The thing about being eleven and a half …


We’re in the middle of the tween years with my oldest daughter.  Just like those tender newborn years, I’m finding that each milestone with my first born brings its own new set of joys and, of course, new challenges.

In some ways, these years are more perplexing to me as her mother because, unlike those baby days, I cannot fix everything.  My presence isn’t enough to offer comfort for the things that upset her.

The thing about eleven and a half is that it is hard.  The term “tween” gets thrown around with such cutesy abandon, but this in-between age the name is derived from comes with some “big feelings” (as my kids say) and that isn’t light and cute.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve said the wrong thing to her, given her the wrong advice, messed up in my approach, crushed her feelings when I meant to lift her up.  There’s a learning curve to these years, and this rookie tween mother hasn’t mastered it.

It is a new road, for both of us.

SKJillianLucyspanightAt home “spa” day for the girls.

I read a really great piece from The Huffington Post a few weeks ago about how fifteen isn’t the same for everyone.  Growing up: 15 Comes in Many Sizes is the title of the article, and in it author Ann Brenoff talks about how her daughter is “young for her age” and why that is okay but causes some disconnect with her peers.  “She’s in a spot now where many of her fellow high schoolers seem preoccupied with trying to look and act older than their years. And then there’s my daughter — solid in her own identity but feeling increasingly out of place.”

I see that with my tween, too.  I think what surprised me the most about that is that I naively wasn’t expecting it at age eleven.  I knew the day would come, of course, but in all honestly I thought we might have some time to go before we got there.

It is hard enough being the only homeschooled family on our block, being different from the neighborhood kids or the kids at church and from most of her relatives.  Add in being a girl who loves coloring, comic books, and playing with dolls, and it can make you feel out of place.

Throw in a dash of increased discomfort in your changing body and … well, who can blame her for feeling a bit like a misfit sometimes?

What I want to tell her is that we are all misfits.  Everyone single one of us has something about us which makes us stand out.  The lucky ones eventually grow up to celebrate those differences, but not many tweens are that self-aware and secure.  I know I certainly wasn’t. I’m not sure that I always am as an adult, either.

I believe in childhood, I believe in letting kids be kids for as long as possible, but that isn’t an easy stand to take in a society that pushes kids to grow up younger and younger, a social hierarchy where being a tween is the new teenager and teenagers are expected to be young adults.

For an eleven year old who still plays with her doll house and loves to dress up as her favorite super hero or Greek myths character, being that kid in a world that wants you to act older and implies that you are somehow “behind” your peers because you haven’t yet abandoned things that bring you so much happiness … well, it is confusing.

In some ways, as homeschoolers, we don’t have to deal with the pressure on the same scale as others do.  But, we don’t live in a bubble and are in plenty of social situations.  Mostly, the messages she receives are positive and accepting about the girl she is.

But sometimes …

Sometimes her enthusiasm for making doll clothes is meet with a comment about how dolls are “for babies.”  Sometimes she feels awkward when a conversation about a comic book hero turns into a friend’s giggling about how cute the actor who plays the him in the movie is.

She is excited about a book she’s reading and a friend asks in sympathy, “why are you reading if you’re not in school? Is your mom making you?” and I can almost read her mind as she wonders if she’s a misfit because of what she loves.

I see the light in her eyes flicker for just a moment and the way her shoulders slump. The friend leaves and my daughter is quiet, preferring to be alone instead of hanging out with the rest of the family. Later, I innocently ask her how her book is and in anger my bookworm spits out, “reading is for nerds!” and I’m astounded by how fierce her words are.

The mama bear in me wants to cry out, “no, kiddo! Don’t you dare let them change you! It isn’t you, it’s them.  You’re perfect just the way you are!  Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up.  The world will be there when you’re ready. Be the misfit!  March to your own drum!  Don’t let anyone rush you anywhere you aren’t ready to go!”

Sometimes I do tell her things like that and it helps.  Sometimes I tell her that and it makes things worse.

I can’t remember eleven and a half very well, but I imagine that even if I could, the eleven and a half of 1984 is very different from the eleven and a half of 2013.

The thing about eleven and a half is that the waters are starting to get murkier, the path a little more twisty.  And I can’t always tell her which way to go.

She’s old enough now to know that mom and dad aren’t perfect. She knows we struggle sometimes, she’s seen us make mistakes.  We don’t have all the answers.

She also knows that this nest she’s grown up inside of her whole life, it isn’t the world.  She knows where she fits in and she’s also aware of what makes her different, though the why’s are still confusing to her.


I’m in a very contemplative phase of life right now, taking on some “big feelings” of my own as I turn forty later this year.

There are parallels between the journey I see my oldest daughter taking and the path my own heart is on. On the cusp of my own changes, I can relate to her uncertainty, her wonder about just what it is she needs to hang on to and what it is she needs to let go of in order to move forward.

I’ll consider my job well done if I can get her to treasure the things about herself that make her unique, to survive these coming years and emerge on the other side with that thing that makes her so wonderfully her still intact.

