I had the chance to have a neat little moment yesterday. Normally, whenever there is an issue that needs to be discussed or an emotional problem that requires gentle handling, I turn it over to my husband. I was raised with a “toughen up, the world sucks” attitude. If I was crying, my brother would show me my face in a mirror and say “see how ugly that is, don’t make that face again”. My dad would always tell me “too bad you’re not a boy” and “you have to be as good as the boys are”. So the concept of being tender with soft emotions is new and complicated for me. I can’t tell them to toughen up, to take all that garbage and cram it into the pit of their stomach. It’s not healthy and they’re not used to that.
The middle child does normal middle-child stuff. She acts out a lot. Perfectly normal, I let it go. Usually it’s just making repetitive animal noises, impersonating Olaf from Frozen, uncontrollable giggles, things like that. But sometimes it’s anger and frustration. It all builds up until it explodes out in a SMACK! The waves of pent up aggression, frustration, anger, hurt, just crash over that girl until she forgets herself and lets it all spill out on someone else. It’s hard to know what to do in a situation like that.
My husband had one of his long, quiet discussions with her about this issue, and that she was old enough now to be aware of her actions and that she is responsible for them. She did okay for about a week, maybe a little longer, and that was really good for her. But then yesterday, it happened.
When I picked them up, the youngest was trying to blackmail the middle child to keep the offense a secret. They were bargaining (the youngest is famous for this, she will be a millionaire one day). I asked what happened and it ended up that they were playing around and things just got out of hand, and the middle child sort of lost herself for a second and had an impulsive smack to the youngest child’s face. It happens. I asked if the middle child had been talked to already about this problem, and when she said she had been, I told her I would have to tell her dad what happened. They tell me a LOT, and they just assume I don’t tell him anything.
When she heard I would tell him, she was very upset. When we got home, she was on the couch crying, so then I was the one who sat down and had a quiet talk. It was about how discussions aren’t for pointing fingers and making you a bad guy, they are for solving problems. That there was a chance for improvement in this area of her life, and now is the time to do it, before it gets out of control. And that anytime she is having a hard time with her emotions or has an issue like this, she should come talk to us about it so she can be more aware of herself and her feelings. So she can know better and do better.
Then, she felt better. She went outside and played, and they spent time together as sisters, and the weight was lifted.
There it is, there is the moment. We are in the “middle school window”. The small patch of time before high school where what we say still has weight and merit. We can’t just yell at her when she does things wrong, we have to show her how to improve herself, and that we aren’t out to punish her. We are here to help her. We have to earn her trust. It is a precious window of time, and it’s all you have before you send them sailing off to high school, a place where a moral compass is worth more than all the gold in the world. I had a chance to step through that window, and I did. Now I have to be present, trustworthy and accountable. The morals of a young girl are a terrible place for compromise.