1. Her personality has arrived.
My tween has a more defined silliness and sarcasm, a sense of style, and stronger opinions about her clothes and her activities and the ways she wants to spend her time. Some of this is negotiable and some of it isn't -- I expect her to be present for family activities, and I don't have a problem vetoing weather-inappropriate clothing, but I respect her need to figure out how she presents herself to the world -- even (especially?) if it's different than I would have imagined.
2. She's sweet.
And kind. And empathetic. Tweens and teens have a bad reputation. Yes, there's moodiness sometimes, but that's true of all of us, isn't it? I think what we parents are really feeling when we cry, "Teen Surliness!" is the shift from little to big, ours to independent. When we're able to loosen our grip on their smallness, we're privy to an amazing person right in front of our eyes. There's an unparalleled kindness and empathy to this age group. Nurture that; it makes the world go round.
3. Faith in her is key.
There's a place for worrying and, goodness knows, I'm good at it. But in my heart of hearts, I know that worrying sends the subtle message that, "I don't think you can do this." And I'd rather (loudly) suggest, "I believe in you."
4. She's still learning.
She's going to make mistakes. It is your job to help her learn from them, fix them and do more good in this world than harm. That's not "helicoptering," it's "parenting."
5. She still needs you.
I'm awestruck by my tween's independence daily, and it's easy to think, She's got this. But when we're home at the same time, I make myself available to her. I might just be doling out snacks when she gets home or sitting on the couch while she does homework or out back while she's "hanging out," but I'm there. And every single day, at some random, often inconvenient time, she tells or asks or shares something I would have missed if I chose to be someplace else.
6. You'll never regret advocating for her.
I believe this with every fiber of my being. I have not once regretted advocating for her or helping her form the words to advocate for herself. But I do regret the times when, for a variety of truly unimportant reasons, I didn't do this. Even if you speak too soon or too loud or you need to backtrack later, who cares? She'll feel less alone as she maneuvers this world. And that's part of your job.
7. She's sensitive.
That newfound sarcasm might make her heart seem tough, but it's not. With growth and change comes vulnerability. Joking shouldn't cross over to teasing, and if you're lucky and she's let you in on her worries, never take advantage of that and use them against her.
8. She craves your approval.
It might not seem like it, but she does. Give it to her freely.
9. You're creating her framework for intimacy.
How you treat people and how you let people treat you is what she'll know as normal. Be mindful and intentional about that. This includes how you talk to and about her, yourself and others.
10. She gets and knows and is exposed to so much more than you'd ever guess, and than she lets on.
Never "dumb down" your conversations. Share with her happy things and hard things and important things. Model a good debate, a strong reaction, smart questions and kind (re)actions.
11. She's watching you for clues on how to maneuver this world as a woman.
Strong, smart and empathetic women are golden. The way these things play out for you doesn't really matter; it'll look different for all of us. But follow your passions, speak your mind, and see your own value. She'll mirror you.
12. There's a ridiculous amount of goodness to her -- she needs to hear that.
Tell her directly and often and without worrying about spoiling her. Compliments should be given daily and freely and with wild abandon.
13. Don't shy away from hard conversations.
Periods, boys, sex, sexuality, depression, alcohol, drugs, kindness, bullying, friendship -- it's a privilege to be the soft landing and the hard message sender. Act like it.
14. Be her biggest fan.
Everyone deserves at least one person in their lives who thinks they hung the moon. Fill her heart with shared moments and words and presence and the knowledge that you're that person.
This list is more gender universal than not. But, for right now, I only know tween girls, so that's where my focus is.