I’ve been slow to type this post because there is so much I’ve thought about sharing from our girls getaway, it’s hard to narrow it down or know where to begin.
This trip was in the making for months. I started noticing changes in my little girl over the past year, and as things developed I recognized that it was time for the two of us to have our first “girls only” time together.
Since the age of nine or ten, Dakota has been changing and becoming a new version of herself. She has always been mature for her age and quick to be independent, but not until this year did it really start registering with me. At first I thought her new behaviors were due to the circumstances we faced while losing my dad (her pa). However, as time pressed on it was evident that she was also trying to adjust to a lot more happening within herself.
My bright morning girl was sleeping in all the time, her emotions were all over the place, and she was showing irritability and aggressiveness which wasn’t like her nature at all. Along with these mood shifts were a lot of whining, and frustration… When I would try to help her collect herself we could never come up with a solution very well. The best way I can think to describe it is how a toddler acts when they throw a tantrum. They will cry and throw themselves around uncontrollably, not able to comfort themselves within reason. It was confusing me as a parent because I felt like we we’re way passed this kind of behavior and she should know how to compose herself by now. I kept blaming it on our family dynamic during my dad’s recent battle with brain cancer and our grieving his death. As time marched on though, I realized there was an added element to what was going on. She was coming of age.
As I’ve been studying up on this new stage of childhood and parenting, I’m learning a lot. For example, those temper tantrums really are out of her control and she needs me to help her regain her composure just like when she was a toddler again. It’s been a retraining for me to consider reverting back to assisting her so much. I felt at first like I was backtracking and it was making me very frustrated as a parent. I was annoyed by this challenge because I felt like I shouldn’t have to be putting in all this work and energy again with her. I thought I had moved past those basics and I was so proud of her training and abilities. When I had heard of people talk about teenage behavior it was always so surface level and signature. I never knew how deep it went! Their poor brains and bodies are undergoing all new happenings that they look old enough to handle, but in no way are. They are still children and they still need care and guidance – more than ever.
As I’ve been diving into this milestone I’ve discovered that a a part of the child’s brain basically shuts down during the onset of adolescence while other areas are developing and it doesn’t kick back into gear until the early twenties! It’s the part that controls impulse – can you imagine- haha! This would describe the breakdown of their behavior and the inability to help themselves overcome what would seem to be simple obstacles. Once I learned this, a lot started to make sense. Those tantrums that I expected her to kill on her own… they don’t go anywhere unless I look at her as a toddler again and notice whether she’s tired, hungry, or needs fed. Haha! It has become my job again to help her master some of these basic survival skills. There are so many things changing in her brain and body it’s very confused and on top of that it can’t regulate impulse control. No wonder they start having fits again!
When I learned of this knowledge and approached her with the information it helped her feel understood and comforted. Now, when it happens, we can at least put a finger on it, give it grace, and cope with it. It’s easy to let it escalate and become disruptive of the whole family’s mood. When you can accept it, and try to be more understanding and helpful, it fades a little faster.
On this note, I think it’s worth discussing to allow them to be in a blah mood more often. I’m always the type to ask my kids what’s wrong or to notice them being in a bad mood and want to fix it, but I’ve learned that during this stage it’s okay to let go of that “good mood” expectation. Sometimes they’re just not going to be in a good mood and it’s not due to anything specific. I blame this on their body and brain being confused. It’s so hard in this stage because it seems that they are pushing away and not wanting you but in my experience it’s the opposite. It clashes with our normal parent response at this age when we would normally discipline for poor attitude and behavior, but when I push all those weird signals aside and give her my time and attention, something that I wouldn’t normally reward her with for bad behavior, she finds her compose again.
I’m starting to see why teen parents have so many complaints and struggles. It’s a very confusing space to navigate and the rules you’ve established kind of go out the window as you adapt to new ways of identifying their needs. It really boils down to them needing their space and independence while simultaneously needing your attention too.
It all hit me when we had a huge blow up one day and after hours of trying varieties of discipline, I finally just held my daughter. She calmed in less than five minutes. We went for a walk and I talked to her about what all her brain and body was going through and how it was new to both of us. I told her that I’m learning along with her, but no matter what I will do my best to help her. I told her that it was natural what she was going through and I will be here beside her to help her cope with and conquer it. This talk was a turning point. She immediately felt comforted in her chaos. She also started opening up and trying to express her feelings more. She started talking to me about transitioning to middle school. She was so excited and curious in anticipation of all these new emotions and firsts. I was worried about her leaving childhood and being exposed to adolescence, but I began to remember my own experience and it started coming back to me. As she described being interested in things like shaving her legs my guard went up and I wanted to know why this was on her register? Was it peer pressure, was it insecurities, etc… As we talked it out, it became apparent that it was simply her curiosity to relate to her feminine side. I started to remember myself wanting to wear lip gloss, or shave my legs, or buy perfume… Those things that you watch older girls and women do that suddenly become interesting to you. It all made sense to me finally. She’s testing out her femininity. Why wouldn’t puberty lend itself to this new version of a girl?
Jared and I discussed it and he noticed all the signals too. She was needing me and some time, just the two of us. We quickly planned a small weekend getaway to explore some girly stuff together and it was one of our favorite vacations so far. It was like we were falling in love for the first time again. Those moments in time that are etched into the history books. She was experiencing new experiences and emotions and so was I right along with her. It was taking me on a ride back through my own stages of girlhood and all the wonder and excitement it held. We made memories and bonded through soaking in hot tubs and getting a massage, eating dinner at fancy restaurants, riding a huge merry go round high above the night sky, shopping for her first women’s size clothing, making playlists of female artists and songs we love, sailing across the lake at sunset, sipping hot cocoa in our jammies at dawn, going for walks and practicing our favorite photography pastime. The list goes on… our getaway was good.
This new stage is shaping me still, but I have to say it’s teaching me to appreciate it just as much as I have each one before. Parenting is ever evolving and if we want to grow with our children and support them we must figure out the ways they need our support. Their success is truly in our hands for much longer than we realize. Our place may shift, but it’s so very vital still.
I’d love to hear, have you encountered any similar occurrences? What has worked out well for you? Tips and ideas are welcome here! Please share your experiences in the comments. I will also say it has proved helpful to not only explain puberty to the child going through it, but also to your other children too. My boys have come to understand this shift well too and I remind them that the same thing will soon happen to them! It aids in empathy and understanding to talk openly about it within your family. I recently listened to a great podcast on The Grace Tales about “How To Help Tween and Teen Boys Develop Into Good Men” I found it informative for both sexes and encouraging at any age of child development.
Hope this post was helpful and relatable somehow to you, keep living for the most friends,