Congratulations! Your sweet baby completed elementary school and is on to middle school! This is such a fun and exciting time for them but your mama heart is probably going through All THE FEELINGS.
For moms, this is a very bittersweet time. If it’s your oldest, it is compounded by the fact that you’re headed into the great unknown. For years, you and your baby have been in this sweet elementary school bubble, with teachers who you knew and loved and expectations that you fully understood. Now what?
When my oldest was starting sixth grade, I tried my best to prepare us both for this new chapter but found very few resources. Sure, there are plenty of things about puberty, changing bodies, bullying, homework, etc. But what did we need to know for our normal, everyday lives?
Elementary school has readiness tests, thousands of blogs, kindergarten round-ups, playdates, and boo-hoo/yahoo Breakfasts. Middle school did not have those same resources, so I found that he and I were very much winging it as we went along.
My son Landry may look like his father’s side of the family, but his core is all his mama. Like me, he’s a late bloomer, loves history and reading, has ADHD, is into theater, and combats his massive awkwardness with humor. Unlike me, he’s managed to thrive in the past two years — thank goodness! Somehow, we are doing something right, so I thought I’d share a few things we have learned along the way!
1. Pick the elective that will make them happy, even if it’s a blow-off.
My husband, Matt, and I fought tooth and nail on Landry’s elective choice. We were both in the band, where we excelled, found we were very musically talented, and found our people. Landry has those musical genes and can actually sing really well, so our hearts were broken when he told us he had no interest in either band or choir. He wanted to do theater! Matt argued the merits of music, how it helps with math, discipline from practice, and more for months. But the child wouldn’t budge.
Landry’s people, the school friends he belongs with, are all in theater. There are enough changes going on in a child’s world with school, friends, and puberty. He or she really does not need the stress from an elective the kiddo isn’t into (even if we parents think one might be a better option).
Pick your battles, mom, and let them pick their electives. If they make a mistake, they can try a new one next year!
2. Skip the school supplies and athletic boosters’ uniform packs.
That was hard to type for this former PTA president, who supports all the things and spends money at all the fundraisers! However, our supply packs for middle school are more than $50 and the athletic uniforms are $50, for one school-branded t-shirt and a pair of shorts. In sixth grade, we purchased the whole list and two sets of uniforms. By October 1, Landry had lost one of his uniform sets. By the end of that year, he had only used about half of his supplies with many things still unopened in his backpack!
Buy the basics like binders, paper, and pencils, and then wait and see what the teachers ask for. Our school had the option to use a uniform or a plain gray shirt and black shorts. I was able to pick up 10 gray shirts at Walmart for the price of one set! If your school has that option for PE/athletics, save yourself the money! The way Landry’s feet keep growing, I was able to use the savings for new shoes every other month.
3. Practice good organization now.
Your child is going to go from one homeroom teacher who has baskets and folders and all kinds of greatness in the room to eight teachers who would drown in baskets if they tried to help each child stay organized. Spend the summer practicing things like good note-taking, making lists, putting “due dates” on a calendar, and setting reminders on a phone. Buy the big binder and some spirals and see what works best for them in terms of staying organized, but also in what they can lug around in a backpack. Now is the time to experiment before starting middle school.
4. Mommy can’t set your playdates anymore!
I remember the first time Landry’s friend called my phone looking for him with his brand-new, deeper teenage voice. I realized, “Oh my gosh, we don’t have a home phone! These kids cannot call a grown woman!” That was the day I made him take charge of getting his friends’ phone numbers, saving them in his phone, remembering to charge his phone, and owning his own social life. Sure, I had to help him with the first few numbers by texting their moms, but after that, he was on his own. Middle schoolers need to start cutting that cord a little now, so they won’t be awkward and scared to ask the new friends for numbers and to meet up.
5. Be a safe place to talk, but also find other adults who can dial in
My kids know they can always come to us and speak freely about whatever is on their minds. So there are certain things that he is just not going to talk about around us, even if he does have questions.
This is where other friends’ parents, coaches, or cool uncles/aunts come into play. I have noticed when the kids are at our house, or if I’m driving them around, Landry’s friends will talk to me or in front of me about anything and everything! I know all their crushes (and Landry’s too thanks to them), feelings about certain things, and areas they’re struggling in school. It’s just different when you aren’t talking to your own parents. Make an agreement now with other adults that you’ll be there for their kids and they’ll be there for yours, judgment-free! Set boundaries about certain topics if needed, and honestly report back to each other about how the kids are doing. It will help you stay in tune without your child feeling like you’re overstepping.
Bonus Tip: Enjoy the Ride. Middle school has become one of my favorite stages of parenting. When he isn’t eye-rolling or back-talking, he is actually becoming a pretty cool dude to be around. A whole world of fun new activities opens up after elementary school. Mourn your baby growing up a little bit, but don’t forget to enjoy all that is to come!