Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable Middle School Years

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable Middle School Years

Join special guest Andrea Thorpe to learn how homeschooling the middle school years can be one of your best seasons yet! During middle school, your children transition from the cute years of elementary school to the independent learning years of high school. Because they are transforming, your parenting and teaching both need to flex as well.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna Koch (00:36):

Hi, and welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host, Janna Koch and BookShark's community manager. In today's episode, we are going to be talking about homeschooling middle schoolers. Not how to just survive, but we are going to talk about how you can thrive in your home while homeschooling middle schoolers. My guest today is Andrea Thorpe. She is an author, speaker, and a homeschool mom. So let's welcome Andrea.

Andrea Thorpe (01:02):

Sweet. I'm glad to be here with you today.

Janna Koch (01:05):

I am so excited because I feel sometimes, like I am on an island of homeschool as I am still with a 13 year old and I don't have my olders at home with me anymore. So I feel like I don't have the cute cuddly little six or seven year old that wants to do the read-aloud, and I don't have the high schooler that wants to just be completely independent. So I'm in this constant tension and I don't want to feel alone as I am homeschooling her.

Andrea Thorpe (01:35):

Right. I can understand that. It's that transition phase that you're in, that middle part that can get interesting.

Janna Koch (01:43):

And I think a lot of times parents want to give up at this age. I think it's uncomfortable a lot of times because we are figuring out a new way. We're going away from the, “They just want to learn and they want to know everything you have to say about something” to the, “Okay, just tell me what the bare minimum, what I need to know so I can get on with my day.” And I don't know about you, but as a parent, I don't like to feel uncomfortable in my own home with my own children.

Andrea Thorpe (02:13):

No, none of us do. And it's one of those things like, don't you remember when you first had your kids and you read all the parenting books and so you kind of knew what to do up until this certain point? But when you get to that middle school space, things get really, really different because hormones for one, and your child's interest is starting to change and the way you are parenting them starts to change too. So there is no formula that we can use to be able to figure things out. But I will say this middle school has been one of the best times for me in homeschooling. It was a time that I was always worried about, I was scared about, because people are like, oh, those middle schoolers, they can be kind of weird. Those middle schoolers, they can be scary. But I think if we take our time and if we're intentional, the middle school years can be some of the best ones that we have when our kids are at home with us.

Janna Koch (03:13):

Well, that is definitely my goal, is I am continuing to homeschool my 13 year old daughter. Andrea, before we get into all the nuts and bolts of how we can thrive in this homeschooling of middle schoolers, why don't you just introduce yourself to our audience and tell them who you are and how you became involved in the homeschool field?

Andrea Thorpe (03:34):

Okay. My name is Andrea Thorpe. I have been homeschooling my three girls here in New Jersey for 12 years. My oldest just graduated high school this past school year, so she's in her first year of college. She's 18. My middle daughter is 16 years old. She is a high school junior, and my youngest daughter is 11 and she is in sixth grade. So she has just gotten to that middle school stage.


My husband and I started homeschooling around 2008 or so, and it was one of those things that just felt natural for us before I became a homeschooling mom. I was a public school teacher and I actually taught middle school and loved, loved, loved middle school. Once my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child, we made plans for me to be at home with her for a year, maybe two. And once she was here, we just started doing things and hanging out and meeting other people at play dates and at the library and those type of things. We would get together with other people, she would play, we would read books. And then my second child came, and I remember when it was time to send the first one, when she was getting close to school age, I said to my husband, I had this weird idea and I was like, you know what? I think I can teach her at home. And I didn't really know anyone else who was doing homeschooling, but I had heard about it and I knew it was possible.


So we started just before she turned five. And I remember I taught her how to read and after that it was just like she just took off. And I said, okay, I think we can do this. And every school year came and went, and before you knew it, we were done. And she's off at college now. So we've been doing it for a while. We've never looked back, and it has been a great experience for our family.

Janna Koch (05:35):

Now you also have been kind of a touring, I guess maybe, the circuit of homeschool conventions you like to encourage parents in speaking. How did you get involved in that?

