What Has Surprised Me About Preteens

Although I’ve found many stages hard (I could have skipped the first six months, tbh), I’ve loved parts of every age of parenthood: chubby one-year-olds with “doughy starfish hands,” Beatles-loving two-year-olds, three- and four-year-olds with magical thinking, five-year-olds wearing cowboy boots, opinionated seven-year-olds…

But when it came to parenting older kids, I didn’t really know what to expect. Pop culture often paints pre-teens, especially boys, as stinky moody pains, constantly giving their moms a tough time. So, I’ve been surprised that, in many ways, my relationships with the boys have blossomed in the tween years. Of course, kids of all ages can be whiny, and siblings battle, and life is more complicated than it looks online, and there are days when I clutch my heart with love and worry. And that’s all part of a whole life. But it’s also such a pleasure.

“People always post these sad things about their babies growing, as if we should be depressed as our children grow,” commented a reader named Dana. “That is true in some ways, but in many it is not! My girls are now seven and four, and it is WONDERFUL. The excitement of Halloween. New seasonal jammies. The giggles in bed. They eat breakfast and watch TV on the weekends while my husband and I lounge in bed with coffee. We travel. They have playdates with their friends and occupy themselves. It is SO MUCH FUN and keeps getting sweeter.”

Last night, the boys and I were having dinner at a restaurant. Two mothers next to us had four younger children at the table — the kids were wriggly, they spilled drinks, a few ended up under the table. I could tell the moms wanted to chat but couldn’t sneak in much time. Meanwhile, my older guys were casually eating their burgers and debating which movie we should all watch later (spoiler: Big). The restaurant scene reminded me how much WORK those early years are, how bone-tired you can feel. And I’m not saying parenting these days is all roses… but it’s a lot of roses!

best ages for parenting

At 9 and 12, our boys sometimes beat us at board games. They teach us TikTok dances. We read next to each other in bed. They do impersonations of everyone in our family. They know all the words to Eternal Flame!

best ages for parenting

The other day, Anton was cutting up onions for chili, and, while struggling through the tears, told me: “I’m a navy seal at chopping onions.”

toby goddard Williams

Me: “Toby, you’re a beautiful person.”
Toby, earnestly: “Yeah. I should be on The Bachelor.”

Me, at an Airbnb: “Check out this view!”
Anton: “Yeah, that’s low-key sick.”

best ages for parenting

Thinking it over, I want to remember to tell the boys how much I enjoy them at every age. “It bums me out when parents say things like, ‘Stop growing up! Why can’t you be my baby forever?,’” commented a reader named Marisa. [Ed. note: Busted.] “I remember hating stuff like that as a kid. I prefer the mindset shift to shower my kids with, ‘I love watching you grow; I love you more every day; the bigger you get the more fun we have together.’” xoxoxo

Thoughts? How old are the kids in your life? What has your experience been with different ages?

P.S. Home as a haven, and 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage boys and teenage girls.