Middle School Musings (the Third Time Around)

It’s interesting how much of our kids’ lives are bookmarked by the stages of school. With my youngest heading to middle school, I’m mindful that our elementary years are over. (Yay for no more shoebox projects; boo for no more Mother’s Day breakfasts.) It feels like a rite of passage for seasoned parents who have been through multiple elementary school graduations, as much as it is for those cute fifth graders.

As we head into the middle school years with our third child, I find myself less anxious than I was the first time around, more informed than I was the second time around, and kind of pragmatic the third time around. We’ve been through it, we’ve seen friends go through it, we know that no experience is the same, and we know we’ll survive.

A few things we learned (and no doubt will soon be able to add to) about those middle school years:

  • Acne, braces, starting your period, “Everyone is taller than me,” “Everyone is shorter than me.” So many things happen in a short period of time—kind of like a teething baby. Why does the process have to be so intense and frustrating and painful at times? A pat on the back, a favorite soda/coffee, shooting hoops, or a walk around the block can help ease some of those things. (It’s usually not the perfect set of words we’re prepared to share.)
  • Find something—anything—they take an interest in and help them develop that skill. They need something that belongs to them, helps form their identity, and ultimately builds their confidence. I’ve recently been fascinated with kids that are “speed cubers”—they can solve a Rubik’s cube in about five seconds flat. Some of them can even juggle and ride a unicycle while cubing. So, that skill or interest can be literally anything!
  • Mean girls are real. And they’ll probably leave a lasting impression. But, after a good, cleansing cry and maybe another coffee or ice cream date, you can teach your daughter to roll her eyes at the insecurity that’s at the root of that behavior.
  • Having three girls, I can’t speak much to middle school-aged boys. However, my close sources say they’re smelly, awkward, and sometimes still adorably willing to indulge their mom in a hug.
  • Friendships are important. Contrary to the “life is a party, everything is wonderful, I have a million friends and my life is great” that they’ll see on social media, one or two close friends might just be the best antidote for the growing pains of middle school.
  • Middle school teachers can be magical. They have patience, a genuine love of teaching, and just enough no-nonsense attitude that transcends all manner of middle school-ness.
  • If your child isn’t naturally inclined to be organized, help them learn some organizational skills prior to starting middle school. They’ll be juggling multiple teachers, teaching styles, homework expectations, and test calendars. Let them choose the type of planner and binder they want to use and encourage/bribe/motivate them to use those systems.

Middle school is a messy, wonderful time of growth. There will likely be some bumps in the road as you navigate this together, but rely on your own steadiness and those bumps will seem a little more manageable. Here’s to our last middle school chapter… and to whatever stories we’ll be able to add this time around!