Surviving the Terrible Twelves

by | Sep 3, 2015 | Mystery Blogger, Parenting | 19 comments

I’m terrible at taking blog breaks, or relaxing in general. But
just in case I do happen to feel like relaxing with this new baby when
the time comes, I’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to guest post
for me. But not in the usual way.

Blogging is a great way to share insights and experiences. But,
sometimes, as much as we’d like to start a discussion, it’s not our
story to share, or feelings could be hurt, or relationships damaged. So,
for my guest posting series, I asked some of my favorite bloggers to share here,
anonymously, posts they felt they couldn’t put on their own blogs.

I hope you’ll find them as compelling as I have.


I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at the terrible twos and emotional threes, having gone through them quite a few times now. But, I gotta say, my first time through was NOT a great success. My oldest was an especially challenging toddler, and I took everything he did really personally, and reacted to him very emotionally.

You’d think maybe I could have anticipated the terrible twelves and emotional thirteens. But I was pretty much just as blindsided this time around. And I handled it just about as well.

Eight years ago, when I was first beginning my homeschooling journey, I got a lot of advice and heard a lot of stories of other people’s experiences. Some of that was helpful, some was not as helpful. One anecdote in particular really stuck with me, just kind of simmering, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

I wanted to ignore it, or figure it wouldn’t apply to me . . . but it came from a woman I really admired. She told me that she had helped found an independent Catholic school that she could send her older kids to, primarily because she got to a point with her middle school aged sons where exerting the authority over them that was necessary for successful homeschooling wasn’t worth the toll it took on their mother-son relationship.

I’ve read the blog posts, I know about always meaning what you say.

I figured we’d be fine.

And for quite a while, we were. My oldest has never been an EASY guy to teach, but I like a challenge. He’s very bright, and confident to a fault, and has always been hard to motivate, especially for things he believes to be not worth his time. Each year, we’d have a crisis or two (or six) that would require dad’s involvement to sort out. But we were mostly making it work. His academics were on track. And our personal relationship was solid.

Then, as he approached puberty, everything changed in subtle but profound ways. He’s a good and responsible and fun and helpful kid, but it seemed like all of a sudden, he had this biological need to not be bossed around all day by his mother anymore.

Getting him through a school day became increasingly difficult, and required more and more pushing from me, resulting in more and more push back from him. That meant I had less time for my other students, and less patience for everyone.

In the moment, again, I was taking it personally, and reacting emotionally.

But the more I thought about it, the more his behavior made sense . . . this wasn’t just simple laziness or rebellion, this was him trying to become a young man.

For most of human history, children were under the supervision of their mothers and the other womenfolk until ten or twelve. But then, the boys would get to leave the domain of women and assist their fathers with work on the farm, or be apprenticed to a blacksmith, or shipped off as a cabin boy, or accepted into a school of witchcraft and wizardry. But wherever they went, it meant they weren’t spending all day long being dominated by their moms. My son just couldn’t handle it. And I wasn’t sure our relationship could handle it either.

Last year we tried doing online classes, in the hopes that some outside authority figures would help. But . . . it’s still homeschooling, and homeschooling online teachers are pretty chill. So, the buck still stopped with me. And it was hard to leave that baggage behind and just be mother and son at the end of the day. The negatives of homeschooling felt like they were outweighing the positives.

So, just for my oldest, we have decided to make the jump into “real school.” We are moving to a different part of town so that he can start eighth grade at the school my friend helped found fourteen years ago. I’m sure packing up and moving house and enrolling in private school isn’t the only solution to this issue (and that it just isn’t an option for all families).

If my son were a differently motivated kind of guy, I think a very student-led approach to homeschooling could be a success at this age. But I don’t think it would be a success for him. Tutors, or a co-op, or more involvement from dad could have helped I’m sure. But this has seemed like it will be the best solution for OUR family.

We have always taken homeschooling one year at a time. And we figured traditional school was always a possibility for our older kids. I’m more of a lifestyle homeschooler than an ideological one, anyway.

