I've learned some lessons this year. And most of them were unexpected.
I felt very prepared to have a child in middle school. I had spent three years as a middle school counselor and was bringing my son with me to the school where I work. I knew a lot about middle school. And I knew just about everything there was to know about my son.
Man, I majorly miscalculated.
It's not that this year has been bad. It hasn't. All in all, it has been great.
But I didn't expect how I would feel when all the normal things I address when parents are concerned about their son or daughter would happen to my son. It was an extreme role reversal.
I have been known to educate parents about frontal lobe development and their son or daughter's behavior reverting to that of a toddler being totally normal. But when my son started doing this, it didn't feel normal. It felt really, really awful.
There have been moments this year when I have felt too uncomfortable with my reaction to my son's normal behavior to talk to anyone about it. I have many times felt like a fraud or a phony. I have thought, "Here I am, giving you advice. But I really have no idea what I am doing."
I have learned lessons about patience and tolerance and laughing at my mistakes. I have learned that it is OK to talk to other parents about how I feel inadequate and alone. I have learned that unless you have walked through this specific fire, you can't feel this type of burn.
So, to all the parents I offered my "sage" advice to before this year, I am sorry. I didn't get it. I didn't know how you felt. But now, I do.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that I really have no idea what I am doing. My amazing husband and I are getting through parenting an amazing, intelligent, thoughtful, interesting, creative, witty, talented pre-teen as best we can.
There have been many highs. Some of my favorite moments this year have been watching my son have that "ah-ha moment" about politics, social norms, deeper meanings or philosophical arguments. It's truly a joy to watch him make connections and reach a deeper level of understanding in life.
There have also been many painful lows. Most of them have been my failure as a parent to build the right boundaries, follow through with my promises, keep my temper, not react to my child's mood, avoid letting him push my buttons and much more.
The hardest part for me is watching my child fail at anything. My "letting go" and letting him make his own decisions and let him face his own consequences has been more like me hanging on the edge of a cliff by my fingertips and prying each finger loose, one at a time, before falling perilously to the rocky ground below.
I hate to see my kids suffer. I hate to see my kids make bad decisions. And I hate enforcing punishment for those bad decisions. If my house is anything like yours, when our children suffer negative consequences, we all suffer with him/her.
Thank goodness I am in this parenting thing with an amazing spouse and many supportive friends. I couldn't get through it alone. And neither should you. Take heart! You don't have to do this by yourself. There are others who have gone through this before and are willing to help.
For me, I have grown a new appreciation for what parents of pre-teens and teens go through. I can now officially relate, not just as someone who works with this age group but as someone who is raising a child in this age group.
It's almost like I am now a member of a secret society of parents who have banned together to keep our sanity during these years.
I kind of like thinking of this journey that way; like I am linked arm and arm with other parents, and we are knee deep in the mire walking through this stage of parenting together.
So if I seem a little weary, it's because I am. I am trying to help mold my son into an amazing man and it seems daunting. But at the same time, I see glimmers of the man he will become some day and I burst with pride.
However irrational, moody and careless he might seem sometimes, I know there is this thoughtful, steady and responsible person lurking inside. I can't wait to see this person grow into a wonderful adult.
Michelle Sutherlin is a NewsOK contributor and a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. For more articles about parents and middle school, check out her blog.
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