Maybe the best way to do that is to make sure that I strive to keep what makes me me intact, too?  Maybe the best way for us to navigate these tween years if for me to value myself at nearly forty so that she can value herself at nearly twelve?

I’m not sure, but it certainly seems worth striving toward.  For both of us.

We’ll get there, kiddo.  But let’s not be in a hurry, okay?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. What a beautiful piece. We are feeling so many of the same things in our house as my oldest turns 10 and I turn 40. It is both a wonderful and trying time.
    Stacey´s latest post: Sending Love

  2. I was your daughter, back in 1983, still playing Barbies, sleeping with a doll, enjoying books more than boys ( boys, unlike books, did not even exist!) I think you’re right, though, that it was easier back then. Fast forward a few decades and I have a 13 yr old son who is only about 9 months removed from dressing in costumes and would rather shoot Nerf guns than talk ( or think) about girls. Fortunately, we have a large homeschooling community where he is more the norm than the exception. It is one of the things I treasure most about homeschooling. Is there a larger group of homeschoolers anywhere near you, who she could spend time with?

    • There is Amy, I appreciate the view of from the mom of a boy very much.

      Like her mother, my oldest is more of an introvert, so a homeschooling group isn’t a good fit for us right now. She does have a close group of friends, but I think some of them are starting to move on to another place and she just isn’t there. Those kinds of growing pains are proving hard for both of us to navigate.

      Best wishes!
      Kara´s latest post: The thing about being eleven and a half …

  3. Parenting is so hard, because we always want to make sure we are doing the very best for our kids to help them for their future.
    We do the best we can. We hug and listen, and we try to offer words of encouragement.

  4. Kudos for you for teaching your daughter to just be herself. I’ve tried to do the same-questioned myself in the process but continue to stay the course. My 13 yo found a group of girls at school that are like her – head in the books (it’s now Inkheart) with a silly sense of humor – and they are very supportive of each other. My youngest is 11 and is trying to find her place. Just keep doing what you are doing …. And, don’t fret 40 – it’s really no big thing!

    • Thanks, Catherine :-)

      And, you know, your comment just caused a light bulb to go on for me: just as I seem to need mentors a few years down the path from myself, perhaps what my daughter needs as she navigates these tween years is the perspective of an older girl who has been where she is? Someone who wasn’t 11 in the “ancient” 80s like her but has navigated the tween thing more recently.

      Thanks for the encouragement!
      Best wishes!
      Kara´s latest post: The thing about being eleven and a half …

      • What a great idea. I think older aged girl mentors take many different forms. Before entering middle school, a group of rising high school senior girl scouts sat with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop to give them the low down on middle school. It was a very comprehensive talk with a focus on the girls being true to themselves and to their friends. In 6th grade, my daughter was fortunate to have a college student as a sponsor for confirmation – I liked that she got the perspective of a young adult’s walk with Christ. She also tends to gravitate towards high school girls like her at youth group events. Good luck with finding a mentor, or many, if that is what fits her bill.

  5. Kym (coffeemomma) says:

    What a beautifully written post! Although my own kids (boys) are still young, I see the same struggle going on there. I have a five year old with a lot of imagination who loves trains…his classmates have moved on to action figures already, but I love watching him linger here in his own interests. I also turned 40 this year and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I’m DOING here with all of this. Thank you for illustrating all this so well. :)

    • Thank you!
      The prospect of 40 is proving to be an odd one for me (I turn 40 in December). I feel like maybe I should finally feel like a grown up by now, and yet … well, I’ve not fully arrived at that place. I am far more confident as a woman and mother than I was a decade ago, but there are still things I grapple with and yes, what I’m DOING here with all of this, as you say, is one of them.
      I’m hopeful that our kids growing up seeing that we don’t have all the answers and that it’s okay not to will be a good thing. :-)
      Kara´s latest post: The thing about being eleven and a half …

  6. One of your best articles yet. I’m a ways off from 11 with my oldest son having just turned 6, but I remember being 11 pretty well myself. I was a year younger than everyone in my grade so I was often coming into things late.
    I think the hardest thing about kids growing older is exactly what you said at the beginning- you aren’t their world anymore so you can’t fix everything. And with that, the future becomes so much more unpredictable! I went through so many experiences that I would never have imagined, nor my mom predicted, between 11 and now. But my family was a consistent source of encouragement and support so that 20 years later, I am very much, at the core, the same person I was then.
    Your article gives me much to think about in the coming years, and much to cherish before we, too, enter the tweens. Thanks, Kara.

    • “you aren’t their world anymore so you can’t fix everything. And with that, the future becomes so much more unpredictable!” Yes. You said that very well.

      Thanks for your kind words. It is nice to know that others feel the way that I do, that watching our children grown, no matter how wonderful, is also sometimes very hard.

