We're entering a new era of parenting- the pre-teen era. How does one characterize this era? In all the ways you can probably imagine. Our oldest is almost 11 and while I knew that all the aspects of this age would take some finesse there is one element I wasn't expecting.
During this stage begins a desire to do something worthwhile. More often than not, it's expressed as "I'm bored," but when pressed on what this means, what comes out is that childish games and ways of play aren't cutting it as much anymore and a pre-pre-pre-adult desire to be productive is taking shape.
The challenge is that at this age there are many things a pre-teen can't do. They can't go out and get a job. Even volunteering can be tricky unless a parent can go along. What we don't want to do is ignore this God-given desire to be useful, to have purpose, and to contribute to the world around them. This is a good thing. Helping this desire grow seems pretty important and we want to be attentive to it.
If we lived on a full, working farm, he would have chores out the wazoo, but our little farmette's chores mid-winter are minimal.
So. What is he doing? In addition to normal, everyday, family chores (trash, recycling, pouring water at meal times, clearing plates, vacuuming, splitting kindling for the wood stove, etc) we've taught our pre-teen to take over the job of helping our neighbors who need assistance bring in their firewood. Since he can't manage a full wheel-barrow load yet, he makes half-full trips, stacking it by their basement window. Once in place, he knocks on their door then hands piece by piece down through the basement window into their basement (where their wood stove is). Depending on how much they need, this can take him an hour or more once or twice a week (depending on the weather).
For now, this has added a little bulk (and a lot of purpose) to his week. We continue to look for ways through church and his mentor relationship for him to lend a hand, to contribute. We all have purpose. We all have God-given gifts just waiting to be tapped into. Our hope is that we'll give our pre-teens enough opportunities to discover their gifts and kindle their desire to use their time in purposeful and helpful ways- giving of themselves at the right dose and frequency for their age. We want them to look outward during a time when it's natural to gravitate toward always looking in.
For me, parenting is an ever-changing, ever-challenging dance between reigning in and letting go and, therefore, it's exhausting (in an exciting, rewarding, humbling, terrifying, and sometimes maddening kind of way).
I covet your ideas and suggestions. What has worked for your family as you try to find purposeful ways for your pre-teens and teenagers to interact with the world (in or outside of the home)? What experiences did you have growing up that allowed you to feel useful and a contributing part of society during this particular stage of life?
What a stage of life it is.