A Dad Weighs in on Tweendom

Recently a dad connected with me to ask if dads could be a part of Moms Anonymous. Why not?! I automatically gravitate to moms, but it's equally important to hear how dads are dealing with tween issues. 

This particular dad and his kids use music as a creative outlet, which keeps them uniquely tied. If my family had one musical bone between us we might give it a go! Alas, we'll leave it up to this family... (Questions by me, answers by John.)

- How did you get your kids involved in your "family band"?

It all started with us driving down the road one day, listening to a playlist of old Weezer songs that I was fine with the girls hearing. They loved this playlist, and my oldest, then 10 or 11, was just belting it out in the back seat, singing along.

It can be tough to find quality rock for kiddos that isn't disgusting or teaches them the very opposite of what you want your tweens to learn. So, as I sat there enjoying them singing, I thought, "Man, this would be a great format for kids music." 

I set out to make some tunes for them. We loved it...we wrote more. Friends started encouraging us to perform. So...we gave that a shot as well. We're a real mess, but we love each other. We get on stage and we hope that they see that. That's what it's all about, the fact that there really is hope. 

We write about what we struggle with, our fights and victories and laughter. We think it's really healthy to sing about it all. I do most of the songwriting, but they are ALL of the inspiration. 

- Let's back up. You have two tween girls!? Let's start with the easy question: how old are they? 

I have 5 girls, one just turned 13, one 11, 9, 3 and 8 months. It’s funny, the 11-year-old almost always gets mistaken for the oldest, and she definitely commands the authority of an eldest child. But that’s just her way.

- FIVE. Amazing. Are your tweens similar or very different?

My oldest two are extremely different. They amaze me at how powerful they can be. Amy (not her real name), the oldest, is a total artist. She’s a sweet yet old soul. She craves affection of others, but often wants to just be near, and not necessarily engaging in conversation. She is a textbook introvert, and her art just makes me swoon. I love it. She studies people, their mannerisms and so forth, and can capture it in cartoons so well. She can often be the outcast, and sometimes she’s okay with that. She simply can’t play the cool game. I’m often amazed at how tender her heart stays, but when pushed to the side by “queen bees” she can take it very hard.

Anne (not her real name), my 11-year-old is bubbly and overflowing with excitement. Everything is extreme with her. She could be a “popular kid” or a queen bee pretty easily if we let her. She may not be the same type of artist as Amy, but can pretty much do whatever she puts her mind to, and she knows it. We sometimes have to reel her in a bit when she conquers life over and over. I find failings really help her to see other people with compassion and humility.

- Are there certain issues their mom handles and others that fall on you to address with them?

Buying bras and underwear. I hate how fast they all grow. It’s like shoes for toddlers. Next week they’ll need a new one. I take the babies and we go play with princess dolls or nerf guns.

Other than that, no, we handle most stuff together. Maybe that will change as they get older. But we’re very close, and we love hearing what’s on each other’s minds. I think one thing that will help that is I’m noticing that I cannot pick on them when they share their heart. I used to do this a lot, and it made them shut down and only confide in Mom.

Don’t joke about a crush. Don’t mess around with an insecurity, at least not right away. Wait for them to find the humor in their fear. But if they only think that you’ll use their private info for you to get a laugh, they’ll stop coming to you.

- During this stage of their lives, what do you do together that helps with father-daughter bonding?

Music and Mario Kart. We love singing together and working on our songs for recording albums and performances… sometimes. ;-) And we love to unwind and battle it out with Mario Kart. But in the end, the biggest bond in the midst of all of this is a completely open, honest relationship. We HAVE to be safe to talk, no topic is off limits. Literally. Sex, drugs, whatever, if we make it awkward, then it will become taboo. If it becomes taboo, then their interest is totally piqued.

I’m not perfect at it, sometimes I freak out and regret it. But you can always back up and say you’re sorry and show them why you were scared. In fact, being willing to admit you’re wrong to your tween is one of the most valuable assets you can possess as a parent. They need to know that it’s safe. There needs to be the freedom to explore thoughts and feelings together.

At this point in their lives, they don’t need our lectures, they need to feel our hand in theirs as they walk forward and explore. We can be beside them to ask questions, and guide them like a shepherd, rather than a dictator. Talking… and more important, LISTENING is everything.

- What's the most uncomfortable topic for you? 

Well, I probably cashed all of these chips on my last answer. I get a real laugh talking about sex issues and stuff. We’ve talked about how dumb it is that people are ashamed of having their periods. We laugh at it a lot. But what gets me is their developing curves. I get very awkward about them all of the sudden having, you know, curves!

But I gotta push past that myself. And again, it’s good for a laugh. Time marches on and they’re gonna grow up. Snuggle 'em while you got 'em.

- Best advice you can give to others with Tweens? 

Our family motto has become, “Don’t get it right, make it right.” Don’t look for perfection or the right performance from your Tween. Look for them to take responsibility for who they are and accept that failure is simply an invaluable part of growing and learning.

If they feel they have to get it right all the time, that they have to constantly perform for you and be “perfect” then it will only cause them to put up a façade, and in turn, build a wall of lies. Instead, be there beside them as they fall so that they can grab your hand. Encourage them to focus on always making things right. This is not performance, it’s an attitude of responsibility and joy.