When my kids were super little I viewed the phase of parenting through puberty as a far off distant place of dread that I was able to somewhat avoid with a healthy dose of denial due to the fact that several years separated me and my children from having to go there. After all, why worry myself to death over this scary place when my children were still in diapers? Were not the sleepless nights, and the terrible three’s (and four’s) enough to consume my attention? So whenever I watched older parents already traveling through that territory of pubescent awesomeness I looked upon them with a gratefulness that my turn for such a ride was a long way off, even though I secretly knew that it would come faster than I wanted it to.
It did. And now I have arrived. And it feels something like this…
Who loves puberty? No one. No one loves puberty. Fine me someone who cherished the pimples on the end of her nose, or the years of living in an awkward half child/have adult body, or the inexplicable moments of emotional turmoil when it felt like a small alien might just erupt from the center of her chest. Find me that girl who loved the uncomfortable scratchy training bra that she did not really need but desperately wanted for fear of being teased one more time in the girl’s PE locker room because she was not yet wearing one. Or the other girl who loved growing to her adult height in sixth grade and having her breasts burst forth too big and too soon when all of the boys her age were still two feet shorter and perfectly at eye level of said breasts. And find me the boys who loved being two feet shorter than all of the girls. (Or maybe they did?) Or the boy who loved hearing his voice crack when his science teacher called upon him in front of the entire class. And find me the girl that loved walking around each day in the anticipation of Aunt Flow’s surprise first visit, praying she would not, please dear God, arrive during Mr. Smith’s math class.
Find me the kids who loved drowning in their private worries about their bodies and their futures or where, and to whom, they might belong despite their awkwardness.
I sort of foolishly believed that the experience of my own puberty would give me empathy pains and the know how to walk my children through their own dark tunnel. To some degree it did, but frankly those empathy pangs also served to help me relive those years all over again. It’s totally true. Especially with my daughter, I’ve been crying over friend drama, worrying over developmental changes, climbing over my embarrassment of taking about said developmental changes, wondering when Aunt Flow will arrive, praying for friendships and a place to belong, reliving the emotional roller coaster, coming face to face with that old “friend”…the immature and inexperienced alien that resides in every pubescent chest, succumbing to the daily dose of tears. My own puberty journey gave me empathy, but it did not prepare me for how to parent through it. Why? Because I was not learning how to parent through my puberty. I was a middle school pre-teen who spent her hours secretly playing with (and clinging to) Barbies while the rest of her classmates were passing notes to their crushes. I think that when I finally got to college I was so relieved to be past that stage that I just never looked back. (Although research now shows that puberty actually extends into our early twenties, but that’s another fun discussion.)
All I have, or any parent has, up to this point are the lessons and experiences that have transpired between our own puberty and today. All I have is the wisdom of my years. And that wisdom is not meant to be forged into a tool to beat down or minimize my children’s experience of puberty, it is meant to help me in how I will deal with it the second time around. I cannot change the experience of their illogical fears or the worrying about their bodies. I cannot speed them through this awkward time or protect them from having to go through it. This is what puberty is all about, this reliving of their toddler years in the body of an almost-adult…this pushing and pulling at their universe, and throwing tantrums…it’s all a part of the puberty deal. I can only decide to move through it differently with my second chance. And by doing it differently with the wisdom I have, it will hopefully give them what they need to navigate through it on their own.
One day I explained to my daughter with my ancient Yodo-like wisdom…Puberty. Or no puberty. There is no choice. There is only puberty.
And so I have found myself repeating this same truth to myself as I and my husband parent our two children through some of the most awkward years of their life: there is only puberty. So I better buckle up and dig deep into that well of wisdom so I can be what they need to me to be.
And I also might want to call upon the Force. The Force might be helpful.
So, as a parent who is smack in the middle of that dark tunnel calling back out to you who may be on the outside, you might be wondering what nuggets of wisdom I am going to impart to you. I do not have a grand list for you but I think I have found the simplest technique that, so far, has been quite powerful and helpful in making our way through some of our, what I call, “heated pubescent episodes”. Whenever I feel myself starting to get sucked into one of my child’s emotional vortexes and I want to rip into the illogical emotional alien that has erupted from her person, I put my lightsaber down. With all of the strength of the Force that I can muster….
….I hold her hand. Sometimes literally, and sometimes figuratively, I hold her hand with my quiet and calm-like presence. Like Yoda. Think about how Yoda would “do” and that’s what I do.
Every once in a while I might say (in my comforting mother voice that sounds like Yoda but is not too creepy):
Hmmmm, I am sooooo sorry you are feeling this way.
Ahhhh yes, I know this ride is scary, but you are going to be okay.
Yes, yes, I agree, puberty sucks. I didn’t like it either.
Oh my dear dear one, I just know you are going to turn out okay.
Many many tears, yes, this is what happens in puberty. I cried a lot too.
Hmmmm, do you want me to just sit with you? The force is strong with me, I can pray for you.
Oh believe me, this one Jedi practice of self-control takes great concentration and patience but it has become quite freeing. Because in the middle of a heated pubescent episode my children have never slammed on the breaks and asked me to impart some amazing piece of wisdom. They have never asked me to pick up the lightsaber and fight back their surging hormonal outbreaks. In the middle of some “huge” crisis moment they never say, “Hey mom, can you logic me out of this irrational pool of worry and doubt and feelings that are manifesting themselves in ego-centric behavior.” They never say to me, “Hey mom, can you give me a big ten minute lecture on how I need to grow up.” Or, “What I really want right now, mom, is for you to show me how everything I am saying is utterly idiotic.” What I think they want is just for me to be with them through it. They want my empathy to be quiet and calming rather than long, loud, and wordy. I am pretty sure that this is true because every time I or my husband attempt to show our empathy via the noisy route, they grow antsy after sixty seconds. I see them glancing towards the nearest exit door.
I think the great comfort that we give in just “holding their hand” as they walk through the dark tunnel helps them to feel and know that they are not alone…and that there is a place where they can be their ugly selves without a lightsaber beating them back into a place of quiet submission. A entirely other place that could leave them feeling isolated and confused.
Yes, in the moments when the dust settles and they have briefly rested into some sort of normality I can then show up with my other pieces of bright wisdom and stories of my own awkward years, maybe even dole out the natural consequences to their behavior. But ultimately, above all else, whether they are crying over something trivial, battling you over some rule, burning the house down, breaking curfew, they want to know that there is at least one calm and sane person in the tunnel with them, not someone who might abandon them by jumping off the cliff.
There are days when I am downright exhausted from having to be the emotionally, sane, mature person. There are days when I am not successful at being that person. Which is why we all get that second pass at puberty…because it is one more opportunity for us to grow up.
Sometimes I cannot wait to see that first glimpse of light leading us out from the tunnel. But I also know that when that day arrives my children will have morphed into adults who then want to leave and embark on their own journeys away from the home. The only home that they have known thus far. However, I am choosing to believe that how we get through these present tunnel days will create a place in our relationship to which they know that they can always safely return. Because the truth is, that I will never stop holding their hands…even when they are someday entering that tunnel with their own children. Which means I will be a grandma by then. Which means maybe I will sort of get the chance at a third pass at going through the puberty tunnel. Which is sort of freaking me out now that I think about it because I am talking about myself aging. I need to slow down and remember to embrace this hear and now. This crazy, emotional, exciting, adventurous, growth-inducing, patience-testing, second-round-of-puberty, here and now. The light at the end of the tunnel will come soon enough.