Love and instinct

The long, coltish legs of an almost-young-woman

A few weeks ago, in a beautiful post called Pretty, Kelle Hampton wrote this about parenting: I don’t have all the answers, but I have good instincts and I love my kids something fierce.

I’m not sure that I have ever heard a lovelier description of what I believe parenting is.  Instinct and love.  That’s all I have ever had.  As Grace’s tenth birthday nears, what parenting means to me has been on my mind.  I’m not entirely sure why.  What I do know is that in the last several months we have crossed a line, Grace and I.  We have walked into a new season together.

I have never had all the answers.  Far from it.  But lately the questions are different, and I don’t feel like I have any of the answers.  I am daunted by decisions about technology, boys, body image, confidence, and identity.  For the first time, I confront closed doors and eye rolls. The issues that rise up feel newly fraught, and I’m ever more aware that the patterns she and I set now will take us through into the teenage years.

But, for now, I still get hugs at bedtime and requests to snuggle.  Grace continues to love simply being with me, whether we are reading or doing errands or working on a puzzle.  I know these days are likely numbered, and I’m sure this is why I hold each afternoon chatting idly as I cook and she draws at the table more and more tightly.  My awareness of how fleeting this time is is so keen as to be painful.  Every minute contains an ending, as well, of course, as a thrilling beginning.

The mothering ground is shifting under me in a particularly dramatic way right now and I’m trying to find my footing.  I have no choice but to trust that the instincts that have always been strong will continue to guide me through.  There’s no question that the ferocious love is undimmed.  Just as I figured out how to coax a colicky baby towards sleep (though it took me a while, and an ocean of tears) I will figure out how to parent a nascent adolescent.  Right?  I have to believe this is true.

Love and instinct.  Instinct and love.  Here we go.

If you have children in the 9, 10, 11 year old range, does this sense of transition feel familiar?  Any tips, advice, or words of wisdom are most welcome.


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  1. Posted October 1, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    I paused a bit before I commented, wondering if I had any advice. I wished desperately for advice. But, all I got was crickets.

    I think that your awareness is paramount. You know it’s new, you know you have no map. That, to me, is so important.

    For me, knowing that I have compadres on this journey helps.

  2. Posted October 1, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Answer all her questions, which I know you do. I don’t know, or we’ll find out together are valid answers. Don’t be afraid to talk to her about anything. The conversations are easier now, when she is simply curious, rather than later when she is emotionally involved.

    Carve out time for just the two of you, because there are questions she won’t ask within earshot of her brother, who if it’s anything like my house, thinks he is as big as she and already knows all the answers.

    Be a middle of the road adopter of technology. She doesn’t need to be first, but it’s our world today, and it’s no fun to always be last. Help her to see it as a useful tool but not the center of her universe.

    Body image is tough, regardless of where on the spectrum you fall. Help her to look good and feel good in her own skin. Clothes shopping is HARD HARD HARD at this age – too big for the kids department, not yet ready for the juniors or misses. Talk to her about the way advertising tells lies. Keep supporting her interest in sports and physical activity. Be positive in comments about her and about yourself. Be prepared to be stunned repeatedly as she walks into a room, and to not let it show.

    Mine is 13, and she still enjoys just hanging out with me. We have our fair share of closed doors and eye rolls. And the little girl she was is almost gone. But there are still hugs and snuggles, she still wants her bedtime song. And I love you’s are a regular part of daily conversation. It changes, but so far adolescence isn’t as hard as I’d been led to believe!

  3. Posted October 1, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Oh, and by the way, even hard conversations are a ton more fun than colick!!

  4. Posted October 1, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    My daughter is 12 and we had our first middle school experience….although I haven’t written in a while, its been bubbling in my head. One thing thats hard in this online world where there is tons of support and understanding… it seems to pitter out when these kids get older and their privacy trumps our need for connection and advice.

    But, one thing I keep finding myself saying, surprisingly, is that I LOVE twelve year olds. Just as youstill love the babies when they are colicky and screaming because they are new and they are a miracle and they are our own, I find myself crazy about the person my twelve year old is becoming… she is amazing, so different from me, I am ever intrigued by her.