Andrea Thorpe (05:48):

Oh my goodness. Well, I have a blog for moms of color who were homeschooling because when I first started homeschooling, I didn't know too many moms who looked like me who were schooling. So I started a Facebook group to just see if I could meet other moms who were doing the same thing and that turned into the blog. And then once the blog came, people see your blog posts and things like that, and I just started getting invited to conventions. So that's kind of how that worked itself out.

Janna Koch (06:22):

Wonderful. Well, I know that you have been an inspiration to many over the years with your speaking engagements. Before we go any further, why don't you give our audience a homeschool hack? What works for you in your house?

Andrea Thorpe (06:37):

What works for me in my house. We have not a lot of folks in my house, but there's me trying to manage my schedule, keep track of my husband's schedule, and be mindful of the three kids that I have, and even my daughter who's in college. There'll be things that are happening and I still write them down on the calendar to make sure that things don't conflict and all of that. So I am a planner person, like paper and pencil just makes me happy. Checking off boxes makes me happy.


So the one thing that I do is my planner is right here, it stays on my desk all the time. I do keep my calendar inside of my phone on Google Calendar, that's what I use. Just so it will alert me of things that are coming up. I know when to get in the car, it tells me about the traffic so I'm not late for places. But I started to find that when everything was in my phone, I wasn't responsible enough sometimes to just look at my phone and put it away and go back to what I was doing. And I'll be honest, sometimes I found myself looking at cat videos or doing strange things, going off on some path.


So, I kept things in my phone. But I also, every week on Sunday night before I go to bed, I sit down with my phone and my trusted planner, which is right here, and I write everything for the week down, everything that I need to do. That's my stuff, my husband's stuff, all three of my girls things. Just so during the day if I need to know, okay, what's coming next I don't have to run for my phone, it's all written down here in my planner, and I'm still getting the same information, finding out exactly what I need to do, but without that lure of technology or without falling down a rabbit hole or trying to answer an emergency email or something like that. So, for me, my hack is have all my calendar in my phone, and also to have things physically written down on the piece of paper inside my planner too.

Janna Koch (08:46):

I can't tell you how many times I will pick up my phone to look at the next thing and text message will come in, I will be mid-sentence with my kids, and then I stop. And I didn't realize I was doing it and my kids would be like, hello, earth to mom. And I'd come back out. I'm like, oh, sorry, I got distracted. And then I realized, what is that communicating to my kids? What is that saying to them that even though you're talking to me, somebody else came in electronically and they kind of jumped the line, they got recognition and I cut you off.


So I have been resistant to keeping a paper calendar because I want to be modern and in technology as best as I can. I don't like it. But I do like the idea of having both because I know myself and how distracted I can become when I do pick up that phone to check something. And I feel like my kids deserve more of me than that.

Andrea Thorpe (09:47):


Janna Koch (09:50):

And it really was a painful realization when they were less than gently correcting me on my etiquette with my phone while they were mid speaking. But in this day and age, I think it's so easy to be distracted that I think anything that we can do to help safeguard our relationships with our families, with our friends, to kind of have this idea that when I'm with you, I am with you. I'm 100% with you.

Andrea Thorpe (10:27):

Yes 100%. 100%, yes.

Janna Koch (10:29):

And I think that's a great segue into just talking about how we thrive during this middle school time with our children, because there's so many factors going on. You had mentioned hormones. I had mentioned being uncomfortable. So we already have this strange mix, we're transitioning. And what are some of the things that we can do as parents to help safeguard this relationship as we transition in this... It can be very exciting when you said that you taught middle school and you enjoyed it, I always volunteer to do middle school, and I think, well, why am I volunteering to be with other people's middle schoolers? But I kind of avoid my own sometimes. And I think it's because I can be goofy and silly, and I'm not going to take anything that somebody else's middle schooler says to me personally. Unfortunately, anything that my daughter says to me, my immediate response is to take it personally.