      Best wishes!
      Kara´s latest post: The thing about being eleven and a half …

  7. Oh, this post struck such a chord. As the mom of a 10-year-old boy who is still so child-like, and full of JOY, it’s easy for me to worry when I see the kids having “best friends”, making intense travel leagues for sports, there’s a definite hierarchy of what’s cool and what’s not… I see him notice all of this. And I watch his little mind consider navigating this newfound arena… and then I see him pull back, grab a book, go in the yard to play, go create some wild “machine” out of recycled stuff with his little brother. And part of me feels relief, and I want to give myself a pat on the back. And part of me knows what’s coming, and it makes me insecure in my parenting. Until now, I feel like I’ve ‘done it all right’. I’ve let my kids succeed and fail. I’ve provided them with amazing opportunities, but also tried to teach them the value of work. We’ve found a school that values childhood. I’ve been thoughtful and worked hard to raise boys who are empathetic, kind, and happy. But I’m doing this in Fairfield County, CT where empathy and kindness don’t hold a candle to lacrosse. Where being happy isn’t as important as your test scores. Reading your post was a good reinforcement to keep on doing what I’m doing… and to remind you to do the same. You said it best, “I’ll consider my job well done if I can get her to treasure the things about herself that make her unique, to survive these coming years and emerge on the other side with that thing that makes her so wonderfully her still intact.”. Bravo.
    eila @ the full plate blog´s latest post: avocado toasts with hard-boiled eggs and sriracha

  8. Love this. What a wonderful post. Thanks.

  9. Love it. So well said.

  10. This post hit such a note with me this morning. My daughter is almost exactly 11 1/2 as well and it’s just astounding. I have three children, and I don’t recall the tween years being so… drastic, with my 2 boys. But they are 18 and 20 now and maybe I just don’t remember clearly. Or maybe there is that much difference between boys and girls. Or maybe it’s because she’s the only one that has been homeschooled. I don’t know, but I do know that this age/phase breaks my heart on an almost daily basis. I have vague recollections of being 11 1/2 (1986) and it sucked but I’m not sure that it compares at all with what kids are dealing with these days. Anyway, I don’t guess I really had a point to this comment…just wanted you to know that your words touched me and that there is another momma of an 11 1/2 year old homeschooled girl who feels your pain.
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  11. We have a son about 11 and a half as well and I’m finding it intense as well!
    Saturday we had an incident where a good friend acted differently when they were in a crowd than he acts when they are playing at each others homes.
    My sweet firstborn articulated for the first time:” I think I’m not cool enough for him.”
    I guess where I am as a mom is wondering what is wisdom in helping him deal with painful experiences like this…

  12. This is really well written and beautiful. I am so concerned about building my daughter (almost 8) into the best her she can be and wondering if I’ll ever even get close to the right words, sentiments, and actions.

  13. I found myself nodding through all of this. I have a daughter who has just emerged from tweendom and a son who is in the think of it. I am not sure why there is so little attention given to this transition. It is far more challenging that the baby and toddler years when, as you say, we really could fix most problems — often with a hug or a piece of cheese (sometimes both). It’s just not that simple once they are tweens. I must say, though, that the butterfly my tween has grown into out of her grey cocoon of tweendom is really lovely. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.

  14. I too struggled with being a bit of a misfit – homeschooled, a nerd, not ‘up to date’ with all the ways of behaving socially in schooled groups, didn’t watch much television at ALL. One of the things that helped pull me up was going to a camp full of writers (YouthWrite, in Alberta) who were all also misfits. It made all the difference for me. There are other 11-year-olds…and 15-year-olds…and 21-year-olds too (that’s me!) who read comic books and like dressing up like superheroes and medieval warriors. You can find them at comic book stores, young writer’s camps, live action role-playing groups, table-top role playing groups, and the like. It might help your daughter to be exposed to others who like some of the same things she does – it makes it more acceptable to like those things and be who she is, rather than having to grow up too fast.

  15. What a wonderful post! Those tween years are so hard. The “big” feelings, the body changes, and the peer pressure are a lot to deal with. I’m not quite there yet with my daughter but I sure hope I can handle things as well as you seem to be doing.
    Emma´s latest post: Action Packed Skylanders Bedding

  16. Thank you for this article.
    It was beyond moving and sweet and I only wish that I had you as a mother growing up. What lucky children you have. :-)
    Showing your daughter such compassion at a time when you could be butting heads is so inspiring and incredible to see. Thank you for being a new generation of parents!
    Sydney´s latest post: The Final Countdown

  17. I enjoyed this article so very much. My daughter is your daughter! I am you! I look forward to more post by you.

  18. Just clicked over from Simple Mom and I love this post. I, too, have an 11 and a half year old, one who likes Barbies and American Girl dolls, playing outside, and reading. I see some of her friends moving forward with boy band crushes, Facebook and Instagram, and trendy clothes. It’s such a fine line to walk, wanting them to stay kids, but knowing how hard it can be to be different. I do think there are more moms than we realize who believe kids shouldn’t grow up too fast, and I’ve tried lately to help my daughter find friends more like her. Definitely a tough age for everyone.


  1. […] The thing about being eleven and a half… | Simple Kids I still feel like this!  All the other ladies talking about their own bodies and hot males’ bodies and I’m just not interested. […]

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