  5. Posted October 1, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I have 9, 11 and 14 year old daughters and although I mourn the loss of hair bows and princesses, I love watching the slow transition into the women they will become. Love and instinct are your guiding posts. I would add courage and vulnerability. It takes courage for me to follow my instinct although it may not be the prevailing opinion. I also choose to be vulnerable, sharing my experience and my struggles so that I can connect with my girls. As usual a lovely post.

  6. Posted October 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I find the universe to be such a fascinating place. I literally just closed my notebook after writing so many similar thoughts. Thoughts that I wasn’t ready, yet, to put on my blog. Today, Caroline (age 9) will be walking home from school on her own. She has been begging to do this for a bit now and this morning I ran out of excuses. I realized that really the only reason I had been saying no was because I needed to believe that she still needed me there when really she doesn’t. I too remember the days of colic like they were yesterday, wishing them all away. Now, I am surrounded by feelings and questions, both hers and mine, that are as challenging to me as those early tear filled (again, both hers and mine!) days.

    And on a more practical note, I just wanted to echo what Ranea said. I have told Caroline that for all things like e-mail addresses, phones, trendy clothes etc, she will never be the first but she will also never be the last.

    Thanks as always for your beautiful writing. It has given me even more to think about on this thoughtful day.

  7. Posted October 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have kids, but I have two nieces, 10 and 14, and the shift that happens at 10…yes, yes, this sounds just right, all the way down to the long legs.

    Being someone with no children of my own, I am still struck by how right, how true this is: “I have good instincts and I love something fierce.” This is our fundamental humanity (although some try to disagree with this, don’t believe it)–we are naturally and fundamentally wise and compassionate, once you get past our discursive thoughts and strong emotions, our messy ego and attachments and the suffering we generate, down to the very center, the core of our deepest self–wise and compassionate, good instincts and fierce love.

  8. Posted October 1, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking this exact same thing. Stella just turned nine, and she seems so much more grown up to me. (She ran her first 5K on Saturday!) All I want to do is treasure this time. Luckily, my work schedule has been cut in half, so I DO have more time with my girls. I’m trying to be very present when I’m with them.

    I know you will do great, even as you try to find your footing on this shifting ground.

  9. Posted October 2, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Many comments resonating for me on this post. Special thanks to Renae, for walking the road ahead of us and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to follow! My sweetie is 9 – yes, her legs are stretching as fast as her mind. Such an interesting and important time!

  10. Posted October 4, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, this is exactly where we are with our oldest son, who just turned 11. His friends are becoming increasingly important to him, which is exciting for us to watch as parents. But we hope he knows he can come to us with questions about anything…since his 11 year old peers don’t really have any of the answers. I am on the horn with the school psychologist about all of the big things before we address them with our boys. She always reinforces that I should follow my instincts. Do the same, girlfriend. Yours are always so good. XO

  11. Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Oh yes, I have these questions. They are typically related to technology…why can’t my ipod connect to the internet–all my friends’ do. Why can’t I get on the computer at Maria’s house? Why can’t I listen to the “clean” version of L’il Wayne or Eminem, or Usher or whoever it is…

    Because you’re ten years old. Because the world is quite often a horrible, dirty, mean place, and because I have been there. And I want you to see the beautiful parts of it first. I want you to be innocent as long as possible without being naive.

    Soon enough, they will grow up and they will know that there are dark sides to life. For now, I want them to be kids, and to have the best childhood they can have without it being complicated by all of that junk.

    Sorry for the terribly long post in your responses. But we have a conversation like this several times a week in our home, and I am so thankful that I am in good company at this stage in parenting.

    Instincts and fierce love will win every time…

  12. Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    My daughter is 8 1/2 and all I can say is thank you for this post and thanks to Renae and everyone else who has commented! It’s good to know that she’s not going to disappear into a fog of adolescence. We’ve already started the eye rolls and the need for more space, but we still have our cuddles, bedtime stories, I love yous — I’m glad to hear that love, communication, and following my instincts will help keep those treasures in our days.