Andrea Thorpe (11:31):

And then if you're like me, you take it personally and then you replay it over and over and over again inside of your head, which is the worst thing to do. And then that leads to other thoughts. Am I being a good parent? Am I giving her what she needs? Maybe I should do it this way. I saw that this mom does it that way. When we just need to give our kids what our individual kids need. And that's the lesson I think we all have to learn as we're trying to parent middle schoolers at this time because they're changing. But at the same time, our parenting has to change because they're not the little people that we had before. And I think that's where sometimes we get tripped up.

Janna Koch (12:18):

Well, and then you throw in, I think to myself, this is my last not my first, why am I struggling with this child when I didn't really struggle with my older two? And then I have to remember, she gets to be her own person. She gets to respond the way she wants to. She gets to react the way she wants to. And the only thing I have to go on is my previous experience with my other children.

Andrea Thorpe (12:42):

And sometimes like you said, that previous experience doesn't match because every one of the kids is different. And in that respect, sometimes it kind of draws a comparison to curriculum. I remember when I was schooling early on, I would buy, say a math curriculum and it would work well with my first child. And I was like, this is the curriculum that everybody's using. I spent $200 on it, this is the curriculum. And then you start using it with the next child, and it doesn't work the way it did with the first one. And so that's kind of where we have to be quick on our feet, we have to have some strategies, and we have to have the right mindset to be able to think about how to do those things.


The first point that I always keep inside of my head when I think about my kids is in middle school, is that our kids still need us, that's the thing. They still need us as middle schoolers, but the way that we meet their needs now is different than the way that we met their needs last year or maybe even the year before. So we have to pivot, swing around, change things up, and not be afraid to do it. And sometimes that requires asking a lot of questions. Is there something I can do? How can I help you today? Are you feeling okay? Is there something you want to talk about? And being willing to not have our feelings hurt when our kids say, no, I don't want to talk about it right now. We have to be okay with that. And we have to recognize that, you remember back in the day when your kids would fall and get hurt, they'd come to you, you'd scoop them up, you'd give them a nice big hug, get the bandaid, some cookies, some milk, and all was right with the world from that point on. But it's not that way anymore.


So we really have to think about and understand that our kids still need us, but our job is to realize I need to meet their needs in a different kind of way. And so for my kids, I'm trying to adjust to their schedule because they still need me in this different way, but the schedule that they need me on is not the same as it was before. My kids are good for, it's 9:30, 10:00, I'm winding down, I'm ready to call it quits for the day. But that's when my middle schoolers decide I have something I want to talk to you about mom. And no mom is going to want to just say, no, no, no, just go I'm trying to get into the bed. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Because we all know that they might be ready to talk at this moment, but if you wait until tomorrow morning at 10:00 you may have missed an opportunity. So it's that adjustment that can be challenging.

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable Middle School YearsGetting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable Middle School Years

Janna Koch (15:42):

I fear that once again, this transition is going to be about how well I can change. I am constantly surprised in homeschooling and parenting and life in general, how much I'm required to adjust. And personality-wise that I prefer people to adjust to me.

Andrea Thorpe (16:05):

And that's what we all want.

Janna Koch (16:09):

And I keep thinking to myself another situation where I get to adjust. I guess because I want to be the best parent, the best homeschool mom that I can be. I have to be willing to look at myself and go, okay, do you want to be rigid? Do you want to say, no, this is how we're going to do it regardless of how you feel because that makes me feel better or am I going to have to swallow that pride and say, okay, for you, it's going to look different and I'm going to have to put in the time and energy for that. I think maybe that's the difference between surviving and thriving in this time with our children.

Andrea Thorpe (16:49):

When you said that, it made me think about the fact that for me I've really had to come out of my comfort zone. That for me is what it is. As parents sometimes we get caught up in this is what we've always done, and this is the way it's always worked. And so the way I think about it is just as my middle schooler is adjusting and having to come out of her comfort zone and experiencing new things and learning how to adjust to those things that's the same thing that I'm doing as a parent. And it's scary because you really don't know if it's going to work. And sometimes it doesn't work out the way you want to. Sometimes there's a glitch that gets thrown in and you kind of have to adjust and do it suddenly.


