You have been the centre of your child’s world for years, but things are starting to change. Your tween rejects your company and shrugs off your loving touch. It surely can’t be time to let go yet − can it?
For years, you have put your child’s needs ahead of your own. Postponing your workout time to spend an extra hour coaching him on his spelling test. Making sure they get their favourite chicken parts when having Hainanese chicken rice. Taking them to the Night Safari even though what you really want to do is hang out at Zouk with your single girlfriends.
Then suddenly it all changes when your child enters those pre-teen years. No longer do they clamour incessantly for your attention. Shows of affection in public become increasingly few and far between. Instead of the exuberant joy that used to greet you when you suggest a fun outing, all you get is grudging nonchalance at best. And more often than not, a sullen rejection of your company.
As your child’s primary caregiver, it is easy to feel hurt and rejected. What have I done wrong, you lament. And later, it’s not her, it’s me. Maybe I’m too sensitive and needy.
You Are Not Alone
The pre-teen years can be exciting and confusing for both the child and parents. As tweens experience a growing sense of self, they start to view themselves as separate from their parents. They begin to explore the characteristics they associate with their gender. Add to that an increasing desire for autonomy, changes in cognitive thinking, the onset of puberty, and you pretty much have a force to reckon with!
A study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University found that mothers of tweens have to “contend with confusion from the rapid changes in their children’s personas; distress around their moodiness or rebelliousness; hurt as a result of behaviours seen as rejecting of parents; and concerns about engagement in high-risk behaviours.”
Mother-of-two Myreen Hoe agrees that one of the most significant changes in her relationship with her 14-year-old daughter occurred when she entered her pre-teen year. “She no longer shares her thoughts and feelings freely and seems to be in her own world,” Myreen says. “She also confides more to her friends than us and would spend time talking on the phone with them.”
Her 10-year-old son is also gradually asserting his independence. He often asks his parents to explain why he has to follow their instructions, and negotiates boundaries with them.
(See also: Positive Parenting)
An elevated sense of self can also alter a tween’s perception of her standing with adults. Gan Woan Wen, a mother of three girls aged five, eight and 12, often has to remind her oldest daughter not to treat her teachers like her peers. “I have to constantly remind her to be more respectful to her elders. Being a pre-teen, she tends to speak her mind and is not mindful of sensitive issues such as race, religion and history.”
While Woan Wen is proud of her child’s growing independence, she finds it a constant challenge to draw the line between being a parent and a friend. “I miss those days when ‘Mummy is always right’. She would always seek my approval in whatever she wanted to do.”
Play It Smart
Ideally at this stage, parents should move beyond criticism and punishment as forms of discipline. Tweens tend to react better to logic. If you can make common sense your go-to parenting tool, then you would have won half the battle.
(See also: Calmer, Happier Children, the Whole-Brain Way)
When you are feeling overwhelmed by a child with behavioural problems you are unable to cope with, try to find support from external sources rather than attempting to solve everything by yourself. For example, reconnect with your friends or form a support group with parents of tweens. Having others in a similar situation to share your feelings with can make a huge difference in your attitude or perspective during this uncertain stage. In fact, the Arizona State University team has identified tween-hood as the most challenging for parents, with mothers most likely to experience feelings of stress and depression from such typical pre-teen behaviour.
As you navigate this phase with your child, it is important to pump up your inner reserves of kindness, compassion and patience. When you are feeling depleted, your ability to parent is reduced. Set aside time for yourself to meditate, take a walk, pray, exercise − anything that will help you feel relaxed and recharged. If your feelings of depression and helplessness continue to deepen, speak to your doctor who can help to refer you to a counsellor.
(See also: Modern Motherhood Is Stressful)
Lower Your Bar
The need to send your child to the best enrichment classes or get him into the best school can cause even the most secure mother to feel inadequate. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the more highly-educated and affluent the mother, the more she is prone to distress as the main coordinator of her child’s extra-curricular activities. Perhaps it is time to lower your expectations and let go of guilt.
How much energy have you expended on situations over which you have no control over? How many times a day do you use the phrases “I should have…” or “Why couldn’t I…” when an arrangement turns out less than ideal? It is okay to be less than perfect, or to not provide your tween with the latest fashion, mobile phone, computer or game console.
Hard as it is to envision, there will come a day when your children will leave the nest. Think of your pre-teen’s growing independence as a dress rehearsal for that eventuality. In the meantime, slowly begin to uncover the aspirations you had before motherhood consumed you. Whether it’s going back to school or starting your own business, it is time to start planning ahead. Live your own dreams instead of attaching them to your children’s accomplishments.
Instead of trying to craft that perfect teenager, be the role model you want your tween to look up to. Celebrate the individual that your tween is becoming. And let nature do the rest.