And I’ll still have plenty of students at home. We plan to evaluate them individually, when the time comes, and with their input, to determine when and if they’ll make the same transition. Maybe some of them will homeschool through high school. We’ll have to wait and see.

Now I just need to figure out how to be a regular school mom and a homeschool mom and a mom . . . all at the same time. It’s possible that there might be other teenage-y things that come up.

And we have to pack up and move.

Wish me luck.


  1. Amanda

    I get so much pushback from my oldest (also a boy) too. I wonder where we'll be in 5 years.

  2. Bailey

    I think it's great that you've taken the steps necessary to have your son educated in a way that is positive for him, you and the rest of your family. To me, that's the whole point of having all of the choices we have for educating our children. I am not a homeschooler, but already my two oldest children's educational path looks dramatically different. My oldest son sounds like he has many of the traits that you described in your son. Additionally, he has severe dyslexia. Until he was diagnosed in 1st grade (though if it had been up to me, he would have been diagnosed long before that), even 1 homework sheet or a spelling list was enough to leave both of us in tears every day. We too ended up moving across town so that he could attend a school that specializes in learning disabilities in children. Thankfully, the move had the added benefit of shortening my husband's commute by 45 minutes and getting us into a bigger house too! The school has been a lifesaver for him and for our entire family and I am so grateful we were able to make it work for our family.

  3. carolyn

    Love this. I have a feeling this will be us in a few years.

  4. Ashley Sue

    What a great option that school is! I think if there were more quality schools to choose from I could have been talked out of homeschooling. Good luck young man in your new school!

  5. Amelia Bentrup

    I have a good friend who homeschooled all her kids, but said with her boys, she has to put them in school once they hit 12 or 13.. She said they just couldn't learn at home from their mother and they needed to be an enviroment with competition and male authority figures. I think it makes a lot of sense.

  6. Anna

    I thought this was gracious and insightful, working with your son's specific situation, rather than pressing down harder to get 'obedience', when the issue is really his God-given development, as it expresses itself in him as an individual.

  7. Gina

    I asked my husband about this, he was homeschooled and was also a strong willed first born. He said he thinks the relaxed homeschooled philosophy of his parents really helped. He was not unschooled, there were expectations like "keep up with your grade level in math" and "submit a project to the science fair" but there were no schedules. If he didn't want to do math one day, he didn't have to. If he didn't want to do "schoolwork" at all one day, he didn't have to. He eventually got everything done, but it was always on his own schedule. His parents have moved to a little more scheduled approach now, and I think they got more push back from his younger brothers (all of their children are being homeschooled all the way through high school)

  8. Elizabeth

    My oldest is exactly like this. We also have an awesome independent Catholic school that he goes to. I always said we'd take homeschooling year by year and kid by kid, but it was still very difficult to enroll him. I had no idea the blessings this would bring our family. It is a commitment because the school is 30 minutes away, so 2 hours of driving a day. Sounds crazy, but the benefits have outweighed the cost thus far.

    • Elizabeth C

      We also take our commitment to homeschooling year by year. Circumstances change, kids change, life happens so its best to roll with it.
      Having options is such a blessing!

  9. Elizabeth C

    This is where we are exactly. My son is a freshman in high school this year, the decision was made at the of last year that he needed a different setting. We've chosen an online obtion that provides a community day once a week.
    So far so good ☺.

  10. Kallah Oakes

    I think this Mystery Mama shows a lot of humility and love in recognizing something wasn't working and being open to a different option.

    I have to say, I do not agree that this is a "male" problem. Or even a rebel child problem. My experience of being homeschooled K-12 with my 5 younger brothers and sisters (5 of us are graduated) says that it is a normal, healthy teenage problem.

    I was the golden child in a lot of ways growing up… the ultimate people-pleasing, mothers-little-helper oldest child who adored helping with the babies and never wanted to date anyone til college and was a voracious reader. And I cherish many happy, lovely memories of homeschooling… before middle school. Once I hit puberty homeschooling was pretty miserable for me and my mother.

    It was just hard going through teenage girl growing pains, butting heads with my mom and THEN having to bump into each other in the house all day. I craved space so bad.