It's the security of knowing. In the past, I always had security knowing, well, we did it this way and it worked all the time. But as they get to be in middle school and they're changing all the time, we don't have that security. It'd be nice when you watch football, you see the coaches standing on the sidelines and they have their playbooks and they have a headset on, and the headset is in the player's helmet, and they get the message and change right away. We don't get the benefit of that because sometimes our kids can decide what the play is going to be, but then in the middle of things, they change up and we're like, wait, wait, wait, I thought we were doing this. So we constantly have to be outside of our comfort zone and constantly just knowing that everything is not going to be secure. And at our house, I tell the kids all the time, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes, just how it has to work in order to thrive.

Janna Koch (18:36):

It is so true. I have found that when I ask my daughter questions, when I'm looking through my lens, and my lens has been I've only homeschooled and been a mom to her sisters. So I have this playbook, if you will, like, okay, this is how it's been in the past, this is how it works. So I make assumptions so many times throughout the day that the things that I am doing and the way that I am doing it is the way that she wants it done, because that's what worked for her sisters. Now contemplating our conversation probably with her sisters four years ago, I was less flexible and I probably didn't even take into consideration a lot of times their input. So now, third time's a charm, is that what I'm saying?

Andrea Thorpe (19:25):

Right, right. You learn with every single one, you learn. You can't rest on your laurels and just say, okay, this is what we're going to do because it's not going to work. You run the risk of damaging the relationship that you have with your middle schooler if we are such sticklers about doing things the way we've always done them or doing things our way.


The other thing too, when we think about that is the world, even though we're talking four years, the way I parented four years ago and the technology and the way life was four years ago is completely different than it is now, especially in the wake of COVID and all of those type of things. And you're dealing with some of our kids, we're still dealing with the mental effects of what it meant to be in the midst of COVID. Not being able to hang out and not being able to do the things you normally did. And so just dealing with that, I was uncomfortable and the kids were uncomfortable, and everyone else in the house was uncomfortable. So we had to learn to adjust. It's it good though for us to be able to figure out how to do that because it applies in so many other areas of our lives. Being able to adjust and being able to make decisions. And as the young people like to say, read the room, what I mean, look around and say, okay, this is not going to work with her right now. I need to make a quick change here.


All of that's going on inside of your head mentally. I see myself, sometimes, I'm standing in front of my kids and my face is like this, and I'm looking and I am looking like I'm trying to understand, but inside of my head I'm in panic mode and I can hear flashers because I know I have to change. But I will say, the more comfortable that we get with becoming uncomfortable, the easier it is to make those shifts when we're dealing with our middle schoolers.

Janna Koch (22:55):

Now help me kind of process through, because initially when even hearing us talk about this, it makes me feel as though we are endorsing permissive parenting. We are just going to, however the child feels, then that's how we're going to do it. And I know that you and I, neither of us are like that in our parenting style. So let's just talk about how that looks different. We may be saying we're adjusting, we're bending, but we're still parenting, we're still in control, we're still guiding. It's just going to look different.

Andrea Thorpe (23:33):

And that's a perfect point to want to talk about. This is not free for all and letting our middle schoolers do whatever they want to do and talk to us any way they want to talk to us. That's not what that's about because we still have the rules that we have in our households. There are still certain behaviors and certain expectations that we have that you need to adhere to.


But now I find that with my middle schoolers, they want to talk about those type of things. So it's one of those things where if there's a rule or there's something going on in the household that they don't like. I remember one of the big things was for a while, we had a school room and we would school in the basement and this special room, and every morning we would go down to the basement. All of our supplies were there. We have a wonderful finished basement. And so it looked like a school room with all of our materials and comfy places to sit and all of those things. And I remember with my first child, she decided one day that she did not want to be in the basement schooling with everybody else.


