Post here anonymously in the comments of you need to vent about something going on that’s Thanksgiving-related that you can’t say on your social media. No misery poker. Every problem is a problem.
A big part of what I got at with the post about how hard it is to parent a seventh grader is that it hurts to parent your child through things that hurt you. If you pay attention to the things that are most intense and difficult for you, you know where you need to be extra kind and forgiving with yourself.
I think for most of us it starts when our kids are toddlers or preschoolers. There are things they do that are annoying, but then there are other things they do that hit a nerve and seem to shoot right up into our brains with an almost physical pain. Have you ever felt hot rage, or panic, or fear when your child did something that wasn’t objectively horrific? That’s because we have unresolved intense emotions about those things from our own childhoods. Usually that intense reaction tells you that you weren’t allowed to do whatever it is that your kid is doing, so you’re having a reaction to that. You might feel fear that you or your child or both are going to be punished for doing it. You might feel rage that your child is daring to do this thing you knew better than to do. You might feel panic that you should stop your child from doing it or that you should have prevented it.
Those feelings in those intensity triggered by something someone else does are called emotional flashbacks. People who have any kind of trauma often have emotional flashbacks (sometimes without any connection to any external trigger at the time), and they can be extremely hard to work around. We like to think of ourselves as strong, calm, logical people, especially when we’re parenting, and emotional flashbacks can derail us, for a few seconds or a few days. They’re invisible and no one talks about them, so it’s really easy to think there’s just something wrong with you for not being able to control your reactions to things.
When your child does something that hits one of your soft spots and triggers an emotional flashback, it can be truly overwhelming. You’re dealing with your kid’s act, the emotion it triggers in you, your reaction to that emotion, your feelings about your reaction to that emotion, and then your child’s reaction to your reaction. If it’s a one-time event, you can regain your equilibrium. But if it happens regularly or over a long period of time, you can be in a near-constant state of emotional overwhelm. This is why you can feel like you’re totally losing it when your kids won’t put on their shoes every morning. Or why parenting a seventh grader can make you feel anxious and weepy all the time.
So what’s the answer? Well, you know all that minute-by-minute work you have to do with your kids? You have to do it with yourself, too. Essentially, you have to reparent yourself through whatever that issue is that is giving you emotional flashbacks. You have to think of yourself now (because you deserve care) and also of the you you were when you were in that situation (because you deserved care then). Note: your parents could be wonderful amazing people, but if they hadn’t been parented through the situation and taught healthy responses, the likelihood that they could parent you through it is slim. They probably had emotional flashbacks when you were doing whatever it was, but white-knuckled through it because they thought something was wrong with them. This means that you are the only one who can stop this cycle because you’re here right now. You deserve to feel good and be healthy, just as your kids do, and your parents do, too.
So. When your child is doing something that makes you feel an oversized emotion so you know you’re having an emotional flashback, the first thing to do is reassure yourself that this is expected and ok and you’re not doing anything wrong. Of course you’re having this feeling. Then, connect with your kid and tell them you love them and give them a hug and help them process whatever’s going on and redirect behavior. (I’ve found the echoing technique in Parent Effectiveness Training to be the gold standard of helping a kid work through a problem.) You do NOT have to solve the problem for your child, although if you can make a little bit of forward motion on helping your child build skills to solve the problem for themself, that’s what you’re aiming for.
Then, and this is key, give yourself permission to acknowledge that you should have been given that same help processing whatever it was back when you were a kid. And then give yourself a “good job!” for parenting your kid through this episode. This is you being kind to the kid you were and to the person you are now.
This is going to feel really really weird the first ten times you do it. It might feel actually wrong the first couple of times, because you’re stepping away from feelings that cause you shame, and shame likes to hold on. But do it simply because helping your kid work through something is the right thing to do and being kind to yourself is the right thing to do. The shame will loosen its grip on you and the emotions will fade in intensity, and helping your child work through this stuff will be about skill-building.
You can do it.
It’s so hard to be a seventh grader. It’s so hard to parent a seventh grader.
