The middle school years often get a bad rap. I am probably biased because I taught sixth grade and really enjoy this age group, but there are plenty of pretty darn cool aspects to this stage of childhood. Sure adolescents can be moody, but so can 2-year-olds. At least the adolescents can handle all their own bathroom needs. So if you are about to embark on this phase of parenting, don't despair. There are plenty of perks:
1. Movie Drop Off
I am quite happy to relinquish the duty of watching animated 3D films. Sure I have fond memories of toddlers spilling popcorn and screaming, but it is really liberating to simply drop a group off at the mall to see a movie. I experience a little tug at the heart strings as I watch my daughter turn to wave and test her independence, and then I exit the parking lot with a little extra time in my day to get things done.
2. Game Night
Your kids can play games you enjoy and that actually challenge your brain. We have fun playing spades, dominos, Scattergories and many more. It's fun to see your kids develop into young adults with the capacity to beat you and your spouse at cards.
3. PTA (or lack thereof!)
It is impressive how middle schools seem to get along without much volunteering on the part of the parents. I loved working the book fair, auction, carnival, etc. at the elementary school. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to be involved. Yet it's pleasant to move beyond that and find time for other things.
4. The Nap
The nap is beautiful due to its rarity. And I don't mean you taking a nap, although that can certainly be nice. Every once in a blue moon, the demands of puberty (and perhaps a slumber party the night before) will be a little too much, and your middle schooler will fall asleep on the couch. What an amazing opportunity to watch them snooze and remember the sweet young child they used to be.
5. Date Night
It's your anniversary, and your spouse would like to take you out to a nice dinner. Guess what? You don't need a babysitter! Go ahead and make those reservations, order pizza for the kids, and celebrate your marriage.
6. Activity Focus
I think there was one school year when between the two kids we participated in soccer, softball, dance, piano, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, and volleyball. It's fun to try all these things, but it's also great to see your kid pick a favorite activity and really devote themselves to it. I have been pleased to see the dedication and determination it takes to set goals and achieve them coming alive in my children.
Travel with teens and tweens takes less work. They should be able to pack for themselves with a few reminders, and they can handle their own luggage. You will not find yourself wide awake in a dark hotel room at 8:45 p.m. because the kids needed to go to bed. Your middle school travel companions can make meaningful contributions to the dinner conversation, and hopefully they won't have a meltdown if chicken nuggets aren't on the menu.
I would be lying if I said I didn't miss the sheer excitement of Christmas morning after Santa arrived. But there is also relief in letting go of all that stress, and focusing on special time together. I find great joy in baking holiday treats with my girls, in watching them engage with little kids while giving out candy on Halloween, and in hearing them describe what they are thankful for during the Thanksgiving prayer.
This middle school journey flies by quickly. High school is nipping at your heels. Amidst the hormones, pimples and sometimes unexplained grumpiness, there is your adorable child. Cherish her and these crazy days.