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The cost of growing (older) kids

The clerk told me the total and I flinched. Literally. We'd just finished gathering all the school supplies specified on the list for my oldest daughter, now in an upper grade of elementary. The expectations are much higher. And so is the cost.

It's also a lot harder. Her questions are more complex, and her moods more mercurial.

Once upon a time I could have gone to the store and bought the supplies for her. Now, however, she has a vested interest in this and all purchases, as well as many aspects of life…because in her mind, they all reflect on her. She sees herself in a new way. She's becoming self-conscious about the music she listens to, the clothes she wears, how she fixes her hair and accessorizes, the way she talks…everything.

When did all this happen and what do I do? I swear five minutes ago she was just starting to talk!

So, after shopping, I came to Facebook and stated that back to school shopping was a physical pain and added a few melodramatic OUCH comments. What I really wanted to say was, I just go a sock to the gut that my baby girl is growing up, and it is getting to be a higher cost, on all levels.

I got a lot of commiseration about the money aspect -- which added perspective -- but what I really wanted to say was less about the dollars and more about the sense. It's just more taxing the older kids get. That's a statement of fact, by the way. Not a complaint.

It just so happened that my friend Jenn commented on the same day that all these parenting magazines, website, blogs, etc. are so baby-centric. So focused on the tiny people. Once they enter pre-K, it's assumed we're well on our way or something because the supportive and instructive sites fade away. And yet, that's just we need it most. Truly.

If I ever thought the baby years were challenging, it's only because I hadn't yet hit the pre-teen years where you see this amazing journey ahead, with a couple of train wrecks that there is no avoiding (I suppose), and suddenly the stakes, you feel the stakes, and man, are they high. This is another person's life.

I was watching the Millionaire Matchmaker (yeah yeah judge not blah blah blah) and this guy thought it would be cool and unique to do a photo session with the girl on the first date. It was clearly a test, clearly a power play. Such an ass, I thought. You could tell the girl was uncomfortable with the date and idea, but feeling some form of compulsion, she went through and did it anyway. I didn't see her enjoying it at all. But I got the sense she felt as if she had to be game, had to go through with it, had to meet the test, had to play the game.

I flashbacked to college. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend and truly wanted some alone time. I needed to figure out a few things, and heal. But a good friend told me her boyfriend's fraternity brother had wanted to ask me out for a while. She and her boyfriend pressured me fiercely to "be nice" and "give the guy a chance" and on and on. I felt as if my friendship was at stake and so I buckled. I felt as if my self, my identity, was at stake, and so I went out with the guy, who cut up super nasty on me when I made it clear up front this was just a date, just one time. And then I lost the friend anyway. Much later, of course, I realized these weren't friends worth having. They didn't value me. But then again, I didn't value me enough either, to say no.

So while I reeled at the cost of growing up, financially, I started reeling about the cost of growing up, emotionally.

Buying pricey school supplies is the least of the expense I have as a parent.

"How do I raise girls who don't feel they have to subvert themselves and their reasonable boundaries to please someone else, at great personal cost," I asked my husband. That matchmaker is horrific -- telling girls to look some one way to attract a man, as if the most crucial thing is to be attracting men by being hot. But she's just one small voice in a loud chorus.

Folders are "girl" folders and "boy" folders, so are notebooks, some of which now offer stickers and markers so you can write I Luv U! messages on your binders. Those are aimed at girls, of course. Boys don't need to share their feelings.

No wonder there was this photographing ass and uncomfortable girl on this horrific date. It was inevitable that this scenario played out. No wonder there was this dedicated romantic guy and this reluctant girl on an awkward picnic date. It was inevitable this scenario played out. No wonder the reluctant girl lost friends over it; she was supposed to be flattered above all and set all aside to receive this boy's attentions.

In middle school, this girl carried spiral notebooks that her mother bought her for school. They were filled with lists of boy's names because she was supposed to have a boyfriend, and she tried so hard to find likely ones. Some she really, really liked, but they didn't like her back so she thought she had no value. One day, though, she finally built up some spine to decide she had value, in and of herself, period.

Just as composition and spiral notebooks are required, some life lessons are required too, to grow up and get the education you need.

I understand that.

But still, it breaks my mother's heart.

And on some level, I resist. I still want to raise girls who carry folders of whatever color and design they like best. Who have the power and authority to say, "real friends don't pressure friends into dates," and believe it. I want to raise girls who grow up carrying pink folders (which they prefer) and black belts.

I'll fork out the dollars to buy expensive school supplies, that's the easy, albeit it pocket-ly painful, part. If only all the good sense I need in the coming years was as easy to pull out of a wallet and hand over to a clerk to pay the bill.

I have to trust I have a card with enough balance on it in my wallet for that sense. I will trust it. I will also trust my loving friends, who go ahead of me and can advise.