I remember thinking at first, well, no, that's not what we do. We all school in the basement together. And I ran down my list of reasons why. And thank goodness I asked a question. I said, well, you tell me what's up with not wanting to school in the basement? Is it uncomfortable? What's going on? And she told me, she said, I don't like having to be distracted by any noises that my sisters are making, I like to be up in my room where it's more comfortable. I like to be able to spread my stuff out all over the place because that's the way that works for me. And so those were valid points.


So I said to her, okay, we still want to have that time where we come together and do some schooling, but how about for these particular subjects, what subjects do you feel you need to be alone to do? And she told me, and I gave her time to go up to her room for an hour or two and get that work done, knowing she knew I was going to come and check in on her and see. But after a while, she just got comfortable, her other siblings were fine. And so I didn't say, nope, this is how you have to do it. We kind of met in the middle of the road. And then eventually what happened is as she got older and as she was a little more responsible, there came a time for the most part when she was doing school in her room, just all by herself during the daytime.


Now, there are times where there have been rules that my kids have said, no, we don't want to do that. If it's time to eat a meal or something like that, if your friends are texting you then, or there's a video, you're in the midst of, it's going to have to wait. My husband especially, it's pretty adamant about them not having electronics at the table and all of those type of things when we're eating. So, our children are not running over us at this point in time. We haven't thrown out the rules at all, but we're talking to them more about the rules and trying to get better understanding of how those rules affect them. And like I said, there are times where we're just like, yeah, I can see that doesn't make you happy, but this is how it is. But whenever possible, if I can get better understanding and we can adjust and shift, then we'll do that. So it's a meeting in the middle for us most of the time.

Janna Koch (26:57):

And I think that's such a great example of how the real world works, because I was raised more authoritarian, I believe. And so when I left the home and I started going into the workforce, I expected people to tell me what to do and how to do it. And when I was given this freedom of, no, you get to do it your way, how do you want to do it? I was kind of like, it actually caused me some anxiety. I was like, wait, no, I want to be able to be told how to do it and then I want to do it. And so meeting in the middle and asking questions and giving space to our middle schoolers when we're homeschooling does help create a real world environment. There are times when there are rules, even in a job as an adult, you don't get to break those rules. This is how we do it. But for the most part, especially if you choose a job with a lot of creativity and freedom and flexibility, using this time to foster that in your kids, to let them think outside the box. To let them say, hey, you're right, here's when you can question me with respect and we can talk about it. But then when I say, this is something that has to be done, then that's the end of the story. Get it done.

Andrea Thorpe (28:15):

Yes, yes. And for us, it has worked. There are times, we have a certain procedure for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. And I remember I used to be pretty firm on do this first, do this next, do this afterwards. And I remember every night when it came time to do the dishes, there was just chaos and there was bickering and back and forth. And one day, my husband and I, we were riding someplace and we were talking about the kids and the household and all that. And my husband was like, you know what? It probably really doesn't matter what order they do stuff in. Now for me, I say, you should probably clean off the kitchen table first, that way if crumbs fall on the floor, then you can just sweep them up. But if you insist on doing it that way, you insist on sweeping first and then cleaning off the table. Guess what? When you come back and look at that floor and you're saying up, what are mom and dad going to say about the state of the kitchen? You're going to then know you didn't do it in a certain order so there's crumbs and stuff now that you have to clean up. And that's a lesson that I didn't have to come in.


I let go and said, do it in whatever order you want to do it in. But those natural consequences came in and they can see and say, they may not come to me and say it but now they know the reason mom asked us to do it in this order was because of this. But is it worth it to fight about the dishes and what order you do stuff in? No, because at the end of the night, what we just want is a clean kitchen. And that's that kind of thing that you talked about at work, there's a skill even in that our kids get knowing when to do it their way, and then knowing when to listen and do it the way that someone else has shown you how to do it. And that's life, right? You make a mistake, you fix it, you learn, and then you move on. So that's a good point.

Janna Koch (30:15):

That's it for this episode. Join us next week to continue the conversation about thriving while homeschooling middle school. Andrea has lots more to share, so until next time, bye.