How To Fight The Preteen Power Struggle And Still Lose
Photo by Angelica Leicht
So, I feel like I should preface this blog by saying that for the most part, I'm a pretty rational, sane parent.
But there are times -- middle school times -- that I am not rational. Not even a little bit.
And that, my friends, is because middle-school kids are impossible to deal with. They are eye-rolling, mouth-foaming child-demons, who feed on the forgotten dreams of their parents. Oh, and their dramatic attitude? Well, it is parental Kryptonite.
Luckily, they do grow out of it. Middle school ends, and they're back to being a tolerable level of dramatic. However, while they're in that tween-demon phase, and not yet in high school, it is imperative that a parent does everything he or she can to keep the middle-school monster from winning. And that means guerrilla parenting tactics.
That's right. Guerilla parenting. These are the parenting tactics that you won't learn from some rational, adult-level book about how to calm the tween storm. They are the stoop-to-the-same-level-as-your-kid methods, and I'm pretty sure they're not endorsed anywhere by any expert.
However extreme guerrilla tactics may seem to the non-tween parent, I still say they're necessary. And you non-tween parents? Well, chances are you'll probably be digging out this blog one day, when your own shrieking, gnawing banshee all dressed up in Abercrombie is tearing at your soul.
As the mother of a newly-monstrous middle-schooler, I have tried just about every guerrilla tactic to deal with the behavior. I'm passing them along to you, my friends, in case you're fighting your own battle, but be warned. These will only provide a temporary respite because at the end of the day, nothing works.
Not even dishes in the bathtub.
Issue: Tween Laundry Solution: Tween Laundry Guru
It's an obvious sign that the tween-demon has run out of clean clothing when she emerges from her lair sporting sweat pants that are 12 inches too short paired with a lace top and no socks. It is then that I trudge up the stairs, defeated, to try and dig up some appropriate attire, and always find said clothes shoved under the bathroom cabinets. Some dirty, some clean, and now all in desperate need of a washing.
That under the sink clothing issue has happened all too many times, and I figured that perhaps I'd outsmart the beast by insisting she wash not only her own clothes, but the laundry for the house too. After all, I've been forced to wash clothing that finds its way down to the laundry room while still sporting price tags, so it's only fair.
What actually happened was...well, nothing. She took the laundry demand as a suggestion, and I'm wearing the same jeans two days in a row because tween Pigpen is apparently on laundry room strike.
Issue: Parental Embarrassment Solution: Find A Way To Be Even More Embarrassing
I'm embarrassing, apparently, because parents are like, the complete definition of uncool when you're an angsty middle-school kid. Therefore my child likes to do stuff like blame her penchant for Justin Bieber's music on me if anyone overhears it.
Case in point? She's jammin' out to Bieber, who I think sucks, and then steps out of the car and yells, "Oh my GAAAAAAWD mom! Why are you even listening to that?" and disappears into school. She's obviously a jerk.
My response? Humpty Hump. Yep, "The Humpty Dance" will work wonders when attempting to really be embarrassing, especially when your mom is the kind of chick who knows all the words to songs like that. Also embarrassing? UGK. I know; I think it's insane too, but there's something about your dorky mom dropping you off while rapping, dancing, and waving that will really prove a point.
This story continues on the next page.
Issue: Refusing To Hand Over The School Info Solution: Volunteer At Every Damn Thing Possible Embarrassment
So, for the longest, the child has decided that giving adults the proper forms -- homework, progress reports, or, y'know, volunteer info -- is too much trouble. And rather than just surrender the goods, it gets shoved down into the filthy abyss of the backpack, only to emerge months too late. Or when payment for a field trip is due. Either or.
Refusing to hand over the school goods slightly annoying in general, but it's really quite obnoxious when it involves important pieces of communication, like notes about early dismissal or perhaps grades or something. You know, the important stuff.
But since the tween-demon wants to be secretive, I've taken to just volunteering at every opportunity (or signing up one of the other semi-mortifying adults in her life to show up at school and embarrass her for me when I'm unavailable) for two reasons. 1) I get to find out pertinent info straight from the school. and 2) it's funny when your kid is mortified.
It's pretty handy, that trick -- she has zero interest in her tattooed mom appearing in the hallowed hallways of academia -- but so far it hasn't forced her to do anything but booby-trap her backpack, which was scary to begin with.
Issue: Tween Attitude Solution: Parental Attitude
There is a gnawing, black hole in the pit of my stomach when the tween-demon's eyes fly into the back of her skull at the mere sight of me. It is often compounded by the worst, most shrill whine of irritation known to mankind. From what I can tell, the shrill tween whine is equivalent to the Captain Planet call. All of their evil powers unite, and the very worst of the tween-demon is unleashed on the planet, and in my house.
It is then that I lose anything that even resembles cool, calm, or freakin' collected. It's not a cute look for either of us. So I have decided to counter that by being just as obnoxious. You see, I too have the eye-rolling super power, and I have used it to mimic the child while sighing exasperatedly.
Let me tell you how well that works: not one single freakin' bit, that's what. Nothing happens, and it often seems to just aggravate the tween-demon further. But it's kind of a relief to act like a total tool, even if it's for a second or two. I have full belief that normally, this would work, but the tween is immune to the taste of her own medicine.
Issue: Tween Dishes Solution: Dishes in the Bathtub
I'm not entirely sure what the hell my child does with the dishes, but it is inherently clear that she uses waaaaaay too many of them. We're talking way too many. She must literally have an aversion to taking more than one sip out of a cup or something. Plastic cups appear out of thin air the moment the child walks into a room. It's the worst kind of superpower.
And what's worse? She won't even stack them in the dishwasher. The last time we tried to force the issue, we had no forks at dinner time. They were all in the sink, sitting right next to those cups, and although she had indeed run the dishwasher, it had been turned on after a total of six items were placed in it.
One cannot live without forks -- or cups, for that matter -- so I have done the only thing I can think of. I have begun stacking them places that will remind her of the dishwasher duty, and I try to find the most inconvenient place possible. And what I mean by that is I have taken to stacking dishes in the shower. And yes, I know it's not rational.
It didn't work anyway, because what I didn't take into account was that middle school kids have some seriously questionable hygiene routines. The child takes no issue with simply stepping around them or not showering, and my dishes end up about as clean as the child does, which is questionable at best.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events