Parenting through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade with my first one required more intensity than I’d had to put in at any previous stage, and it’s happening again with my second child. They fall apart emotionally, feel so intensely, feel uncomfortable and weird in their bodies, don’t know who their real friends are, can’t focus on schoolwork and get anxious and scared about that, are captive to the hormonal surges happening that switch them from bravado to rage to weeping in a few minutes, and just want to hide all the time.
They need us, a lot. More than when they were babies or preschoolers, by a lot. They need hugs and snuggles (a lot). Both of mine have spent more time in my lap–with their long legs flapping out to the sides–in seventh grade than in second through sixth grades combined. Even when they’re mad at me or trying to tell me I’m mad at them they want to be touching me.
I figured out with the first one that getting mad at him for being in a kind of disequilibrium he’d never experienced before and didn’t know how to handle was not going to get me anywhere I wanted to be. So I a) didn’t let myself get mad at him for normal-but-horrible developmental collapse, b) didn’t let myself take his lashing out or his scatteredness personally, c) did take his need to be touching me and hearing that I loved him personally, and d) shifted my view of him at this stage from autonomous tween to little kid going through a regression so I could be kind and sympathetic. (Perimenopause hit me like a ton of hot sweaty bricks when that same child was in eighth grade, and he was shockingly sympathetic to my inability to be in my body comfortably or control my emotions. Man bites dog.)
It was intense, deep, minute-by-minute work. I’m not sure I’ve worked as hard in such small increments since I was up nursing at 3 am every night. Back then I used to think about all the other mothers all over the world rocking their little babies. Now I think a lot about all the other parents snuggling their big kids. It is no less work going through it with my second child right now.
Two weeks ago I posted on Facebook that I don’t think I’ve recovered emotionally from seventh grade. I got story after story of adults who were still hurt by that grade (or sixth or eighth). A common theme was that kids that age felt disconnected from their friends and other kids or were being bullied or hurt or failing classes, and they couldn’t tell their parents. Or their parents wouldn’t help them or didn’t know how to help them. So they were alone, and that’s the part that still hurt. (It’s the part that still hurts me, too. I didn’t tell my mom for a long time that I was being bullied. It was the beginning of a lifetime of feeling truly alone.)
I don’t think it’s right that our culture makes seventh graders feel so alone that it takes us decades to recover. We should be increasing the challenge level for tweens but keeping them surrounded by a support system they can turn to when they fail or just need a hug. I am trying to keep my younger one tethered to his life and to his family and friends as much as I can, so this disequilibrium stage doesn’t sever ties he’s too young to be without.
I think the combination of the intensity required to parent through this age and our own unhealed hurts from being this age can be overwhelming. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job. It just means that it’s going to feel really difficult and probably like you don’t want to do it, and maybe like you can’t do it. But you can, and you are. I can and I am, too.
I think hugs are the way we make it through this tunnel.
Thanks to my talented friend Kelly, we’re at a new host and all the old posts and comments are up. There are a bunch of broken links and no banner and it looks like 1998, but we’re here! I’m relieved.
I have a lot of stuff to say, so I’m going to spend the next few weeks saying it. In no particular order:
My depression is in remission and I’m amazed and freaked out by that and everything’s different.
I was having horrible migraines and tried some things to get rid of them and have been mostly successful with it.
The full-body breakdown of perimenopause (see: migraines) continues apace and feels like whack-a-mole.
Librarians, look here.
If you’re starting to get stressed about the “holiday season,” look here.
Wow, seventh grade is brutal, isn’t it? It’s like 3.5 and 7 and the 4-month sleep regression and perimenopause all put together.
I just want everyone to know that the toddler I had when I started this site is now learning to drive. (The learning to drive is going fine.)
All of the speaking out about harassment is exposing the seedy underbelly of work, isn’t it? There are ways we could reconfigure work and manage people better so workplaces weren’t inherently abusive institutions.
I’m renovating an 80-year-old house.
We are really all in it together. Now more than ever. I’d like to talk about being intentional and obvious about providing support for each other.
I’m sure there’s other stuff I need to talk about right away, but these were the first things that came to mind. I missed you. What happened while I was gone?