Kyla said…
Well said, as always! BubTar is in his last grade of elementary (their campus goes only to 4th). How did this happen?!

I didn't have to go through the pain of choosing supplies this year, I'm just forking over a considerable amount to the school for their pre-packed set as the lists are too obscure and I don't have the time to hit 6 stores in search of elusive items.
Becky said…
I totally get this. As a mother of twins, I'm often asked if it gets easier. No, I say. It just gets different. I used to get exhausted by their physical needs (carrying, changing diapers, etc.). As they grow, they can handle more things physcially, but then I get exhausted with the emotional, social and educational needs. This parenting is exhausting work. ;)
Julie Pippert said…
Kyla, the 1st and 2nd grade teachers offered that option, but so far since then the teachers have custom lists. I miss handing over $$ to teachers to get what they want lol. Yes, how did the kids grow this fast???

Becky, you nailed it -- that's it exactly. It's exhausting -- the toughest job you will ever love (and be run over by).
S said…
It's different when they get older, but just as hard.

No one expects that.
Christine said…
you got it,lady! i feel like every parent mag at the pediatrician's office or on the shelves are all about babies and toddlers. anything for older kids is all about crafts and cooking or the ubiquitous bullying. DON'T GET ME WRONG--bullying is a HUGE and important issue, but what about the nuances of raising my girl to be healthy in her body and spirit?

and this: "But then again, I didn't value me enough either, to say no." so true--another lesson to teach our girls is how to honor themselves as worthy people.
Christine said…
ack!!!--i feel like my comment dismisses bullying as unimportant. i really, truly don't mean that. i guess i just mean that i have a hard time finding pre-teen (print and on-line) advice that goes beyond this one issue.
Anonymous said…
So I have a similar problem--my girl is now in 4th grade and busy trying to match herself up with boys and it drives me nuts.

But the other side of the coin is having a child who is somewhat tonedeaf in terms of emotions, tones, and more, and is in heavy danger of becoming an unpleasant diva queen. She is sarcastic and the first words out of her mouth about anyone or anything point out something mean or unpleasant. Her dad and I are at our wits ends; how do you teach someone to BE NICE at the same time as teaching them that it's okay to say no, to value others as much as you value yourself without becoming either a pushover on one end or a bully on the other, to realize that the inside is much more important than the outside...?

Yes, it's exhausting and hard work, and I don't like to admit to the world that my lovely, creative, fun girl is mean as naturally as breathing. All my online buds seem to have kids who are much more emotionally mature than mine, and it makes my heart break. It's no fun to realize you may love your child, but you don't really like her. And there sure don't seem to be books out there that deal with that particular aspect of parenting...
Fran Stephenson said…
I am nodding my head as I read your blog post....the parenting "manual" doesn't begin to cover what parents face starting from middle school. This really hit me when my son started driving. Now, as my son gets ready for his senior year, I am painfully aware that there's so much I need to show him, model behavior that he'll remember, and at the same time, teach him how to cook and be his backstop without smothering him. Gotta give him his wings, etc etc.

On the other hand, because he's a boy, all I had to buy him for school this year was a pair of shoes. Oh, and a $5000 cello.

This year might truly kill me.
Lynne said…
Far be it for this non-mom to give advice...though I pride myself on liking to interact with kids and being good with them...but I think your best bet for helping your kids to get the sort of life lessons that will make them the sort of girls that carry whatever color folder, or choose whatever date NOT to go on, is to tell stories. YOUR stories. You obviously learned the lessons for yourself (and one would expect your girls will have to learn some of them on their own as well - hearing and LEARNING are two different things). Hearing the story of your date (when they are old enough to appreciate it, obviously) and how you wish you had had the courage of your convictions at the time to make another choice, will go a long way towards teaching your girls the same lesson when they encounter a similar choice.

In many respects, I guess I give this advice wishing I'd gotten more of this from my mom. In some respects my mother (bless her soul) still hasn't learned them - she's definitely more of a "traditional woman" and not by choice which I would totally respect, but by upbringing - and I had a really hard time learning about the "independent woman" in myself. Sometimes I think I might not have finished those lessons had I not wound up with a feminist husband (though I guess you could argue I ended up with a feminist husband by dint of wanting to wind up with one).

If I had been able to relate stories of my mother's epiphanies with my own life as a preteen, teen, and young woman, I think there could have been a lot of pain avoided (though maybe not all of it, me having an artist's temperament).

I also think (and I know you do this) if you spend your girls' upbringing showing and telling them about their value, they will come out of it knowing their value in the end (if not without some bumps along the way I am sure). Never underestimate the power of the self-fulfilling prophesy, which can work both for you and against you.

