Parenting a tween: an exercise in presence

Parenting is an exercise in presence.  This has always been true, of course, but it’s getting even more so as my children get older.   I wrote about this a bit a week and a half ago on Instagram: “Sunday night. Snow falling softly. Just back from hockey game (3rd of weekend). Thinking about how parenting a tween is an exercise in presence. It is about being there, often silently, often without acknowledgement. You have to trust that it matters, and that it is noticed, that you are there. You give presence and patience and awareness and believe it is felt even when you aren’t told so. It’s a reminder of what I have long known, that love is as simple and as difficult as being present with another person.”

What I do these days is listen, make dinner, pack lunches, drive a lot.  I drive to school, I drive to practices, I drive to playdates, I drive to games.  I pick up, sitting in the car, often mutely, and drive friends who chat animatedly in the backseat.  I tuck in, kissing foreheads and waiting for updates to come pouring out.  Once in a while they do, occasionally on a flood of tears, but often they don’t.  I just need to be there when the moment comes.

I try to be stoic in the face of frustrations and moods, knowing that my job is to be there, no matter what.  I think often of a wonderful essay by Jenny Rosenstrach in which she acknowledges that there is much we cannot do to protect our children from the vagaries of life in middle school.  What we can do, she says, is what she learned from her own mother.  We can make sure “they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”

These are the day so when I have to learn, all over again, that love is about abiding.  It is staying near.  It is working in my office rather than going downstairs, because Grace has decided to curl up on the couch in the next door room.  It is sitting on her bed reading before bed, even though it’s less comfortable than my own bed, simply because I know the quiet togetherness comforts her.  It is showing up to games, even when I’ve been told not to cheer too loudly, and watching, because the minute I glance down at my phone will be the instant she looks over.

Mothering these days is about knowing that I can’t fix everything – or, often, anything.  It is knowing that listening without trying to change is actually the most profound gift.  It is about trusting that she sees that I am there, and that she senses, somewhere deep and inchoate, that that is a demonstration of my love.  And I know, by the way, that this is all practice and training for parenting a teen, the days which hover on the horizon, whose advent is around the corner.  I definitely don’t feel ready.  But the days are coming, so I’ll gather what I have, which is my love, instinct, and a fierce belief in abiding, and I will do my best.  I’ll mess up, and I’ll begin again.

43 thoughts on “Parenting a tween: an exercise in presence”

  1. Oh this is so true. Just the other day, Charlotte’s teacher shared something she wrote in her journal – about how happy she was that I work part time so that I can pick her up from school and be home in the afternoons. Often SHE is not home in the afternoon, but her just knowing that I am there (present) is a comfort to her. She wrote it in her journal but would NEVER say it out loud 🙂 Ah, tweens.

  2. Yes to all of this. I love that part about making home the most comfortable place. And, for what it’s worth, my experience has been that all of it gets easier with teenagers. Parenting tweens was much harder for me.

  3. I’m glad you’re treading this water a few years ahead of me so that I can remember and learn from these words. You’re doing all the right things, mama. You are.

  4. I’m fond of saying that kids are smart. They see through our words, and take note of our actions. The best way to show our love is to invest our time.

  5. I think you have hit on something so important–sometimes our kids need us to be there and resist saying something. It sounds like you are doing a fabulous job. I also really admire how much you protect your children’s stories/privacy when you write about parenting.

  6. Well said, Lindsey. The older my kids get the more it is apparent — being available and present is what teens need. Now that my third (can’t believe it!) is almost a teen, I can honestly say I never thought being a parent of teens would take as much, or possibly more, time and energy as parenting toddlers. But it’s all a gift, and is fleeting. Soaking it up while they’re here. Parenting is a great adventure. I love reading it through your eyes. Thank you!

  7. Yes, yes and yes! We are going through such similar journeys. I am nodding vigorously and feeling so happy to see my thoughts written out loud. I sit on the uncomfortable bed just to be there and drive the carpool although I’ve been asked not to talk. Also just to be there. I have not read Jenny’s piece yet but I love the idea of making home the most comfortable place to be. In the midst of all that is so hard for both her and for me, knowing that home is the one place we can control is comforting in itself. Thank you as always for putting the thoughts that are so similar to those racing through my head in to words.

  8. I love this genre of your posts. It offers such a wonderful preview of what’s to come. With three boys in my house your reflections on Whit are more salient to me. But I appreciate your insights into raising Grace as well. Thanks for this.

  9. I need to save this and re-read it in about 6 years. This is so spot-on and represents everything I aspire to as a mother.

  10. l’m exactly in the center of this phase of mothering with my oldest. I find myself second guessing my actions and words, wondering if I’m making the right decisions, doing enough or too much. Dialing it back down to simply being present in all the ways I can be, that is such a relief, so ultimately doable. Thanks for sharing this.

  11. This is so lovely. It’s hard to put in this kind of work and not be appreciated for it. But I think you are right – and it is the quiet work that is the most important.

  12. I read this and feel, as I often do, that my little girl is sometimes quite tween like. And, also, that some things about parenting are so universal. I struggle with presence, a lot, but sometimes being present is the most important thing we can do as parents.

  13. I love this, particularly your “fiercely abiding;” I wonder if it takes a mother to understand the truth in that seeming contradiction. There are days already in parenting a four and six year old when I feel that I can’t find my way through but still must. At the best of those times, I can chuckle as I am reminded of the line from The Big Lebowski: “The Dude abides.” So much Buddhist wisdom in that great, silly film.

  14. Yes, you’re right – it’s so hard to be present, and often I focus on what is hard about it, but you’re right that focusing on that task does relieve us of a love of what-ifs and second guessing. xox

  15. Thank you so much. I really appreciate hearing that. I think this one is pretty gender-neutral, at least for me … Whit pushes different buttons for me, and therefore it’s hard for different reasons to stay really present to/with him. But just as important I think. xox

  16. Thank you so much. I definitely did not believe it when people said they would need more more as older kids than they did as infants, but for me at least that’s turned out to be true. xoxox

  17. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your saying that. Not jumping into fix mode is something I need to keep working on. It’s actually such a relief to let go of that, and at least for me it’s often not that helpful to the person talking. xox

  18. Since January, I keep this Catherine Wallace quote ever present in my thoughts and actions:
    “Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
    I have a 16 year old and have the privilege of volunteering with teens. really truly listening is a gift to them And to me.
    As always, your words are poignant and relevant and beautiful.

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