The Middle School Me
By Stefanie Armstrong, MS, LIMHP
I can hardly believe that my oldest boy will be turning 13 in 12 days. I find myself thinking, “Yes, it’s true Stefanie, you will have a teenager!” Along with adolescence comes hormones, eye-rolling, independence, social drama, learning about things I don’t really want him to learn yet, and the “Mom is not cool” attitude (even though I KNOW I’m pretty cool). I have the same worry thoughts that most parents of teenagers experience: “Is he turning in his homework?” “Is he making friends?” “Is he getting bullied?” “Is he being exposed to vaping, pills, drugs?” “What is he learning from his peers about sex?” “Is he telling me everything?” “What is he hiding?” And on and on…
Although these are typical parent concerns, a few months ago, I went through a phase in which I was honestly a bit of a wreck. I was moody, short-tempered and tense. My struggle worsened after I checked my son’s grades and discovered he was failing 3 classes. In his words, he wanted to “see what it would be like” if he didn’t turn in his homework. My insides came unglued; I was swirling with confusion and angst. I felt out of control, lost, and empty. Finally, I calmed myself and began using my pre-frontal cortex. I asked myself, “Why this overwhelming response? What’s going on with you, Stefanie? He’s only in 7
th grade and this type of ‘testing’ is normal.” Long story short, I knew there must be more to this…not for him, but for ME! I began to get curious and really look inside of me. After a period of soul-searching, I figured it out.
The younger part of me was in distress and triggered. She needed some attunement.
The truth is, my own middle school years were very tough. I was defiant, rebellious, and difficult. I chose to spend my time with a rebellious group of peers instead of the friends I had been close to through elementary school. Although I had earned a spot in honors classes, I refused to do my work and was removed from the classes. In short, I was “that kid.” Looking back, it was easy to see that I had been a struggling, lost adolescent who needed direction, connection and attunement. I was able to see that my reactions to my son were rooted in my own past. I had been identifying with him, fearing that he would make similar mistakes. The truth was, he needed what every adolescent needs--what I had needed when I was his age--attunement, connection, and direction. Through self-reflection and compassion for the younger me, I was able to become emotionally present to my son.
Our kids can trigger unresolved “stuff” within ourselves. When we take the time to look inside and pay attention to what’s going on, we can manage our automatic responses and parent from a calmer place…so, take some time, reflect, pay attention, go slower, attune, comfort…#lovetheyoungeryou