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I Survived the Middle School Meltdown, So Can You!

Middle-School-Meltdown

Who is this girl—the one standing a mere 5 feet from my face? She looks like my daughter, she’s dressed like my daughter, and the braces she wears I am quite sure I paid for… But this emotional and illogical mound of humanity blubbering incoherently, I don’t believe I have ever met.

On this day, I am looking in the face of my 13-year-old daughter and I quickly realize we have entered a new phase of life—The Middle School Meltdown. I had heard of this malady. I had friends who called in frustration, tears, and incredulity looking for comfort. I thought they might be exaggerating; surely it couldn’t be that bad. I quickly discovered they were not exaggerating.

It was the end of what had been a normal day. I carted my daughters off to school then headed to work in hope of effectively juggling my many life fronts. The day went fine; my music group’s tour booking was underway, records slated for release, payroll met for the month, and no big roadblocks I couldn’t get past. All in all it was a good day.

My daughters were picked up from school by my sweet, hired helper and then taken home to finish their schoolwork. So when I landed at the doorstep, I naively thought all was well. I would get the day’s play-by-play from the girls, a quick dinner, a couple of last minute projects, maybe a bit of TV, and then land my head on the pillow so I could begin again.

I didn’t get past the threshold before this crying, desperate child came running toward me wailing words I could not understand. Not because she had changed languages, but between sobs, yells, and angst, every third word was incomprehensible.

I thought they might be exaggerating; surely it couldn’t be that bad.

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I asked questions, thinking there must have been a major life catastrophe in this child’s life. Between air gulps and whines I realized that this was not the case. I tried to comfort and offer sympathy (even though I didn’t know what I was sympathizing with), well that didn’t work either. Apparently “I just didn’t understand!” which was completely accurate because at that moment I was clueless.

Suddenly this child went from heartbreak and desperation to anger and fury that was directed toward me. Whatever the problem was when I entered the door suddenly became all mom’s fault!

She stormed up the stairs, slammed the door to her room, and left me in stunned silence wondering what exactly I had done wrong.

I had no idea who she had become, but I understood that this was brand new territory. I was at the frontend of a season that was entirely different than the elementary school girl that had been my daughter. During those years, her days ended with a blow-by-blow of who did what, when, how, and why at school each day—whether I wanted all of the details or not. She stayed underfoot, chattering to make sure I shared in each and every one of her life moments.

But life had changed now. One day she was on top of the world, dancing through the living room, the birds were singing, she loved her family dearly—all of life was the absolute best! Another day she would become withdrawn, morose, slipping off to be alone. Then anger would flare up over every single thing that happened, didn’t happen, or could happen.

These were uncharted territories, at least by me. I had to learn a few things. She was fine, and I was as well. I just had to realize I was in normal territory and take some steps to make a few adjustments.

Here’s what I learned about middle school meltdowns:

  • It wasn’t me she was angry with (at least not most of the time). Her life was changing physically as well as emotionally, and she needed to work it out.
  • She needed her privacy. The shift from telling me everything to selective conversations was normal. I simply had to stay tuned and watch for the extremes.
  • Relationships outside of her family were increasingly important. It was important for me to accept that others would have the ability to speak to her when I couldn’t. I just had to find good ones and see that they were part of her life.
  • Self-esteem was a tenuous commodity. She needed to know I believed in her, and I sought any opportunity to let her know how special I knew she was.
  • It was the beginning of independence. I had to realize that to become a fully functioning adult, she had to develop her own individuality in thought, goals, dreams, and standards.

Just one hour after her wails, stair-stomping, and door-slamming, dinner was served. She made her way down that same stairwell she had marched up earlier, coming to dinner as if nothing had happened. I held my tongue, served the food, and the girl who constantly chattered returned, replacing the girl this day had created.

We survived those years. She grew. I learned when to intervene and when to ignore. Our relationship changed while remaining strong. We both managed to survive what I came to term the Middle School Meltdown, calling it that most often when I was hiding in my walk-in closet, praying for it’s end.

Mom to teens? Don’t miss this podcast episode where Darlene and Julie discuss teen texting trends!


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Darlene, President of The Grit and Grace Project, is crazy enough to jump in the deep end then realize she may not have a clue where she’s landed. She has spent her adult life juggling careers in the music business, been an author, a video producer, and also cared for her family ... some days drowning, other days believing she’s capable of synchronized swimming.

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