Middle Ground :: The Unexpected Joys of Parenting Tweens


I have always been jealous of baby whisperers. I was not one. I will never be one. I truly love a newborn, but I was never good with them. It’s probably because I’m a little on the high-strung side. They’d cry. I’d panic. They’d cry harder. Then I’d cry, too. It was a vicious cycle.

I did a little better with the toddler years, but still felt frazzled because even going to the pool was like packing for China. We’d be there all of 15 minutes and everyone would be ready to go home. It was unnerving. 

But similar to the scene in The Wizard of Oz when it automatically changes from black and white to color, the tween years make me feel like I’ve stepped into the light. I’ve finally hit my parenting stride. 

So, when many people give me sympathetic looks when I tell them the ages of my kids, as if to say “buckle up,” I think to myself, “Actually, I think I’ve finally got this!”

Here’s why:

  1. In some ways, I still feel like a tween myself. My awkward stage literally feels like yesterday. Maybe I’m still in it, to be honest. I felt things so deeply and endured what I perceived to be many struggles that I truly feel that her pain is my pain. But I also know things she doesn’t. Like this, too, shall pass, and she will be a million times stronger and more empathetic because of what she’s going through right now. I don’t mean to trivialize her struggles, I just recognize them as part of the process.
  2. I love driving carpool. I mean it. I truly love driving carpool. I love to be a fly on the wall for a variety of conversations. I love to see the dynamics of personalities of my kids’ friends. I love picking them up after something like youth group and hearing the first-hand account of their experience. I even love singing along with their favorite songs (hey, it’s not Baby Shark) and embarrassing the heck out of them. It’s just an all-round good time.
  3. They have immune systems of steel. Gone are the days when we would be in the pediatrician’s office once a week. Thanks to daycare, kindergarten and numerous years deferring to the five-second rule, we have finally reached a point where they are able to shrug off lots of what’s going around. And aside from the annual checkups, orthodontic tune-ups and periodic need for stitches, we seem to be clicking right along toward another year of near-perfect attendance.
  4. They can expertly wield a knife. At the dinner table, I mean. Which means no cutting their food for them, which means you might actually get to eat your food while it’s hot. And they can also do other things that, little by little, deposit little moments of time back into your day.
  5. They are becoming the unique and interesting people they were created to be. A hilarious comment alludes to a quick wit and smart sense of humor that will come in handy when the chips are down. An unprompted gesture of generosity alludes to a heart for service and compassion for others that will serve her well in a multitude of adult scenarios.
  6. Their sports, performances and projects are entertaining. After years of watching a herd of kids chase a soccer ball en masse, your family has narrowed down the list of activities to a select few that the kids truly enjoy. So whether you are watching a golf match, basketball game, theatre production, dance competition, poetry reading or guitar recital, you may be a tad biased, but that kid up there has some real talent! You should be very proud.
  7. Sometimes they will comfort you for a change. After a particularly stressful day recently, I kind of slipped into a rare adult meltdown. My 12-year-old put her hand on my arm and said, “Mom, you know it’s going to be OK. That’s what you always tell me.” Yes, I thought with a tear in my eye for a different reason. Why, yes it is.

We’re raising tiny humans here and they are getting it. And that’s the name of the game. Are you raising a tweens? What unexpected joys have you encountered?

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Kelly Barbrey is an early riser, old soul and retail therapy expert. She is a wife to Jonathan and a mom to two strong-willed daughters, born in 2007 and 2010. Kelly grew up in Atlanta, GA and earned a degree in magazine journalism from The University of Georgia. She has worked full time in tourism marketing for Experience Columbia SC since 2004, where she loves to share all the exciting things happening in Columbia, SC with potential travelers. When she’s not working or wrangling kids, she enjoys date nights with her husband at local restaurants, exercise, reading and sharing real and humorous accounts of life, motherhood and nostalgia on her blog, Up Early + Often.


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