We all think, all new mommies, that it's beyond exhausting... the late night feedings, the teething, the tantrums... we repeat daily: there there, Mommy loves you, it's ok, here baby... we cannot imagine ever not saying those things... not giving them that endless attention and love.
And then one morning you wake up and realize that you have slept through the night... and step by step, their growth becomes a very tangible series of events. Potty trained? Check. Sippy cups over bottles? Step. Kindergarten? No more car seats? Sleepovers? Check, check and check. Their need for reassurance is still there however only our affirmations take the shape of helping our children learn to navigate the world of friends and school...we repeat daily: You can do it, I'll help you with your homework, I'm sure that you two will work it out....
But things are definitely slower paced on the parenting circuit and you start having regular date nights with your husband and going out to dinner...you plan weekends away with friends and bit by bit, you rediscover your pre-baby self.
For most of elementary school you can cruise along on this delightful wave. Your children go to school and then they go to soccer practice or karate or dance. You know their friends and they probably have a sleepover one night each weekend during which they will stay up late watching goofy movies.
Keep and eye out though because slowly it begins to change... maybe it begins when you let them ride their skateboards to a friend's house. Maybe it's when they go downtown on their own to get a frozen yogurt... or to the beach without you... it's a gradual process but before you know it, usually around 8th grade, your child will be an incredibly independent and social creature with a Facebook account and a smartphone.
And here is where a lot of you will, let me put this bluntly, fuck up.
Your sons might tower over you. Their feet might be bigger, their voices deeper and there might be zits popping up on their forehead. They might be moody and sulky and downright pains in your ass, and you might breathe a sigh of relief when they head out the door to spend the afternoon with their friends.
They need you more now than ever.
Because they only look grown up.
They are still growing up.
And you have to be there. You have to log into their computers and read what their friends are saying and posting and what they themselves are saying and posting. You have to read their texts messages and see what is going on in their relationships. You have to get on the school websites and check their grades and assignments and go to Back to School night and meet their teachers and call other parents... your job, although fairly easy for the past years, is now cranking up again into full gear and you need to be present.
I can't speak for teenage girls, although I maintain that this holds true for them as well, but for boys the hormones charging through their veins can cause a tremendous amount of lunkhead behavior.
They will get ugly on Facebook. They will jockey for position. They will tear each other down instead of build each other up.
Gossip. It's not just for girls.
You have to see it. You have to respond. Tell them that they're good enough... that their friends' successes don't mean their failures. Help them channel their envy into pushing themselves to be better... remind them that Junior High is temporary but the choices they make now will reflect their character forever.
Keep them in line. School is their job. Good grades are their future. Help them have the foresight to see it... keep them dreaming about their plans... for college, for travel, for life.
It's almost shocking. Unlike their baby days, when they reached for you in every moment, now they push you away... find a way in.
By the way... I'm messing up just as much as anyone, maybe more... but I'm trying.