Parenting Your Middle School Girl: On Rollercoasters

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Do you have a roller coaster teenager at your house? If you've strapped in for the ride these years brings, we have some great encouragement for you today!

I spent six weeks of one summer vacation in a driver’s education class. We memorized laws, worked through driving simulations, learned how to adjust the car mirrors, and practiced driving for hours with the big yellow “Student Driver” sticker on the back of the car. 

But I did not get even one hour of training before my daughter turned 12. 

This oversight is the parenting equivalent of handing car keys to a four-year-old. 

So now that I’m 46 and have the most precious adult daughter, I have some hard-earned wisdom to share with you. 

I was not ready for the emotions of a girl-becoming-woman. My husband is a licensed professional counselor, and even he was not ready for the daily emotional ups and downs of our daughter. There were times when we laid in bed at night, flat on our backs, saying, What just happened to us? What do we do? 

What I learned was that my own daughter did not understand her own emotions. Sometimes they were easily identifiable, like she felt ugly or she wished she had more friends. But sometimes they were just emotions, like a tempest that can rise over a lake in the Rocky Mountains where there was just sunny sky and calm waters. 

She often didn’t know why she was feeling. She was just feeling. 

I have simple advice for you: 

She is going to go on a ride. 

You do not have to go with her. 

If I could go back to those emotional days, I would more often say to my girl, I’m sorry, baby. 

And then I would apply comfort measures. 

My married daughter was just home from college on spring break, and she got horribly sick. She called and said, Mommy, can I come over? (Do you ever stop wanting your mom when you don't feel good?)

Poor thing. I could not help at all with her rolling stomach or stuffy nose. But toward the end of the day she looked up at me and said, You’re amazing, mom. 

And you know what I had done?  

I watched Sense and Sensibility with her. (Sigh.) I checked on her 157 times during the day, even as I went about loading the dishwasher and sweeping the kitchen floor. 

What can I get for you, love? I would say. 

I brought her cranberry juice, applesauce, and a scrambled egg with toast. I tucked blankets in around her and fixed one end so the electric fireplace heat would blow up on her toes. I rented her another movie. 

I kissed her little 20-year-old cheekies and told her I loved her and I was sorry she didn’t feel good. 

And moms, it’s the same method for parenting your middle school girl. You can’t bypass all the pains of those years for her. She has to go through them like we all did, but you can love her and comfort her while she’s there.  

She’ll get upset, but you don’t have to. 

Although one side note here –sometimes those emotions turn ugly. You will find she can become fiercely grumpy or disrespectful. That’s not okay ever and needs to be corrected. But gently and privately, yes? She has a lot going on inside, and she’s not rationally planning how it’s all going to come out. 

And you and your husband –comrades in arms! Keep your wits about you.

It's all worth it. 

Christy Fitzwater

Christy Fitzwater is a writer and pastor's wife living in Kalispell, Montana. She has a daughter who is married and a son in college. Christy is the author of two books: Blameless: Living a Life Free from Guilt and Shame and My Father's Hands: 52 Reasons to trust God with Your Heart. Find her devotional blog at christyfitzwater.com.

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