The Dreaded 8th Grade Angst

It’s Saturday night and I’m home after a very busy day. I took my six youngest children with me to my parents house by the lake and we spent the day swimming. The kids had a great time. And the big bonus, they all got along well today. It helped that I only had the six. My four oldest, the teenagers, are all off having adventures of their own. 

My oldest is in Alaska and, as I write, she is embarking on a wilderness adventure that involves bush planes, isolated lakes, river rafting, and hiking. She will be off-grid for seven days. The people she’s adventuring with are close family friends and wilderness experts. I know she couldn’t be in better hands. But still. Moms can’t help worrying a little. 

The next three teens are on an inner-city missions trip in Buffalo, NY. This is their 4th year of going on this trip. They spend the time leading kids camps, being involved in a large food pantry, doing “intervention” where they visit low-income homes and see if they need basic furniture items like beds and then help deliver the furniture. They are moving from early in the morning till late at night. And my kids love it. Every year when we discuss the summer plans all the kids put the Buffalo Mission Trip as top priority. If I can only do one thing this summer, then I want to go to Buffalo. 

Right now I’m kind of basking in that “My teens are so awesome!” glow…Of course, it helps that they aren’t home to burst my little proud bubble. 

I’ve been thinking about my teens today and my mind drifted to the dreaded “8th grade year”. This is the year when all of my teens have lost it. It’s like they get all the way through 7th grade and then one day they wake up and think, Hey, wait a minute! I just realized I’m my own automonous person. I am not an attachment of my parents or my family at large. Maybe I should isolate myself in my bedroom while I figure this whole thing out. And  while I’m at it, maybe I should start testing my ability to be my own person. 

Of course, how that comes across to the rest of us is that our sweet family-oriented child suddenly doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of us and they have an attitude every time I ask them to participate in the chore and family times. 

Every family is different. I’ve talked to other friends of mine. Some of them have had all their children become problematic at the same age, but the age is different. Others have had each of their kids choose a different age or stage of development to become difficult. I haven’t talked to any parent yet who just skipped the whole process. If you are out there, don’t tell me. I might feel bad. Right now I take comfort in the fact that everyone seems to go through it with their teens. 

The benefit of having a large family is that you get a chance to learn from your mistakes. By the third child I had adopted the strategy of becoming very hands off. Here, I’ll slide a plate of food under the bedroom door occasionally. See you in a year when you start 9th grade. Just kidding…Kind of. 

Even my sweet, mild-mannered 4th child seems to be heading into the dreaded 8th grade angst. It’s rather shocking when your “good” kid starts to have attitude. Like someone just threw a bucket of cold water in your face. Et tu Brute? Of course, being one of those mild-mannered kids myself, I fully understand that under that sweet facade can lie deep depths of turmoil and anguish. So, I have grace even for my sweet kid to become moody. (No, I don’t have favorites, but I’m honest. Some kids are just programmed to be sweet while others aren’t!)

I don’t know what you are going through with your teen at the moment.  I just want to share with you parents who are still relatively new to the teen thing. Let you know that I too have struggled. And my kids are turning out ok despite it all. It’s not easy. It helps if you dredge up your old memories of being a teen and try to remember what it’s like. There are no magic formulas for parenting teens. Lots of grace. Lots of love. Lots of patience. Lots of prayer. And hopefully, they’re going to be ok. 

To The Parents In the Trenches

I’ve been thinking about parenting. This week a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while asked how things were going. I gave some short, glowing reports about my children. A sense of well-being flooding me. My kids are doing so great!

Then I thought about a couple different friends of mine who are struggling with their teens. And I thought about how my glowing reports might not be taken so well by parents who are currently in the trenches with their own offspring.

When we are struggling we tend to look around us at how everyone else is doing. If our friends are doing better than us we feel condemned, less than. If our friends are doing worse than us, we feel validated, superior. If they are in the same boat as us, we feel encouraged, we’re not alone!

For those of you who are on the battlefield right now with your teen, I want you to know that you are not alone. I would guess that most parents of older children have fought those battles. We don’t talk about it much. We can’t. We can’t gossip or malign our own children. We can’t air our dirty laundry because it affects their lives too, not just ours. We can’t betray their confidences, their privacy. So, we mostly suffer alone. Privately. Perhaps sharing only with a very close friend. It is very lonely.

I want you to have hope. Not all problems with teens automatically mean that they are going to end up homeless drug addicts, wandering the streets. A big percentage of those kids conquer their problems. They move on to become productive, wonderful adults. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to cry and feel like I’ve completely failed as a parent. Bewildered at what colossal mistake I must have made to make my child act this way. Not sure if this child and I can live in the same house together much longer. Pondering how much boarding school really costs. Could I get a loan to cover that? Can I legally kick an underage kid out of my house?

Even though it is lonely in that we can’t share our troubles with the world at large, I really encourage you to seek help. Pastors, teachers, doctors, psychologists, prayer warriors…There are people that it is appropriate to share your troubles with. People who have seen it before. People who might have some wise counsel or are just willing to stand in solidarity with you. People who are willing to go that extra mile or one hundred miles and come pick up your teen and take them away for a couple days so that everyone can have a cool down period.

Here’s the thing…one day, you notice things aren’t as bad as before. And then a while later, you realize, things are actually getting better. And then one day, you look at your teen, and you swell up with pride because they have actually become someone you like.

Yes, there are many stories of parent/teens who don’t make it. It ends ugly. But, maybe, even for those horror stories we hear, maybe, down the road many months, years, possibly decades, peace happens. Reconciliation. Where there is life, there is hope.

I’ve only been in this parenting game for eighteen and half years. During that time I’ve had some pretty amazing highs and some heart-wrenching lows. I have a two year old. I am nowhere close to being finished. As I look at my large brood, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some rough years ahead for some of them. It seems to just be part of growing up for some kids.

I hope you know that when I brag on how great my kids are doing, I’m just telling you the highlights. We have to stay positive after all. I’m not free to share all the crazy episodes I’ve had, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that I’ve had them, and that you’re not alone. Here’s praying for all you parents in the trenches. May God give you peace and wisdom and hope. You are not alone.