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.