And for the last item in my running commentary, sometimes you just have to (at some point) step back and let them learn these things on their own, having laid a strong foundation with the above two items.
Spacemom said…
My going into 4th grader is being totally crazy this summer. Fortunately, she is not into boys or focusing on issues like that, but she desperately wants to have breasts and a period. We are discussing these things and she is just angst ridden with what she wants everything to be like.

I just want her to take life as it comes. I didn't learn that lesson until I was almost 35.
jeanie said…
This post really resonates with me, Julie.

Its not just the dollars - its the fragile tightrope between keeping them the gorgeous girls (in my case - no doubt similar for boys mothers) and saving them from the quagmire that is adolesence.

My funky chick is at a party today and of the 7 girls, 5 of them are very much into the whole aesthetic aspiration of very similar styles - thank goodness for the other who, like my girl, has very much her own look.

But then, I looked at the few mums at the drop-off zone and realised that apples and trees - and my girl has to learn lessons I didn't get right myself.

Man, that got a bit depressingly off topic - sorry, must get out and snort some sunshine before I collect!!
Colleen Pence said…
The parenting mags aren't much help as our kids grow but blogs like yours sure are. And while those magazines provide only one person's possibly limited perspective, blogs let us hear (in posts and comments) from so many others who have gone, or are going, before us. Thank you, Julie, for this post and this space where we can support each other and consider the variety of ways in which we can navigate the waters of childhood and adolescence. As my daughter enters first grade and seems to morph before my eyes from innocent babe to precocious child, I need all the help I can get!
Julie Pippert said…
S, I think I expected harder in a different way, but a concept is way different than actual.

Christine, in no way did you come across *at all8 as if you were dismissing bullying. I think (a) it is only one, albeit an important one, but only *one* aspect of growing up, and (b) there are many sides to it, as another comment here shows. The (a) part is the big gaping void. For those of us with kids older than 5, max. So I think was you said was so important.

Fran, you need to talk to my cousin Teri, who is prepping her beautiful daughter for senior year. Then you two need to write down the good, bad, ugly and beautiful and pass it down to the rest of us. You're both good writers.

Lynne, I love your comment and that you did comment, as a daughter. I share things of myself with my girls. I hope it resonates, but I also live a very different life than my parents. In my last post, I talked about how you keep stress from kids. That sort of sums up my overarching ideas.

Oh Spacemom, our girls are at the same stage. Mine will play with dolls one minute, then grab a stuffed animal and wonder what kissing a boy is like. We are transitioning faster than I can do. I think we loving parents are always about a step behind, and yet we've already been there and done that.

Jeanie, you were spot on, my friend. I struggle mightily between encouraging uniqueness and also encouraging paying attention to what works on a social intelligence level for being with peers all while not becoming a lemming. That might be the toughest bit of all.

Colleen, thanks. I know -- these wonderful comments. We're here for each others, thankfully.

Anonymous, your comment. It has been on my mind since I read it. First, Rosalind Wiseman is a wonderful resource for that. She, on her site and in her books, talks about both sides. Without judgment. When my daughter was bullied, the worst part was feeling this *judgment* as if I'd somehow failed to properly prepare her to not be a victim. When she has been cruel to other children -- oh yes, it flows both ways even in the same child -- I experienced similar judgment. In both cases, there was this sort of horror and perplexedness. But we work through it. You are not alone. And neither of you are bad or wrong.
Anonymous said…
It does get easier. Eventually.

My oldest is 19 and I can't even begin to express how much simpler it is to be the parent of a kid who's practically all grown up.

Anonymous said…
Like, just for example, I don't have to worry about school supplies.

Though there is that pesky college tuition thing.

Yolanda said…
I don't often admit it, but hen I was pregnant I hoped that I was carrying a boy. Not that I felt I knew anything about raising a boy. But simply that all the stakes seemed so much lower. That girlhood is fraught with so many land mines that lead to 30-years of therapy, I just didn't want to be responsible for my inability to raise a proud, confident, self-oving girl. I just didn't want the pressure of that job.

And I still am not sure if I am momma enough to handle what is going to happen to my girl over the next few years. By the time I was 8, I was over 5-feet tall and sprouting breasts. If my daughter follows my pattern, her childhood is already half over.


But I see from the other comments that I am a bit delusional to think that the gender of my child would make raising them from baby to adulthood any easier. Thanks for this post, Julie.

{Delighted to see niobe's voice in these comments. I hope she knows that she is missed.}
MARY G said…
I've been through it and have daughters whose adult life has had more success than failure - in spite of one acrimonious divorce and stretches of depression and misery.
Lucky for me.
The only advice I have is 'don't sweat the small stuff'. But ... what is small stuff and what is important? Try to figure that one out!
You are making vitally important points here. Have you seen Slouchy's post about her teen and the cat? It has some similar questions.
Wish I could help! Wish I could help all teens through the anguish of figuring out whom they are going to become.
What a wonderful post! I've watched both my sisters struggle with this with their children.

