by Nancy Rue
I can't tell you how to be the best parent to your tween daughter. I can only offer some concrete ways to get to whatŐs going to work best for both of you.
Give her space and time to wonder and experiment and try out who she is.
If that means cutting down on some of those extra-curricular activities, see what you can do. If it means enforcing a Do Not Disturb rule with her siblings for a half hour a day, put on your security guard hat. She needs a chance to try out what she's learning. Only you can give her that.
Don't label her.
It's tempting to use personality tests to understand our kids. Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, spiritual giftings, that thing where you're a golden retriever or a weasel or whatever—all of those are helpful in working with and getting along with adults, but an eight-to-twelve year old girl, though she has a specific nature, hasn't grown into it yet. She may have been a high-spirited handful right from the delivery room, but to tell her "You're a choleric, which means (what does it mean—I've never been able to keep those straight)..." is to make it far less likely that she's going to explore all that she is. Personality "types" are useful tools. They aren't labels that tell us what's in our souls.
Help her say what she means.
She might not always know, but that provides you with an opportunity to help her find out and put it into words that resolve issues rather than turn them into international incidents. It's about helping her to find her voice. If she's prone to screaming like the proverbial banshee when she's crossed, you can help her find a way to state her case without alienating everyone within a hundred yards. If she tends to go off and pout, you can draw her out and make it safe for her to say what she's feeling. Again, she might not know exactly what that is, much less how to express it effectively, but thatŐs where you come in.
When she speaks in her own voice, listen to her.
That sounds pretty simple. If she's like many tween girls (my own included), she never stops talking. How can you help but listen, right? Actually, I think most of us moms do a pretty good job of not tuning in. We often have to go on auto-pilot just to maintain our sanity.
And yet. Isn't there a maternal antenna that goes up when your daughter takes that tone that says, "I'm in trouble here"? Those are the times when sheŐs going to tell you who she is—in the way she handles stress, responds to hurt, she approaches problems. It's about reading who she is and parenting her accordingly. She's giving you a glimpse. Don't miss it.
Let her make mistakes.
You can put that into practice in ways that aren't going to throw your daughter into harm's way, and may keep her out of it in the future.
First let's talk about the difference between "protecting" and "sheltering."
Protecting means providing a safe place to live. Making sure she eats right and dresses appropriately. Not letting her wander off alone in stores. Keeping a close watch on her internet access. Preventing her brothers from leaving bruises on her. Protection is a response to your desire for her to grow up strong and healthy and whole.
Sheltering is something else entirely. It's preventing her from ever coming into contact with something that might potentially give her a peek at a path that differs from the one you are determined she's going to follow no matter what! It's reading every book she wants to read before you let her open the cover. Requiring her to keep her bedroom door open at all times. Telling her she shouldn't even be thinking about boys until she's eighteen. We should all have had mothers who cared that impeccably about us. But the sheltering decisions they make are based on fear. Parenting should never be directed by the frightened certainty that one misstep is going to ruin the child for life.
That doesn't mean throw up your hands and say, "It's all up to you now." It does mean that in the case of something where the consequences of a bad choice will not be dire, but rather provide the teachable moment, you can wisely say:
"Okay, if you treat your friend this way today, she probably isn't going to be your friend tomorrow," and let her go. There may be tears, but who ever grew up effectively without shedding a few?
Above all, enjoy her.
The best way to instill a love for who she truly is—is simply to show her that she is truly adored. That you are delighted with who she is, no matter who she is. No, you aren't going to giggle with glee when she's slamming her bedroom door because you've told her she can't have an iPhone. But there are plenty of moments when she isn't practicing to be the Wicked Witch of the West. That's when you can show her that she is the joy of your world, not because of anything she does to "earn" that, but simply because she's your daughter and you love her.
As a tween she's experiencing a certain confidence, perhaps a sense of adventure that's typical of her age. Revel in that. Have fun getting to know her. Watch, listen, study, figure out—who did God make her to be? And love doing it. Purely and simply, love it.
Taken from Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World by Nancy Rue. Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Zondervan.