There’s no shortage of articles, memes, and clichés about the struggles of raising tweens and teens. But here’s what people say less frequently: being a tween is hard too.

The tween years are generally the ages of 9 to 12, when kids are in between the little kid years and the big kid teen years. And it is a trip, that’s for sure. 

The tween years are when parenting becomes less physically demanding, but more emotionally draining.

The tween years are when you ask yourself, what is happening and who is this kid? Your house will start smelling like Axe body spray all the time, and the kid you used to have to bribe to take a bath will start showering every day—without being asked. There are more slammed doors, eye rolls and sighs. But there’s also a lot of silliness and snuggles too. There is the constant struggle over independence—more or less of it, depending on the perspective. 

The tween years are when parenting becomes less physically demanding, but more emotionally draining. And as much as parents love to talk about how challenging it is to raise a tween, it can also be pretty hard to be a tween.

Tweens are literally “the middle,” and as we all know, the middle can be confusing. You aren’t a little kid anymore, but you’re not a big kid yet either. The tween years bring lots of changes—new schools, new friend groups, new teachers, new everything.

Your tween might still look like a little kid physically (or maybe not), but they sure don’t act like a little kid anymore. Except when they totally do. The tween years are wild like that. A former colleague of mine once said that age 12 is when everything changes, and let me tell you, she wasn’t kidding. 

Related: “Turning Red” is the movie I wish I had at 13. I’m so glad our daughters have it. 

I’ve raised two 12-year-olds now and it was like a switch flipped. They were more rebellious and more emotional. Their friend groups evolved and socializing became more important than ever. Their sense of humor took on an edge. Seemingly overnight, they started closing the door to talk with their friends in group chats. If they missed out on a social activity, there was a meltdown. And notes from teachers about “talking in class” came home at an increasing rate. 

But alongside this pricklier version of themselves was also the sweet little kid they had always been. They still cared deeply about parental approval. They needed lots of hugs and reminders that everything is okay. They still said “I love you”—even in front of their friends. 

“It’s emotional puberty, Mom,” one of my kids said recently. “You know, when your body isn’t changing that much yet but your emotions are going wild.” 

I looked at him, jaw dropped, and stared at him in amazement. That’s it exactly. (And also, when did he get so smart and emotionally aware?)

Emotional puberty can happen before physical signs of puberty, which means your 11- and 12-year-old might look like a little kid, but inside they're going through a whole lot of changes. 

In many ways, emotional puberty can be more unsettling than the physical changes—for parents and for kids. They might understand why they have hair in places they didn’t before and why they get their period each month, but understanding why they feel angry one minute, excited the next, and are in tears a few minutes later can be really confusing.

If you’re raising a tween, give yourself and your child a little grace.

I spent a lot of time wondering what I was doing wrong. Why was my sweet little kid acting like a monster all of a sudden? What’s with the eye rolls and back-talk? And why are they so upset—again?  

But now that I’ve come out on the other side of the tween years (for the most part), I have realized that there was nothing wrong with them, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I wasn’t failing as a parent, nor were they turning into a child I wouldn’t be able to recognize. It was just emotional puberty.

Related: My daughter has entered the tween years—and I’m not ready. 

So if you’re raising a tween, give yourself and your child a little grace. Pick your battles. And remember: like all parenting phases, this too shall pass. There is nothing wrong with them, and there is nothing wrong with you. You aren’t doing it wrong. You aren’t failing. You are just raising a tween—and it’s hard. But it does get easier. The emotional turmoil will settle down. Their body will catch up with their mind. They’ll settle into the person they are becoming. 

Just like you will settle into the mother you are becoming—the mother of a tween.