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Dear Amber,

I have a tween daughter and I love her so much. I recognize she’s between a child and an adult brain and all the emotions that go along with that. What’s your advice to navigate these choppy waters when it’s new uncharted territory for both of us? 

Lost in the tween tide, 

SOS Ship Captain

This is part two of a three part answer. Part one. Part three. Enjoy!

Dear Captain, 

Let’s explore the stormy water metaphor. It’s a good one, but that metaphor often ends in shipwrecks, which we’re really trying to avoid. What if we shifted the metaphor and it wasn’t about sailing into choppy waters but instead heading off into adventure?

Choppy waters are part of the adventure, but with you as the first mate, your kid will be able to navigate them and you can discover new lands together. (Where you’ll not conquer and kill all the people there and steal their lands, we’re just there to make friends and be respectful of all cultures and people…) 

Did you see what I did there? I just demoted you, because you aren’t the captain, your daughter is. This is her ship and you, my friend, are along for the ride, (hanging on for dear life.) 

Speaking of pirates… okay, not really, but now we’re going to talk about pirates.

Remember the scene in The Princess Bride* where Westley explains to Buttercup how he became the Dread Pirate Roberts? He was captured and the current Dread Pirate Roberts kept him alive for one more night, over and over, until eventually they sailed to shore and took on an entirely new crew. The old Dread Pirate Roberts stayed on as First Mate, calling Westley Captain Roberts. Once everyone believed him, he left the ship and Westley was now the Dread Pirate Roberts with his own crew, just as the previous Dread Pirate Roberts had done with him. 

This is an apt description of guiding kids into adulthood. For so long, you’ve been the Dread Pirate Roberts, or the Captain. Your child has been the child who you captured… (It’s a metaphor, roll with me here). Now you get to help them transition into the Dread Pirate Roberts- but the tween years is definitely the part where he’s serving as the valet and Roberts says to him every night, “good night Westley, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” 

While I wouldn’t advocate for threatening your child with death (keep those feelings inside) now is the time that they’re learning everything they can about pirate life, so they can take over as the captain of the ship and you can go retire. But they’re doing this while growing and changing and becoming confident in who they are with a body that’s turning into an adult-sized body they can’t quite operate and a brain bathed in hormones. 

You should always have your eyes on the prize, that time when you walk off the ship and you aren’t the Captain any longer because the crew, and more importantly, your child, know who is in control here. They have the tools, they have the ship, and they’ve had great training. 

Step one:  Tell her the secret.

Tell her you aren’t the real Dread Pirate Roberts.

That your mom wasn’t the real Dread Pirate Roberts either. You’re pretty sure that your grandma was the original… but she may say differently. NONE of us know exactly what we’re doing and we’re all fumbling along, trying our best, (most) adults have just learned how to fake it better.

This knowledge will save her from a lot of heartbreak in her mid-20’s when most people seem to figure this part of adulthood out and get really frustrated that their parents are flawed humans who had no business having kids because they had no idea what they were doing. 

I work my hardest to not be the ultimate authority on anything at my house. It’s counter-intuitive to most parenting techniques. I don’t want my kids to take just my word on anything any more than I want them to take the word of any other person on anything.

I want them to consider themselves the ultimate determiner of truth in their own lives, and give them the tools to learn how to think, not tell them what to think. I see my role as a guide or a Sherpa. I help them up the mountain because I’ve climbed this path (or a similar path) before. I can try and point out places where there are sometimes snakes and tell them when the path is narrow and they should stay close, but they ultimately still have to make the climb and discover the path themselves. 

Sometimes they decide to take a road I haven’t been down before, which is okay because it’s their journey. I am completely open about this and we have conversations to see what way is the best to go and what troubles (and rewards) we might find that way, discovering together. 

Step two: Give her the tools to succeed

She has the power to resolve any problem by finding information and seeking a solution with her team.

Keeping that in mind, you are a grown-up and you’ve been a tween- but you’ve never parented a tween. Even if you have, you’ve never had this exact human as a tween. If you both work together to figure out what to expect you’ll have words to help you communicate in shorthand when communicating is hard, then you’ve got a leg up on this whole tween thing. 

Watch some videos together, read some books and have conversations (lots of those, over and over) about the emotions that can be expected and how to deal with those emotions. Validate her emotions and feelings without saving her from them. She needs to learn out how to rescue themselves by reflecting on what their feelings are trying to tell her.

Learning to recognize and regulate emotions is a HUGE skill to have in life. I didn’t learn much about this until I was in my 30’s, and I’m still learning. But learn grounding techniques, communication skills and validate emotions as “your reality, even if they aren’t real” are skills that will help both of you though this time.

As a bonus, you’ll also both be better people on the other side of this adventure, and you’ll be closer as mother and daughter. My ultimate goal is to raise kids who are good roommates for anyone they live with in the future. It’s important that they can cook, clean up after themselves, know how to do basic repairs and function as an adult in all the “doing of the things” ways. Learning soft skills is also a huge bonus to have as teens head into adulthood. Can you imagine if your college roommates could navigate rough emotional situations and you all had conflict resolution skills?

I really like my kids a lot. As humans, they’re my top four favorites. This may seem like an obvious statement, but for me, I’ll know I’ve succeeded at this parenting gig when our relationship has transitioned from a mother/child relationship to a friendship of equals. These emotional tools are key skills in navigating adult relationships and she’ll get her first practice at home with you. 

Step Three: Remember the Dread Pirate Roberts.

The entire goal of the Dread Pirate Roberts is to hand over the job of being the Dread Pirate Roberts. Right now, you’re still the Dread Pirate, but you know the goal is to retire on a beach somewhere with all your treasure.1 Let her steer the ship as much as possible to get a feel for it, while you’re close by for the choppy parts, then you can both grab the wheel so you don’t get to off course. 

It works best when you are both following the same map, headed the same direction and looking for the same landmarks to know you’re making progress. If every storm is a learning adventure so you do better next time then they aren’t setbacks. Letting her know the goal, and know that you trust that she’s smart and can do it, goes a long way. 

It really is the best adventure, and also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve only got one kid who I’ve started to call the Dread Pirate Roberts in front of the crew, but I think she’s really starting to believe it! 2  

You’ve totally got this! Your kid is lucky to have you as a mom. She probably will forget that for a few years, but she’ll look back and remember and at some point may even tell you. 

XOXO, Amber

P.S. This newsletter contained three different sections that functioned well as stand alone posts, so I broke them up into three parts. You just finished part two, part one is more… professional, and part three is the version that takes place in the Fire swamp.

  1. At least this is my goal»
  2. both the crew and the kid.»