As the mom of three boys within three years of each other, I really do feel like I have some expertise about bringing up boys. I even wrote about it a few years ago, when I shared my favorite tips and advice for those with little ones.
Back then, I felt knowledgeable, experienced and confident. Fast forward to last summer at middle school orientation, where my twin boys would soon attend. It was big, loud and fast-paced as I tried to hold onto every word said while I feverishly took notes about electives, the eight learning styles and cellphone use.
"Why do they keep mentioning cellphones?" I whispered to my friend. "Are they required or something?"
When you have twins, every stage in their development is, well ... double. Like when they're suddenly mobile, or potty training, or strapping on backpacks for the first day of school. When you hit the bigger milestones—like starting middle school—it honestly feels like driving fast in a convertible in 30-degree weather, and you're just trying to keep the right level of oxygen flowing.
While middle school has been a great experience so far, there are times when my sons have felt like strangers to me. I've gotten more used to it over the past year, but thought I'd outline some of my observations for those moms and dads who are nearing the milestone.
They are confused—and make bad lawyers.
I get it. There's a lot for them to take in with a transition to a new and bigger school. What's my locker code again? How do I pay for lunch? Where are my shoes?!?! For awhile, I nicknamed one son Spicoli. You remember this Sean Penn character from the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High? OK. So his confusion might have had something to do with the fact that he was always high—but something tells me he'd be confused anyway. Too many tasty waves to get after ...
I decided to do some research. I learned tweens' brains undergo massive structural and functional changes in middle school. Just as toddlers need to learn how to walk on wobbly legs, tweens need to learn how to think with fresh brains. They are hyperfocused on what THEY want, and everything can feel like a debate. We tell another son he acts like a bad lawyer. Instead of coming to a conclusion after examining the evidence, he begins arguments by deciding on his desired outcome and works backward to crank out proof.
"But I shouldn't have to walk the dog because I did it yesterday! It's Luke's turn to walk the dog! I have soccer practice and it will make me too tired ..."
And so on.
I've even started working with him on how to work me. "Here's how you need to say this to get what you want."
They make weird(er) noises.
"Little boys and their noise" is something I've said often over the years—usually when I'm trying to apologize to a visiting family member for the noise level and chaos in our home. But OMG! It's hit a whole new level of weirdness around here. Some days it sounds like a freaking ZOO, and drives me and my husband nuts.
Clothes matter more than ever.
My boys have always liked nice clothes and shoes, which I appreciate. But when their Christmas lists were full of shirts from Vineyard Vines, I couldn't help but wince.
"Really ... Vineyard Vines? We're more of an Adidas/VAN's family, don't you think?"
I'll never forget that first day back to school when they came home and shared how many other kids had the exact same shirts on. ("HA! See? I win!")
I'll continue encouraging them to develop their personal style, while I need to remember that fitting in trumps individuality for most kids this age. It will pass.
If not, I'd better be yachting along the Cape in 20 years.
They take more risks.
Although I couldn't find any hard data to back this up, I think tween boys are more likely to get injured. I personally know of four boys from their school who broke bones last year—including my own son and my good friend's son who both broke the same bone in snowboarding accidents.
My guess is this has something to do with testing out those new hormones flashing in and out or their bodies, and perhaps a desire to impress others. "Think before do"—a motto from their early elementary days—has resurfaced in our home.
Their music is "lit."
Rap ... Hip Hop ... It's not going away, people. At least for this generation. While I like some of it, the lyrics can be incredibly vulgar. It's a tough line to walk: I want my boys to explore and develop their own tastes in music, but also protect them. I try to see the appeal from their viewpoint, and can't deny that some of it is darn creative and edgy.
Hasn't taste in music always been a generational conflict?
Smartphones, social media, and drama for mama.
Aghhh! Those who know me know what a battle this is for me. I fought a good fight and avoided buying my boys phones until their 13th birthdays. The truth is, most kids their age have smartphones and use social media, specifically Snapchat, as their main way of communicating. It can cause drama and hurt feelings—even for boys—and sometimes it's hard to know when to intervene and when not to.
Again, it's a balancing act in our family. We have rules about use and apps, restrictions enabled, regularly go through their phones, and openly talk about things I know they're seeing. The other night we talked about porn over pork chops—yes, you read that right—and while it's not always comfortable, I'm determined to keep them safe and the lines of communication open.
While a lot of challenges come from having middle-school boys, there's a heck of a lot of good stuff, too. You'll find your time with them is genuinely more fun than ever. You get the same jokes and like doing more of the same things. They discover they like sushi, and you binge-watch Stranger Things together. You find it funny when their friends give you a nickname and love when they politely ask for seconds because your dinner is so tasty.
You notice little changes too, like a new neck muscle as they're practicing their clarinet, which gives you both a lump in your throat and an exciting glimpse of what they might look like as men. You witness their pride as they count the money they earned from their dog-walking business. You feel relieved when they do their homework and projects (even though they aren't perfect) without asking for help. You're quietly proud when you see how they defended a friend on Instagram.
The truth is, every new stage of parenting is challenging.
But then you get through it and do it all over again.
Written by Jill Carroll, a marketing manager at Serendipity Media, publisher of West Michigan Woman magazine. Jill resides in Cannonsburg with her husband, George, and their three boys.