Preparing for big parenting milestones

I don’t typically handle my kids’ milestones well. Losing teeth, starting kindergarten, first dance recitals, etc. can cause me to choke up and feel emotional. With this tendency, I shouldn’t have been surprised a few nights ago when I felt so shaken after attending the Parent Information Night at our local high school.

As I sat in the big auditorium, listening to the different speakers describing all the opportunities the school has to offer, I couldn’t help remembering my own high school experience. Yes, high school has a lot to offer. Unfortunately that is not what I was focusing on.

Looking around the room at the incoming Freshmen, I thought about all of the decisions they would face: Would they have sex for the first time? Smoke pot? Drink beer? Would they find friends who share their goals and values or would they be drawn into the “wrong crowd?” Thinking about my 8th grade daughter Mia facing these situations filled me with fear. Remembering my own poor choices in high school did not help matters.

Parenting through the high school years has always been a stage I’ve worried about since my own experience was pretty rough. As this phase quickly approaches, I wonder: Have I done enough to prepare Mia?

Once I indulged my sadness and fear for a moment I realized she is ready. Will it be perfect? No. But I feel comforted thinking about the parenting work we’ve done in preparation for this chapter.

If you are facing a similar milestone with your child, here are some steps you can take to make it as smooth as possible.

  1. Keep talking. My number one goal as a mom is to keep the lines of communication open. I use many strategies to achieve this. Whether it’s chatting in the car, filling out our mother/daughter journal (click here to find out more about this amazing tool), taking Mia on weekly “dates” or crawling into her bed at night to chat before she falls asleep, I make this a priority.
  1. Don’t expect perfection. This one is not always easy for me. I often have to remind myself that everyone makes mistakes and it’s to be expected. Often times my instinct is to say, “You did what?!” or “You know, you really shouldn’t have said that,” but this reaction usually shuts down communication. Instead, I try to slow down and ask non-judgmental questions so we can look at what happened and see how it could be handled differently in the future.
  1. Parent from a place of hope.  Parenting from fear almost always backfires. I remind myself that Mia has her own journey and path to follow. Instead of focusing on all of the things that can go wrong (although I do slip those examples in occasionally) I try to help her focus on her goals and dreams and all the exciting possibilities. Research shows that thinking about decisions ahead of time typically helps us make better choices. We talk a lot about how various decisions can either support her goals or steer her off course.
  1. Stay involved. I make a real effort to participate in Mia’s life. Whether that’s taking her and her friends to the mall or volunteering at her dance shows, I try to make time to get to know the people she spends time with. It’s easy to think that because our kids don’t always want us around anymore that we shouldn’t be. However, it is more important then ever to have connections with your child’s friends.  If problems arise, they are much easier to handle if we have a relationship with the families involved.
  1. Talk to other parents. This is one of my favorite strategies.  Parents who have already successfully survived this stage are a great resource for us newbies. My sister is my “go to” person for advice as her kids are a few years older and she always has wise words to share. It’s so helpful to realize we aren’t alone and can get some great advice and guidance.
  1. Make time for fun. Between homework, extra curricular activities, busy social lives and our own personal commitments it can be easy to push “having fun” to the bottom of our to-do lists. However, taking the time to do something fun with our teens helps us stay close and lighten our daily stress. Even if it’s just putting on some music and dancing around the living room, I find things we both enjoy doing and then make it a priority.
  1. Keep a sense of humor. This strategy helps with pretty much anything in life. Trying to see the humor in things can help us not take things too seriously.

I know this next chapter will not always be easy, but neither were the terrible twos. Hopefully by staying involved and tackling problems as they arise, we can enjoy the experience together.

I’d love to hear from you. As your kids grow up, what do you worry about? What tips do you have if you’ve already survived this phase?