“Ugh. 7th grade is the worst.”
“Oof. Good luck – 7th grade is terrible.”
“I’ll pray for you. Seventh grade is absolutely horrible.”
Those were some of the encouraging words friends and strangers alike (thanks, guys!) had for me at the beginning of the school year. Not gonna lie – I was more than a little bit nervous. But with just a couple weeks left, I’ve come to realize that 7th grade is actually a gift.
Now hear me out before you declare me completely bonkers.
Yes. Absolutely 7th grade is a little bit treacherous. BUT. Here is where they really begin the transformation into adulthood. And you get to witness it and guide it and help it when things go a little bit sideways. And that is magic.
If you can step back a bit and look at the long game, you realize what an important season this is for all of you. I get it – you’re mired in all the glory of practices and hormones and homework and tournaments and slamming doors –it’s hard to lift yourself up to look at the big picture and give them some grace.
A dad from our baby playgroup 13 years ago reminded me of something incredibly important to remember just a couple days ago while we were catching up via text – he said, “I was not the best version of me at 13.”
This is where these kids of ours – these treasures we’ve been protecting since birth – start to put into practice what we’ve been trying to teach them all along. There will be confusion and angst and sometimes it’s painful to watch, because they rarely listen to our on-point advice the first time around.
But when things don’t go like they thought they would (but they do go exactly how we knew they would – which is why we gave them that on-point advice in the first place), they begin to recognize that maybe we did know what we were talking about. We get to watch their confidence grow and we get to witness them decide how they want to be treated and what they want in a friendship. It’s extraordinary.
It’s hard to give up control, but it’s absolutely necessary that we do – we’re creating adults here. We want them to function on their own and make good decisions and know how to make those good decisions. And the way to do that is practice. Sometime they’ll screw it up (sometimes even spectacularly!) but it’s all part of it. It can hurt – and that’s terrible – but if we are honest with ourselves, we know that’s the best, most meaningful way they’ll learn. We can’t fix everything for them. We can guide them, advise them, share our experiences, but in the end, they have to do it themselves.
The only way through it is through it.
At the beginning of this year, for the first time, I decided to have a word or an idea to really focus on. What I decided on was intention. I wanted to be intentional with my girls and take a beat before I react in my usual way, which, to be honest, tends toward the very dramatic. I’m cognizant of the fact that there’s so much turmoil and chaos in their young lives right now and they need to be confident in their safe place, their steady force – me – and I don’t want to contribute to the mayhem.
I am by no means an expert, but we’re coming out on the other end of 7th grade relatively unscathed, so here are my 7 Tips to Survive the 7th Grade:
- Listen. Sometimes don’t say a word. Just listen.
- Breathe before you speak. Sometimes I literally pray for the Holy Spirit to come out my mouth if things seem especially precarious and I’m emotional and/or irrational and/or “hopping mad” (that’s my code for some very bad words describing how mad I may actually be).
- Respond instead of react. ESPECIALLY if there’s a punishment or consequence involved. You don’t have to dole out punishment immediately. Take a minute and really think about what you’re hoping to achieve, both immediately and in the long run. Don’t overreact. Stay true to your family’s values and beliefs, but the nuclear option is not always the best option.
- Grab on to the opportunities they give you. Ours seem to happen right around bedtime. Maybe it’s a stall tactic, but that’s really when the good talks happen. LET THEM TALK.
- Don’t take it personally when they want nothing to do with you. And it will happen. More often than not, they’re in the middle of trying to figure something out themselves. Circle back a little while later with a gentle reminder that you’re available to listen (and help, if necessary). Then move along.
- Have a code word. My daughter calls me by my first name if she has something to tell me she knows I won’t like. That’s my cue to take a big, deep, cleansing breath, hold it for a couple seconds, and steel myself for whatever little morsel she’s going to throw my way.
- Show affection. They may not realize they need a hug, but there’s been more times than not when I’ve grabbed her and held her tight, I can feel her literally let go of some of what she’s been holding on to. Yes, they’re beginning the process of growing into adults, but in the scheme of things they’re still children – just these little kids trying to figure things out.
There will absolutely be times you want to pull your hair out – and probably your kid’s, too. Sometimes they’re completely irrational – like that time my daughter was full-on sobbing, because she was exhausted and said these exact words “…I’m so tired and it’s your fault for making me go to bed last night.” Bless.
Give them grace and as much love as you have while they sort through this transition. And take a breath, blow it out slowly, and remember: 7th grade doesn’t last forever.