There’s this pervasive idea that when our beloved babies hit the tween years, they morph into hormone monsters who just can’t even with their parents' very existence.
But anyone who lives with a tween or teen knows the reality is a different, more complicated, beast.
Beloved authors, podcasters and mom-fluencers Cat and Nat (aka Catherine Belkamp and Natalie Telfer) are collectively parenting seven kids, ages 6-13. So who better to offer advice from the tween trenches?
They’re here with the hard truths (“It’s literally their job to hate you,” says Cat. “They get mad at us for breathing. Or having a side part. I’m not joking”)—as well as hope.
Their message? If you can maintain a strong connection with your kids throughout the turbulent transition into teen-hood, you can save them from themselves. Or, improve the odds that, as Nat says, “When they’re about to make a bad decision, and they will, they will hear your voice in their head.”
Also: Keep showing up. “When their kids are ignoring them or arguing with them, a lot of parents think kids don’t want to be connected,” adds Nat. “But they do. What they really wish is that their parents understood them better.”
Here, more honest, useful ideas on how to keep big kids close—while also letting them go.
PureWow: You guys are in the tween trenches.
Cat: Yes. And adolescence is combative. You can’t hear each other. It becomes this cycle of anger and misunderstanding. It’s literally their job to hate you. So you’re like, ‘You’re so rude,’ ‘You’re so disrespectful.’ But you still need to connect in a meaningful way that isn’t about disciplining or getting mad at them or, ‘Put your shoes away.’ We do so much for them all day, we think connection is just a given, but it’s not. It’s a habit.
PW: It’s intense.
Cat: Yes! The challenges you’re going through with your tweens or teens are a lot bigger and more significant than when they’re babies, so the judgment of you as a mother—that your child could be drinking, doing drugs, having sex, could be the kid who skips school and is making really bad decisions—all reflects on you. Other parents are like, ‘I want to keep my kid away from yours.’ So you don’t talk about it. I’m going to argue that the tween and teen era is almost more lonely as a mother than when you have a baby or a toddler.
Nat: It goes from all this chatter about meeting milestones, to all of a sudden, silence. When what people really want to ask is, “Ok, how do I delete his Snapchat? We got in trouble.” You don’t want to tell the whole neighborhood that you just lost your s—- on your kid because they did this thing.
Cat: And you feel so out of control. We’re trying to build a community, so you’re not sitting there being like, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ We’re really trying to normalize the journey.
Nat: That feeling of, ‘Maybe I’m the only one…’ As a Mom, you’re never the only one. You’re not the first one to go through an experience as a parent and you’re not alone. We’re really lucky to have each other. But the reality is, a lot of people are really isolated. To be able to speak with likeminded women who are all trying to be good parents, can just take you off the ledge. Your village can absolutely be online.
PW: What do you think of all the advice online from experts?
Cat: There are going to be hard moments. No advice is going to make those go away. The onus is on the parent to grow, rather than trying to change your kid. A lot of the advice we tend to look for is about, ‘How do I make my kids into different people?’ We’re trying to change that narrative and be like, ‘This is actually very normal. This is actually healthy for your child.’
PW: So what’s some advice that’s actually helpful?
Cat: We have to shift into this mindset: You can’t fix everything, you can’t do everything, you can’t feel their emotions for them, but you can be near them and around them while they go through it. You just have to keep showing up. And listen. Don’t automatically launch into being judge-y or trying to fix it. The worst is when they’ve done something. Like when they’re late for school and they’ve lost their homework or their computer, and we start in on, “Well, I told you! You should have put your stuff away!” We have to step back and say, “Do you need my help or do you want me to hear you rant right now?”
PW: It’s time to sit on your hands a little.
Cat: We have to just embrace the s—show. It’s messy and that’s beautiful. And be gentle on yourself. It’s a lot to take on mentally, keeping people alive. So you will lose your s—-. But it doesn’t sum up who you are.
Nat: When you go to bed, try not to go over everything you did wrong. Tomorrow is a new day. If you yelled at dinner tonight, you’ll try not to yell tomorrow morning.
Cat: And you can say sorry! Apologize! I apologized for an event two years ago. I had missed my son’s birthday for work. And he couldn’t let go of it. He kept talking about it. Kind of joking, but not really. I had already apologized verbally. But two years later, I wrote him a note in our shared journal. I said, ‘I’m really sorry that happened. I won’t do that again.’ And that was what he needed—for me to validate it without him saying it. He never mentioned it again. You can always go back. It’s never too late to say, I’m really sorry. Let’s try again.
PW: It all goes back to connection.
Cat: Connection is the cornerstone of everything. If you can keep tethered to them in a really authentic, positive way, your power goes beyond you telling them what to do. Because the minute they walk out the door alone, which they start to do, you’re done. At the same time, we’re trying to make parenting less scary. Because a lot of it is very fear-based.
Nat: We don’t want to be fearful! We want to be educated. We want to be prepared. Parenting is hard, but Cat and I enjoy our children. We like to have fun with them. We enjoy being moms. We really do. It can’t be perfect all the time, but we can still find joy in it.
PW: If you could go back to year one of being a parent, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
Cat: I was so controlling, so wound up. You’re just consumed by [new motherhood]. I just hope now my kids remember me happy. They’re not going to remember much, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Nat: You don’t have to be perfect.