If your daughter is starting to feel foreign to you, you’re not alone. When a girl enters middle school, she starts to change in remarkable ways that make her almost unrecognizable to the people who love her most.
The biggest changes she faces
At around age 11, girls begin to develop the three things we all needed to become an adult: an adult body, adult brain and adult identity.
This puts your daughter in the unique and vulnerable position of processing her own doubt along with receiving the constant evaluation and judgment of her peers on how well she’s managing her changes.
Kids become so panicked in middle school about whether their bodies are developing too fast or too late, whether they’re immature or too-cool-for-school, whether they are confident or confused…they have no way of knowing how they’re doing. Well, there is one way. How does anyone judge their own performance? By comparing themselves to others. So the hallways of middle school become the Olympics of Comparison & Judgment, each girl walking with her head straight-forward but her eyes constantly scanning to evaluate the pack as a means to measure her own progress. “She started wearing a bra already so that means I’m ok.” “She already has a boyfriend so what’s wrong with me?” “Should I be pretending I don’t like talking to teachers anymore?” “People think she’s a spaz. Maybe I need to calm down, too.”
Your daughter feels the weight of these thoughts, and the stares of her peers, pulling her down all day. By the time she comes home to your safe haven, she’s fried.
Here I am stuck in the middle with you
All of these changes may cause you to feel like you don’t know your daughter anymore.
The irony is that you’re more alike now than ever.
Parenting a middle schooler is unique in that mom and daughter are on similar developmental tracks. You’re both undergoing major changes in body, brain and identity at this time of life.
Perhaps your body is getting a little softer and you find yourself looking at other women and wondering, “How does she do it?” Or maybe you’re struggling with um, what’s that thing called, the name of the thing that, uhhhh….recall. If, like me, you call your kids by the dog’s name once a day you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe, as your daughter starts to pull away from you and toward her peers, you find yourself having to reinvent your own identity. For many of you, the past ten years have been spent giving, planning and preparing for your child to be an independent adult some day. Yet, when your daughter begins to have her social and emotional needs met elsewhere, it can leave you feeling stranded. Now you have nothing but time to evaluate relationships, career choices, volunteer opportunities, new interests and hobbies. It can be daunting knowing when, where and how to start.
With the new quiet space in your brain, you may begin pondering life’s larger questions:
- Am I living the life I wanted?
- How do I make an impact?
- Have I sacrificed too much? Not enough?
- Where do I go from here?
Use this opportunity to be good to yourself.
The bottom line is you are more than a parent and you deserve to cultivate other aspects of your life. As your daughter grows, she’ll look to you as a role model for living a balanced life. Show her that you appreciate your changing body, brain and identity and she will learn to give herself the same by grace by your example.
Michelle Icard is the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience The Middle School Years for parents of girls and boys.