Bikinis, Instagram, and Other Fun Stuff {Hard Conversations with Your Middle Schooler}

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#selfie_edited-1“But, Mom, I really don’t understand what the big deal is.” And so began our discussion about swimsuits in specific and modesty in general. But this isn't a post about modesty. Or the appropriateness of bikinis, tankinis, or one pieces. This is a post about the things I'm learning as the mom of a middle school girl. As our conversation teetered on the edge of another disastrous blow out, I realized that talking through hard issues is... well, hard.

Truth be told, I feel like I'm becoming an expert in hard conversations. Because, we've had a number of them this year. We've talked about dating and friend choices and social media, to name a few of the biggies.

Sometimes it wears me out. During this particular conversation about bathing suits and modesty, I realized several things that are helping to shape the way I approach these hard topics.

1. I need to listen. Like really listen - to the issue behind the issue. Madison's push-back regarding bikinis wasn't really about bikinis. It looked like a discussion about bathing suits. It felt like a discussion about bathing suits. But, it was actually a discussion about fitting-in.

Part of my job as a middle school mom is to know my daughter and to try to understand the things that impact her. This takes time, energy, and intentional effort. Effort that I don't always want to give, to be honest. But being a mom means sacrifice. My time in this phase of parenting is not so much consumed with potty training and a bedtime routine that works, like it was 10 years ago. Instead, it's consumed with a lot of listening and talking through character-shaping issues.

2. I need to adjust my expectations. Because my kids are very mature for their age and are both good thinkers/articulators, I often expect them to act like adults. I assume they know and understand things that are actually beyond them - either because of their developmental stage or because they just haven't really ever thought it through before.

It might surprise you to learn that the ability to reason and think in principles is actually a developmental process. For example, when you tell your three-year-old not to kick his sister, he does not naturally have the ability to take that principle and apply it to hitting, etc. Moral development is a process that grows with time and catalysts. As a parent, it is my job to help be one of those catalysts... not to get mad because my kids are acting immature!

3. I need to walk a mile in her flip flops. Middle school is hard. Peer pressure is real and social expectations are demanding. It might seem silly to me that she cares so much about a classmate's Instagram photo at the beach but I need to remember that it's her world. And, let's be honest, I have my own social pressures that I cave in to. It shouldn't be so hard for me to understand what she is feeling.

4. I need to be careful to cling to what is important, not just what I have always thought. When Madison started pressing me on the whole bikini issue, I wanted to dig-in and hold to my position. Which might actually be legit, of course. But I just need to be careful that I understand why I'm holding the line. Is it because I am embracing a false dichotomy, tradition or opinion? Or is it because there is a moral issue here that I believe I must stick to: for her good, or the good of others, or because God's Word says so? Sometimes we cloak our personal opinions or preferences in God's Word, turning them into legalisms. As parents we can certainly have preferences and require our children to adhere to them. We just need to be honest with ourselves and clear with our kids about which ones are Biblical and which ones are preference.

5. I need to remember that good questions are not necessarily signs of rebellion. Madison had some legitimate questions about modesty. At first, I didn't like them. Maybe they made me feel threatened. Maybe she asked them disrespectfully. I suspect it was a little bit of both. But, as we talked it out, I was able to coach her on how to push-back while still honoring mom.

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I'm not going to lie. There are days I do these things well and days that I don't. The days that I don't, aren't pretty. And, sometimes even when I do, it still isn't pretty because her heart is the stubborn one. But, this is the first time I've ever been a mom to a middle school girl and I don't do it perfectly. Because of God's mercy and grace, I'm OK with that. I'm trusting Him to fill in the gaps where I fall short and to use all of those opportunities to force us both to lean into His grace. I'm praying that Madison and I are being conformed to the image of Christ through the process of each hard interaction. Typing these five reminders was actually a great reminder for me and a great catalyst for some prayer. I hope it does the same for you.

And, let's not forget that having a middle school daughter is not ALL hard conversations. It's also a lot of fun. As is evidenced by the plethora of unflattering mother-daughter #selfies we now possess. {wink}

Grace and peace for your middle school mothering,

@In a Mirror Dimly