“Mom, stop talking please. You’re embarrassing me.”
This was spoken, of course, through gritted teeth in a pleading whisper as my 13-year-old sat in the front seat next to me, his friends tucked into the back during our daily afternoon carpool. It was after I made the deadly mom mistake of trying to engage a car full of prepubescent boys in conversations by asking how their day was.
This, moms in the middle, is a fatal mistake.
It Will Hit You Like a Sucker Punch
You know this, right? If you’re in the middle, you know. One day you’re hip and cool and wearing the latest denim and the next, you’re excited about your new vacuum and color-coded carpool schedules. It happens incredibly quickly yet mind-numbingly slowly at the same time, if that’s possible. (It is.) One minute you’re holding a cooing baby and feeling overwhelmed yet completely needed and fulfilled and then you blink and your car smells like a locker room and you’re needing to have really uncomfortable yet completely necessary conversations with your children about personal hygiene, sex, and drugs (not necessarily in that order).
It’s a trick of motherhood, I swear it. But even as you watch every single mother you know go before you into this unchartered territory, you’ll still think, “It will never happen to me.”
Yet it will. Trust me. It will.
Maybe there is no preparing for this time of life. There are a million books about babies and sleep schedules and parenting through the terrible twos. Blogs cover the internet with birth stories (do we need these, really?), baby advice, and conversations about how to find the best preschool for your four-year-old, but these middle years, they’re eerily silent.
There is no exact time frame for the middle years, either, they just kind of sneak up on you. It could be fourth or fifth grade when your child first passes you over. It could be later, most likely not earlier. But it will happen. You’ll notice it subtly at first, just around friends or at school. You’ll hear “Mom” instead of “Mommy” for the first time and it will hit you in the gut like a sucker punch.
When did this happen? I still want to be Mommy. Please, not so soon.
You Try So Hard, but Feel So Distant
Then suddenly, they’ll be listening to music by artists you don’t know and you’ll realize that all of your control over their likes and dislikes, their taste in music and clothes, has flown out the window and your kid will end up going to school for three straight years with mismatched socks and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it because picking your battles is the most important lesson of mothering in the middle.
You’ll try hard to keep up with their slang. You really will. You were just cool, like, two seconds ago so this shouldn’t be hard. But it is, moms. It is. One day you’ll be saying “bruh” to try and connect with your middle schooler and they’ll look at you and smirk because, “Mom, ‘Bruh’ was so last year.” And you’ll sigh and give up because you’ll never keep up.
Truly, you never will. So don’t even try. You’re mom now. And that’s it (in their eyes at least).
You’ll be concerned, so very concerned, about your child and technology and when to get them a phone. And when you do, is social media OK for them? You don’t know. You’ll research and straw poll your friends and neighbors, trying to find an answer. You’ll work hard to block certain social media sites, the ones you think are simply straight from Satan himself, only to find that the kids have moved on to a new one, Tic Chat, or something ridiculous like that, and you’ll be terrified because you’re still learning how to navigate Facegram and this one seems even worse.
There is no winning this dilemma, by the way. None at all. If you let them have it, you’ll spend hours monitoring it with every parental control known to man and still maybe never get to the bottom of it. But if you don’t, you’ll be the one who made your kid be the only kid in school without SnapToc and you’ll suffer the dramatic sighs and eye rolls and begging and pleading in silence, hoping you’re doing the right thing.
Mothering in the middle feels thankless at times. Your kids don’t need you quite as much, they’re growing up, learning about themselves and changing. They’re self-sufficient yet not, and you’ll feel like you’re more a line cook and taxi driver than a mom most days. This is normal. There are times when you’ll look at your children with complete awe, wondering how you have raised such incredible young humans. And others, as you sit at the dinner table and you watch them gnaw on a piece of chicken as if they are a rabid dog, you’ll panic with the realization that they only have a few more years before they are on their own and you’ve still got so much work to do before they’re ready.
Don’t panic. You’ll get them there.
Mothering in the Middle Has Its Perks
It can be sweet, though, this mothering in the middle. There are moments to cherish. Right before bed they get chatty, mostly because they don’t want to, in fact, go to bed. And this is when you see glimpses both of the little ones they once were and the grown ups they’ll become. They’re more of a person at this point, less of a kid. And you’ll realize that they’re good people, strong people, people you actually like.
You’ll hear, in passing, a conversation between them and a friend and you’ll be blown away by their compassion or their empathy and you’ll wonder “Did I do that?” and feel incredibly blessed that you played a part in this amazing human’s upbringing. They know things, they’ll teach you and their opinions and thoughts are cool. Just ask them. Talk to them, find a time when they are willing to open up. Trust me, you’ll be amazed. This kid who used to literally think he WAS Spiderman just built his own computer and can’t wait for you to take an interest in it so he can tell you all about it. And this other one, the one who slept in your arms for 6 straight months because she cried the moment you set her down, did you know she’s the one teachers ask to help welcome in a new girl because she’s so kind?
You did that, Mom. You did.
Moms in the middle, I know these years aren’t cute and cuddly. I know that you miss your babies and toddlers and the feeling of being someone’s whole world. You feel invisible and lost and a little bit left out right now. But it’s okay. They still love you. You are still their person. It looks different and it’s hard in its own way, but you’re still doing a good job as long as you’re loving them where they are, as they are. And you’re not alone. We’re all in this together.
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