Planning Ahead: An Alternative Parenting Approach

One day, every little kid becomes a teenager. Our motherhood editor, Raluca State, suggests a few meaningful ways to prepare for that inevitable growth, in support of our children's independent transformations AND our relationships with them.
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Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

Normally, I parent in the moment. I can hardly remember when a baby first ate solids or when a toddler took its first steps or when that first tooth fell out, but I know exactly what is going on with a just-turned-seven-year-old and an almost-11-year-old, because that’s the phase I am in right now.

I like to stay present when it comes to parenting, because otherwise, I feel like the kids’ growth passes me by.

Until today. As my daughter starts to move into early adolescence, I am planning ahead. I am proactively taking notes and making plans and putting ideas into motion…all with my eyes on the teenage years that loom ahead of us – the ones that are made to break me, I am told. The ones that could change everything, I am told. The ones I should be nervous about, they say.

I don’t know what those years will actually hold for us, but I do know that building a foundation now – one that our entire family can rely on then – seems like a good idea. I want to know that we’ll be ready to navigate the first mean girl episode. The first missed curfew. The first teenage outburst. And beyond. Here are a few ways I am gearing us all up for it:

1. Creating rituals. 

We all know that routine and rituals are key to the first years of parenthood (for everyone involved), but I am starting to realize that they can be even more important now, as my kids grow up. So I am focused on finding and implementing simple rituals that bring us together as a family and making them habits now so that they can stay that way for the busy years ahead. Options abound: Friday night family movie nights. Wednesday night dinners at our favorite Mexican joint. Sunday morning family hikes with the dog. I know we can’t hold onto all of them during the teen years, but if we can pick one ritual per week that stays in place, I think it will be a stable, comforting tradition we can all count on.

2. Talking…and listening. 

My daughter is almost 11 now, and she wants to talk about everything – hormones, friends, school, Harry Potter. And I am doing my very best to listen. To really listen. Each and every time. Because the way I see it, if I don’t listen now, when she is happy to talk, it will be nearly impossible to get her to share things with me later. I need to let her know now – when the topics are seemingly easy for both of us to handle – that I am an open ear, without judgment and with enthusiasm, and will continue to be in the years ahead.

3. Self-care. 

This is an important one as hormones and body changes start to kick in. My daughter has lots of questions, and beyond just being there to answer them, I am there to lead by example. I want her to go into adolescence with a healthy outlook on body image, food and eating, and other aspects of personal wellness, and the only way I can do my part to help with that is to focus on the lessons I am showing her now. So we talk about hormones and hair, but we also talk about skincare and vitamins and why it’s important that I kickbox for 30 minutes a day to release stress. Hopefully, she soaks up some smart lessons for the years ahead.

4. Observing from afar. 

I’ve written in the past about how parenting gets harder – not easier – with time. I thought the flexibility of my work-from-home career was beneficial when my kids were babies, but it’s far more important now, as they are growing up. Since we have the ability to host play dates, offer car pool rides, and generally appear physically present as much as possible, we do. We want to meet our kids’ friends. We want to know who they are and how they get along. We want to hang out on the schoolyard in the morning and observe from afar to see the social dynamics as they play out. I think paying attention now – often without saying a word – will benefit us later as those friendships blossom (or not) and lead the way for so much of social development moving forward.

5. Doing some homework. 

The reality is that it has been a very long time since I was a teenager. Not only is the world a different place, but our kids are, too. They aren’t growing or maturing or processing things the way we did, and the years ahead are going to feel like uncharted territory for us as parents, just as much as they will for them. So I am trying to do my homework. I am reading books like The Teenage Brain and 5 Love Languages (the teen version) to educate myself now, rather than waiting to do it in the moment. I am checking out the social media apps that my daughter is intrigued by (even though it took me a good hour to figure out how to use musical.ly) and helping her to figure them out, instead of just dissuading her from using them. It’s reality – kids will be online. I want my daughter to adjust to the internet with me by her side. I am also asking around about the different dynamics at all the middle school and high school options in our town and trying to figure out where she – and we – may fit best, when the time comes.

I am doing the homework now so when the real test comes, I will hopefully be prepared. Ready. Excited. Everything I wasn’t with that first tooth. 

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