Stanley turns nine tomorrow, which officially makes him a pre-adolescent – or, as evil American marketeers would have it, a tween. Wikipedia describes a pre-adolescent as someone who has outgrown middle-childhood (ages 5-8) but is yet to hit puberty. They are marooned awkwardly in a pre-teen holding-pen, desperate to be older, but held back by their ill-equipped bodies and emotional immaturity. They’re like The In-betweeners, minus the wanking and body odour.
Like any developmental stage, pre-adolescence presents its own parenting challenges. Since becoming a mother, I’ve always liked to make myself feel bad for all the things I’m doing wrong by reading books about how to do them right. Or more accurately, by buying books and leaving them in a pile by my bed, and reading the Hush catalogue instead. So with Stan turning nine, I had a look around for something I could leave by my bed, while I covet overpriced loungewear. But there’s surprisingly little out there for the mother of a tween. The parenting shelf in my local Waterstones goes from Help, My Baby Never Sleeps! to Help, My Teenager is a Total Shit Head! There’s not much in-between, unless you really want to know how to make finger puppets.
So, based on my experience of minus-one-day, here’s a short guide to what-to-expect when you’re expecting a tween*:
- Tweens are great
liarsvisionaries. The combination of a wild imagination and an underdeveloped moral compass gives rise to some great ‘blue-sky’ tween thinking. Common bare-faced tween assertions include: ‘everyone else has chocolate bars for their snack’ and ‘Jonny gets £10 pocket money every week and he doesn’t have to do any jobs.’ ‘Fin can stay up until 10pm on a school night’ and ‘Holly is taking the whole class to Disneyland Paris for her birthday’. Keep your wits about you.
- Tweens double in size every day and therefore need to feed all the time. Providing an unending supply of healthy and nutritious food is more challenging than any Annabel Karmel-hell you endured years ago. Fruit bowls are obliterated in seconds. Cereal packets are torn open in a frenzy. Choc ices are snatched from the freezer and the door left open, so that everything defrosts and you have to make something delicious involving diced lamb, tropical-smoothie mix and broad beans for tea.
- Your tween is beginning to suspect that you are a deeply embarrassing person, but hasn’t quite grown to hate you yet. They say things like, ‘that’s not what a normal mum does’ and ‘why are you wearing wellies?’ They are also starting to look uncomfortable when you talk to their friends and will sometimes pretend you’re not there when you drop them off. Do not expect much affection when you collect your tween from school either. Once safely in the privacy of the car they will be nice to you, but only if you have brought them some food.
- Tweens are obsessed with money, but don’t yet want to earn it by doing anything helpful. Incentivising your tween to tidy his room with cash is unlikely to yield positive results, since the tween isn’t yet a fully formed consumer/addict, and knows that he will get what he wants eventually, if he just keeps asking for it. They can also find all the cash they need in your purse – dur.
- All tweens have secret access to sugar and sweets. Even though you never have sweets at home and, as far as you know, they don’t have money to buy them (see above), Moam and Haribo wrappers simply appear in their trouser pockets. There is nothing you can do about this. It just happens. It’s magic.
- Tweens are busy people with hectic schedules. Where once your weekend was a time to relax, now Saturday and Sunday are spent taxi-ing your tween to sport/drama/parties/sleepovers. Or worse, hosting sleepovers. During sleepovers it’s best to think of yourself as a discreet private butler – always on hand to prepare snacks and fetch the car.
- If one of Buddhism’s defining concepts is being present, then tweens are committed Buddhists. Tweens are so in the present that they do not remember the car door they have just passed through and left open, the clothes they just stepped out of on the landing. They are on a higher plane. The tween’s ability to live in the present should not be confused with mindfulness, however. Tweens are mindless Buddhists.
- Tweens are masters of surprise. Just when you think you have lost them to stropsville for the next ten years, they will say they love you apropos of nothing, or deliver a line so erudite, you may wonder if you have accidentally created the world’s best human being. Which of course, you have.
*applies to tween boys only. I have no idea what happens with girl tweens, who as far as I can tell are all delightful and very chatty.
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