Some parents find their tweens are growing up just as they did – same habits, interests, and abilities. Some parents find their tween’s personality seems to be genetically completely unrelated to their family tree, and they wonder if the tween was actually switched at birth… sometimes the glaring opposite traits have been present since birth, and sometimes they seem to grow, along with the tween, in the tween-age years. What is a parent to do when confronted with the extra challenge of parenting a child that just seems so different from herself?
First remind yourself that everybody is different – if not for the differences of genetic blending and bending, the human race would probably have died out long before we left caves. Look at the “big picture” – if everyone in our society had exactly the same thoughts, skills and abilities, how would we ever be able to invent things, discover new ideas, and what would our lives look like with a lack of job diversity and a complete lack of variety in occupational skills? We need our differences in strengths in almost every situation in life – work, relationships, teamwork – what would our favorite sports teams look like if all the players played the exact same position? It just wouldn’t work.
Second, on a smaller scale, look at the ways your tween can and does contribute – in the home, at school, at church, with friends – his/her own special “differences.” As they grow into their bodies and their brains, tweens go through the normal developmental stage of trying out activities and interests and mannerisms. As parents, our challenge is to help them find the ones which are positive, will help them along in life, and to see how the special differences between us and our tween can contribute to the tween’s success.
Finally, this is a chance to practice what parents preach – acceptance. Perhaps the most important thing a parent can do is love and accept their tween unconditionally – which does not mean an absence of discipline, rather a love that will exist and persist no matter the differences between parent and child. You may be outgoing, while your child is a wallflower, but recognize that wallflowers sometimes are far more observant of people and life than their partying opposites. You may have been a straight-A student, while your child struggles to make barely passing grades – but recognize they may be better at relating to their peers, adults, and ultimately become leaders with their non-book oriented talents. Find the positive strengths and help tweens learn to use them wisely. Don’t give up on the “necessary” things in life (must pass in school, must be responsible for chores, etc) but focusing on the good things tweens do can enhance your relationship and keep them connected to you, even as they continue to grow up and away. Positive relating may also encourage them to do the “necessary” things better and help your overall parenting become easier. Happy parenting and happy parents! (Inspired by a new book by Andrew Solomon, “Far From the Tree”)