Healthy relationships are so key in my mind to my overall health ( and the health of my family.) I’m entering a new season of parenting with my oldest daughter(s) especially, and I’m reflecting on what they need from me in this season. Here are 4 rules (I’m trying) to live by as I parent them during the tween years…
Most of the time, my husband does bedtime, especially with our little ones, because at the end of the day they’re eager to spend time with him (and he’s excited to see them too) and I’m eager to have a moment of peace. But, lately, I’ve been making sure to spend some time each night laying in bed with my two older girls. My oldest is in her last year of elementary school, and has had a lot to say about her thoughts, her feelings, and just her life in general. It’s tempting to interject when she shares how she (or even a friend) handled any given situation she’s relaying, but I’ve realized, she didn’t ask for my advice. And so, I just listen. Sure, she shares things with me, that as her mom, I wish she (or others around her) had done differently, but taking the opportunity to give a well-intended lecture in that moment would inevitably fall on deaf ears.
Yes, it’s hard not to interject when my daughter tells me hard things. I often want to jump in with all my thoughts and opinions to make sure I have my say in how she’s living her life. Of course, I believe it is part of my role as her mom to help her make good choices and live a purpose driven life. But, the way I make sure to impart our family values to her is in an entirely different way. I tell her stories. As I observe what she’s going through in her week, I’ll find a time when she’s not in the middle of telling me something to let her know ‘you know, today I was thinking about how hard it was being the new kid at my school. And, that made me so desperate to fit in that I did some things I regret. I wish I had known then that I didn’t have to do those things. I wish I had known I could be myself. That’s my prayer for you, too, that you’d know that.’ Or, ‘I started having these really intense crushes when I was your age. That was the first sign that I was starting to go through puberty. Sometimes my emotions felt so big I didn’t know how to handle them.’ When these conversations happen outside of conversations that directly correlate to what she’s going through, she’s more open to them. Often it leads to her choosing to segue into a present-day dilemma that’s relevant and actually asking for my input or advice. That’s exactly the kind of open conversation I want her (and her siblings as they enter the same stage) to continue to feel free to have with me.
Having 4 kids, two of whom are still so little, makes me very aware of how easy it is to forget to touch my older girls as much as they need me to. Little kids are always climbing into your bed, onto your lap, next to you on a one-person chair. But, older kids don’t come through the door at the end of a school day asking to be hugged or cuddled (or at least mine don’t.) They may even act a little annoyed when I invite them to cuddle with me, but they almost always say yes and within minutes are soaking in the loving attention. I read once that parents dramatically decrease touching their kids around 10 or 11 years old. And, to me, that is sad. So, I make sure every time I say hello or goodbye to them, I open my arms to offer them a hug if they want one. And, when they get home at the end of a long day, I invite each of them to sit with me…playing with their hair or rubbing their back as they talk. People need loving, healthy touch. Which is why I make sure to invite my kids to be held, kissed, and cuddled every day.
I’ve always firmly believed in having open and honest conversations with my daughters about their bodies, sex, and reproduction. I was raised that way, and I believe it so healthy and so empowering for girls to know about their bodies and their health. So, as my oldest is starting to show some signs of puberty on the horizon I’ve started talking A LOT more about women’s bodies, sex, hormones, and health. These conversations have included everything from what kind of products are available for women on their periods, to conversations about consent, sexual abuse and rape, to how babies are made (a refresher…this is an ongoing conversation in my house); to conversations about hormone and body changes that happen to girls during puberty. These conversations sometimes make my daughters roll their eyes or act grossed out. I don’t care. I keep talking. Usually, after an initial conversation, they’ll come back to me with questions. And I leave lots of books in their room about women, girls, and their bodies. These are things they are curious about, whether they’ll admit it to me or not, and they’re things they need to know as they head into a world where unfortunately, they could be victimized more easily if they’re not armed with information about themselves, their bodies, healthy sex (which is between adults only), and the potential dangers to women and girls. I HATE that I have to include that last part in our discussions, but I do.
It’s been the dawning of a new day in parenting, or so it feels these days. And, I want to be sure I’m intentional in praying for, caring for, and interacting with my girls in a way that promotes a healthy, open, trusting relationship for the (sometimes difficult) years ahead as they continue to grow up.