It’s easy in the course of this parenting thing to assume everyone else has it all together and that life in other houses is cruising by with delight and joy and expertly navigated bumps in the road. But the truth of the matter is…it probably looks a lot more like our own lives inside those other houses than we let ourselves believe. I have found this to be the case based solely on the social media phenomenon that occurs when a friend posts about some ridiculous event that happened at her house, and I think “Oh. yep. That’s happened here, too!”
My personal favorite way to feel like I’m not in this thing alone though is good old Google. As a mother, I have had to google some pretty ridiculous things. I have NEVER come up with a search that yielded no results. Even if the result is just more moms trying to figure out what to do when they accidentally flush a washcloth down the toilet. (Listen. I cloth diapered babies #3 and #4 and with that comes washing out cloth wipes in the toilet sometimes. Occasionally they got away from me. No worries. Google said it would all be alright.)
I’ve googled symptoms and worries and strange behaviors. I’ve searched for advice and how-tos. I’ve found comfort and solidarity.
But the difference as a mom of really little kids was that you could also sit in a group of moms and share the ridiculous things that your children were doing on a day-to-day basis without anyone being hurt. The kids didn’t mind if I shared silly diaper fiascos. I got to laugh and hear that my friends’ kids had done something similar (or worse) and everyone walked away feeling “normal”. But: middle school years. Let me tell you. Things are different.
I am blessed to have a 12-year-old daughter and an almost 11-year-old son and the new territory that we are navigating is beyond my capacity sometimes. Since so many of the things families deal with during those years become private (for a variety of reasons, but honestly it’s often just because it is no longer “my” story. It’s their’s. Their’s to tell or to keep to themselves) there isn’t a wealth of shared stories to depend on. These aren’t the easy things to ask my friends if they have handled something similar, since my friends are often the parents of my kids’ friends, and they would rather be forced to clean toilets all day than have me sharing their struggles.
There are safe topics (Why do 5th-grade boys hate pants? And jackets? And sleeves?) and then there are those topics that are left to Google. What did our mothers do? Is this why parenting books began? I know we’ve all wondered why there isn’t a PreTeen version of What to Expect. The baby/toddler/early childhood experience feels fairly prescribed. Kids have to develop through stages and skills and many of the same hiccups happen along the way. But in middle school, they seem to diverge. They are changing into whatever kind of person they are going to be. But I only know the insider information on one past middle schooler: Me. If my children need help navigating acne, I’ve been there. Suffered through that. If my daughters someday have a little trouble dating because their daddy is a football coach…been there, too. But there are a lot of things I just didn’t have experience with. Or I did but I was just the kid, so whatever voodoo my parents used to get me through it I didn’t really keep notes on for the future.
And while I believe kids haven’t really changed that much from generation to generation, the landscape they navigate sure has. I was an original of the Facebook generation. We had to have a college email address to have a page. There was no chance of your aunts and grandmas commenting on your FB posts. But I don’t even know all the social media possibilities that exist today. As soon as moms figure them out I believe there is a shift in the programming and all kids jump ship. (What is TikTok? How did I get this old so fast?) All I know for sure is that kids are dealing with a new level of problems/worries/drama that didn’t even EXIST back when I was a kid (or the 1900s as my kids like to call it). And even for kids like mine who don’t have phones yet (though I have been told there are no other kids without phones) just knowing what other kids are doing or the experience of missing out on the connecting that happens can be a whole new list of worries.
I belong to a group for Moms Of Preschoolers (MOPs) and it is a great resource, but I’m now leading the more “experienced” table because our issues are not so much potty training and sleeping through the night anymore. We’ve gotten through those things (and honestly I don’t even think I’m that great at passing on wisdom for the little years. I was there long enough to know that every kid is different and every mom is just guessing.) But now I need a group of moms in the trenches of the pre-teen years: Where I don’t need my children to be my friend, but I do want them to want to talk to me…where I don’t have to organize activities for their free time, but I would like them to enjoy spending time in the same room with me. I need a group for Moms of Middle Schoolers. But I guess that’s just MOMs, isn’t it? I guess I should Google it.