing and positive affirmations and with the knowledge that this is just a stage.
As hard as it is, try to remember:
You’re still needed (and wanted). It’s just a different type of need. Often it’s about holding space. Seeing a tear come to his eye when he’s struggling with homework and being right behind him to offer a hand. But only if he wants it. Not to offer advice or tell jokes or try to dissect what’s going on in that head of his. Just to be there.
Take what you can get. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of watching a TV show I hate, just to sit with him. Or listening to him hammer on about some weird jungle game on PS4, just to hear the passion in his voice. You may not be his whole world anymore, but you’re still a big part of it.
Find your non-parent self. It’s been all about the kids for a long time, but one great ting about this stage is that you can find yourself again. As they develop independence, so can you. Take on hobbies, set a crazy goal (like a marathon) and go for it, meet friends for dinner (without having to leave at 7pm because it’s bedtime).
Whatever you do, hang on and don’t let go. Some days will seem like a game of tug-of-war. We hold on to that rope so tightly even though it seems like they want us to let go, step back, drop the rope and just stop trying. But don’t let go. Whatever you do, don’t let go.
They need us to keep trying, to keep asking, to keep pushing them, to keep arguing back, to know that we care and we are there. That we will always be there.
No matter what stage we’re in, not every day is going to be perfect. If you are heading towards this 12-14-year-old age group or are currently in it, know that you’re literally in the hardest stage. It will get easier.