In many ways parenting tweens should be the sweet spot. Your child is older and less dependant on you. They can put on their own shoes and even make you a cup of tea. Surely you should be sailing pretty knowing the nappy and tantrum days are a distant memory and feeling like you’ve got this whole parenting gig sorted?
The clue as to why parenting tweens is so exhausting lies in the name. It’s that precarious in-between stage that makes things so tricky. Your child is funny and adorable one minute. The next they are rolling their eyes and muttering under their breath when you ask them to pick up a wet towel, showing you a glimpse of the sassy teenager they are soon to become. You can never be quite sure who you will be facing next. Will it be the cute little kid you’ve grown to know and love or the independent bigger kid who finds you a total embarrassment and is not afraid to show it?
A different kind of tired
In the early years you knew exhaustion like you’d never known it before. It was a physical exhaustion from the 24/7 demands of looking after a baby or toddler and never getting a full night’s sleep. When you’re parenting tweens the tiredness you feel takes on a different quality. You head may well be able to hit the pillow at a reasonable hour but your mind is a whir with the worries parenting tweens throws at you.
Now your child is older, knowing there are problems you can’t easily fix, social injustices you cannot explain and worries and hurts you cannot kiss away, can take its toll and keep you awake at night.
When your tween feels more, it is hard not to feel more too
When your child was little they had big feelings but could get them out quickly and then get over them. Tantrums in the middle of the frozen aisle and squabbles in the swing park might not have been much fun. However it was so much easier then, both for your child to express their feelings and for you to make things better.
Tweens have much deeper feelings as they navigate their way towards their teenage years. And when they feel more it’s hard for you not to feel more too. It’s hard to watch our tweens struggle and feel stress and anxiety. It’s difficult not to take on some of their worries as our own.
Running around after your busy tween
Your tween is leading a more independent life. They are capable of carrying out tasks on their own but often their lives are very busy too. Keeping up with the hectic tween schedule can be exhausting for parents. Days can be a constant whirl of ferrying your child to and from various activities, mentally and physically figuring out how to squeeze in meals in between activities and spending many, many hours of dead time sitting in the car waiting for your tween to appear for another lift back home. Often, at this stage, there’s also more of your own work or commitments to fit in alongside this schedule.
This stage of parenthood is as exhausting as before, but just mentally instead of physically. We are working and volunteering and driving and scheduling and driving and coordinating and driving. All the time our minds are whirring with what we have to remember to pick up or pay or do or plan, for everything to run smoothly.
If you find parenting tweens exhausting you’re not alone
US researchers studied over 2200 mothers with children from babies to adults and looked at their stress levels. They categorically found that mums of tweens were under the most mental strain. The researchers concluded that parenting tweens is so exhausting because they are going through so many changes in terms of their development.
What surprised researchers most was how consistently mothers struggled during this time. One of the researchers, Professor Suniya Luthar said:
Regardless of whether it was aspects of mothers’ personal depression or anxiety, their feelings about parenting, and even their marital relationships, it was clear that the tween years was consistently the most difficult stage.
The ‘perfect storm’
In the tween years children undergo so many changes simultaneously. Their hormones are raging as they face the onset of puberty, they are dealing with changes in their bodies, they are invested in friendship groups and striving to be popular and fit in with their peers. They are experimenting with pushing limits and boundaries. All these changes happen at the same time that they are trying to separate from their parents and establish their independence. It’s also scary entering the more grown up world and, at times, tweens just want to be little again.
The push-me-pull-me effect
When they are undergoing so many changes and challenges tweens can seem withdrawn, moody or defiant to parents. They swing between striving for independence and wanting to find safety and comfort in being little. They can roll their eyes at parents one minute and then need a hug then next.
Parents too struggle with the idea of their child growing up. They can feel confused and bewildered about how to deal with the new challenges. Parenting tweens is so hard because one minute you feel like you are doing a good job and the next you can feel like you are getting everything wrong.
Getting them ready to fly
In this in-between stage you are constantly reminded of the fact that your child is growing up and growing away from you. Getting your children to the point where they can fly the nest is the entire purpose of parenting. As your child grows older suddenly you become very aware that there are not so many years left to do this. You want to make sure you equip your child with all the skills and values they need to stand proudly on their own two feet and one day face the big wide world on their own. The weight of raising conscientious and capable members of society lies heavily on parents of tweens, who want so badly to get this right.
Parenting tweens is a roller coaster ride
It is so lovely watching your child grow up and grow into the amazing person you knew they could be. They can make your heart burst with pride. It’s hard though to watch when they struggle with their own confidence and sense of self-worth as they find their way.
Parenting tweens is a roller coaster. It’s very true what they say about parenting: nothing else in life gets both easier and harder at the same time.
One thing to hold onto is that it’s all worth it. The very thing that makes parenting tweens so hard is also the thing that makes it all OK too. For every eye roll and slammed door there is a moment of pure loveliness, which makes you feel proud to watch the tiny human you created blossom on their way to becoming a teenager and adult that you are proud to call your own.
If you’re dealing with a stressed tween, see our article: Top tips for dealing with tween stress.