My younger sister has older kids, junior high and high school. Her challenges these days are harder, especially for the 15-year-old girl. It's a delicate balance, giving her the space to develop and maintain her confidence and independence while keeping her safe.

My youngest sister is where you are, or close. Her 4-year-old son started pre-K this year. His best friend is a girl who, he tells us, is strong enough that "she could pick up a car." What that means is that she's stronger than he is, and he's Ok with that. She often jokes that she's glad she has a boy because she'd be bankrupt otherwise.

However, the memory that popped into my head as I read your post was really about my brother. My brother was a surprise baby. 14 years younger than I am, there's 9 years between him and my youngest sister. He often said that he had 4 moms growing up. When he was in school, elementary and middle school mostly, he would come home with stories about how his friends said that "girls can't do X" (change oil in a car, for example) and he always told them "my sisters do." And he'd be baffled by them because in his world girls drilled holes into walls to hang frames, worked in suits, paid their way through college, checked car oil and tire pressure, had 'attitudes' that got them called bad words by strangers on more than one occasion, and did't defer to anyone based on gender. And that's what a "normal girl" was like for him.

I'm very grateful to my parents for having raised us to be the way we are.

You'll do fine. And will she.
StarTraci said…
It is soooo hard. Mine aren't as old as yours and I am already sensing the changes and feeling the pressure. When we were shopping for school clothes a couple of weeks ago, my four year old daughter asked if she looked like a hot girl. (Sound of needle acreeching across a record) What? I don't even know where she heard that. I am afraid. Very afraid!!!
Anat said…
Hi Julie - I was really moved by your post. Thank you for writing and sharing it. As you said, those who go before us, can advise, and the rest of us benefit from the wisdom shared.

As an aside, this is the first time I've ever landed on your blog. Navigated from Facebook after seeing we had another mutual connection today.

Your post resonated with the mom in me. Although, admittedly, my daughter is much younger than your's and not yet in school or needing school supplies. Now that I've read your post I'm thinking, what a misnomer the 'terrible twos' has been in misleading parents to thinking that child rearing gets somehow 'easier' at age 3.

With parenting, as with many things, I think it can sometimes feel like when you're in the thick of it 'right now' is the most challenging it's ever been and is ever gonna be. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around and conceptualizing anything more difficult than what we've already known. Why are we so reluctant to learn this lesson?

The feelings you expressed about wanting to raise your daughter to feel confident, self assured and comfortable being uniquely herself in a world where the opposition is so great we can sometimes be blind to it - this is something I think (worry) about a lot too.

Obviously, the pressure to conform to gender stereotypes began way before her need for school supplies, right? I felt this conflict before my daughter was born, when picking out her earliest clothes and nursery items, and every day I wonder if I dress her in cute pink hearts or something 'sweet' am I doing her a disservice, inflicting some type of irreparable damage onto the way she will eventually view and define herself as a woman and a human being in the world. From what you've shared, sounds like continued challenges lie ahead.

I can imagine - now picture she's 2 ft tall trodding around in mommy's shoes - the woman she'll some day be is staring back saying, "Mom, I could have been so much more assertive had you dressed me differently."

Sure, there are times when we feel intentional and want to control those things. I'll close my eyes and stick my hand into her closet to pick an outfit blindly, but almost always need to consider it first. And, that bothers me. And, sometimes it bothers me that it bothers me. So, what will things be like when she's older, as you described, and has her own voice, opinions, and starts to see, feel, and hear pressures from peers and others to look, speak, dress, act a certain way. She may even desire the same pink notebook with the I Luv U! stickers.

Honestly, I think the clothes, the spiral notebooks, none of that matters more than the nurturing model you're creating for your children. The love and guidance you surround them with equally opposes any pressures from without.

And the fact that you're a conscious mama and sensitive to these thoughts and ideas makes your daughter(s) very lucky little girls. They are sucking up and absorbing as much, if not more, of you than they are of anything else, and the example you're creating by being the kind of person that considers and values these feelings and shares them provides the best kind of life lesson for them.

I think many of us as parents, and moms especially, push ourselves so hard to be perfect, and to raise perfectly conscious and aware children. We deserve the space to relax a little and to be human with all of our iniquities. We need to allow ourselves a little breathing room and permission to let go, and to feel reassured in being just as good as we already are.

It's clear you're doing a great job, mama, in growing your older kids despite the little things that may get in the way and cause some minor frustration. It's also clear that your mama did a few things right too.

As a previous commenter said, just keep sharing your stories. I really appreciated this one.

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