Your child, that amazing, sweet, receptive, wonderful little bundle of discovery and excitement of only, it seems, a short time ago, is gone. Left. Disappeared.
In his or her place, you may find a child with new-found capacities for breath-taking rudeness, hair-trigger moodiness, stunning combustibility and inexhaustible argumentativeness.
So what the heck happened?
In a phrase, Middle School. Or more precisely, the arrival of your child's Middle School years, and all the developmental processes and challenges they entail.
Should you be feeling off-balance, taken-aback, shocked or frustrated by your child's new disposition and prickly personality shifts, you are not alone. Not by a long shot.
Your Middle Schooler, quaking under the stresses and monumental changes in his or her own life, is struggling to find their way in the unfamiliar, precarious world of school and quickly shifting social demands. So even under the best of circumstances, worn nerves accompanied by cries for more autonomy can, and should, be expected.
But what is often overlooked in all this are the feelings this new stage provokes in moms and dads, who are also facing change and loss, triggered by the departure of the child they once held in their arms.
So while the stages of childhood development can be rather reliably predicted, how a parent responds to them cannot.
A Middle Schooler's life isn't anything like it was for mom or dad. Their world is now filled with not only the usual nerve-shredding stresses of growing up, but is infinitely more fragile and precarious due to high tech camera-cellphones all around them, capable of broadcasting even their slightest social stumble into a community-wide moment of public scrutiny, potentially exposing them to a campaign of intense teasing or confidence-shattering ridicule.
Talk about a high-tech nightmare.
Yet they, brave souls, go to school each day only too well aware of the social dangers they face.
So when they come home they can often be exhausted, withdrawn or moody, triggering all kinds of reactions in their parents -- even if mom and dad don't readily recognize it in themselves.
And that is a key reason the Middle School years can arrive with such a shocking shift in family dynamics. The kids are under stress and the parents are not only scrambling to catch up and adjust to the sudden changes, but are likely also feeling a sadness -- an inescapable mourning and longing for more innocent days gone by.
So what can mom or dad do?
Awaken as much self-awareness as possible, recognizing that they, too, are going through something potentially deep and difficult - feelings of loss or change that can reignite old or outworn emotions or life patterns.
Next, parents should seek out other parents who are likely going through the exact same set of experiences.
From a coffee with another mom or dad to an informal parental support group, getting together with other parents can help you to vent all that this time means and signals in your own life, no doubt providing you with some relief as well as perhaps giving you some fresh ways to handle any provocations of the moment coming from your child (for much more on this, please read our similarly titled chapter in our new parenting guide, "Stop Yelling, Start Listening") .
Armed with more self-awareness and the relief that come can from speaking with other parents may well lend you a little more patience, making you a little less reactive when your Middle Schooler's attitude might otherwise stand the hairs up on the back of your neck. And then you have a better chance to give them your best -- which is what you wanted to do in the first place.
So even when your first reaction to one of their behaviors during these years may be to ground them for life, take a moment to consider this:
According to Plato, Sophocles once said, "The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for girls, they are forward, immodest and unwomanly in speech, behavior and dress."
Sound familiar? Would you guess it from the Golden Age of Greece? Not so Golden as far as the moms and dads were concerned, apparently.
So with a little judicious self-understanding, patience and support, as well as a recognition and awareness of all the changes and possible sadness affecting you, your Middle Schooler may not seem quite so alien after all, and you likely won't seem quite so alienated from them.
Not bad, given the demands of these years.
For much more, we have just completed our new Parenting Guides: "STOP YELLING, START LISTENING -- Understanding Your Middle School Child", and "HOW TO BE THE LOVING, WISE PARENT YOU WANT TO BE...even with your TEENAGER!", available now at our our site "TheDancingParent.com", or on iPad, Kindle or Nook. "Sage advice for frustrated parents" -- Kirkus Reviews