    I can't help thinking had my mom been a little less afraid to seriously look into some other options, our relationship would not have suffered so badly. We are still recovering, to be honest. I was outwardly fairly controllable and inwardly simmered with how unfair she was in grounding me and threatening me with every little social activity I had committed to (the embarrassment of not being able to follow through on a commitment because Mom had grounded me for not being on track with my curriculum [we also did an online/virtual Catholic home study] was more terrifying to me than the idea of not having fun). I waited until I graduated and then I barely spoke to her while I was in college. I feel really bad for her (and for me for missing out on a mom/daughter friendship!) when I think back to it.

    Finally – I think its a good thing to have this problem. I feel that it shows you nurtured a creative, independent mind to be ahead of the curve; it is healthy and understandable that they would have outgrown the ability to be stimulated and motivated and disciplined in the same old environment, sooner than later. This is going to bode well for your child to maintain their sense of self and intellectual curiosity in college – a kid like this won't easily fall prey to opinionated liberal professors!

    Anyway, again, cheers to you Mystery Mama! I hope your relationship with your fledgling teen blossoms accordingly. 🙂

  11. Kallah Oakes

    Ps I did have several friends who homeschooled quite happily through highschool! I do agree it's about temperament – and I don't think homeschooling through highschool is always going to be as hard as it was for most of my family! 🙂

  12. Colleen

    Yes! We shouldn't be so stuck on a certain type of school, that we don't make the best decision for each child, each year. This also describes (pretty closely) my situation with a daughter at 12. As with all things in life, sometimes things don't go according to the plan we envision. Be willing to change to a better plan! Thanks for sharing.

  13. mel

    I have seen this scenario often…I think it can be a good thing for some for sure. I will say, my oldest is newly graduated, and I *loved* homeschooling her all the way through. That doesn't mean it was easy,,,,we had plenty of difficulties. But we are very close I think because of it. And we really don't have a lot of options, lol. To those in the trenches…12-15 is HARD. Period. It just is. When a Mom tells me how terrible homeschooling a particular child is, the first thing I ask is, "Are they 12?" lol…it is just a really hard age. They are going through a lot. Around 15 it seems to get easier. I have seen it with my own, I have seen it with extended family members, and in teens at church as well. It's just a challenging age. But it's not forever.

  14. Ali

    As a public school mama (that sounds weird, but I guess it is just because usually I'm reading about home schooling mamas) I have one suggestion for the transition – find a carpool!
    Good luck with the move and the big changes!

  15. Karyn

    There have been times when I've considered public school (no other options anywhere near us) because I've been so worried about my relationship with my daughter. But then I see a lot of families where the space between the parents and their school children seem to widen each year and the family seems to drift apart. From the outside, it doesn't seem that school brings about a strengthening in the relationship. So we continue to homeschool thus far. So hard to discern these things –sometimes it feels as if no answer is correct 🙁

  16. Schafergal

    Loved this perspective! We always strongly leaned toward homeschooling, but for a variety of reasons (basically God pushing us in some pretty spectacularly obvious ways) were involved in the start up of a private independent Catholic school. And this was when we only had one kid, and she was only 2! She's now starting 1st grade, and the little Catholic school is such a very, very good fit for her. Would homeschooling have worked? Sure. But I truly think this is what's best for her, and am so grateful to God for guiding us down this path we didn't even think we were looking for.

  17. Theresa

    Loved reading this! I'm so curious to see where we'll be in a handful of years. After my trail Kind. year with my oldest son, we already could tell our relationship would be too strained to continue homeschooling full time. I'm so grateful that we found a wonderful part-time study center for our family – it truly has given us the best of both worlds AND my son and I have outgrown most of the power struggles (for now 😉 )

  18. Kandace

    So I've been thinking about this for a few days and decided to comment. I commend the author for being honest about the situation and being open enough to realize that something wasn't working (those are both things I could do better in my own life).
    My first teaching job was 6,7,8th grades and there were a few boys who clearly had difficulty taking direction from me and seeing me as an authority figure. The fact that I was 22 and looked 18 didn't help! So I can very much see how that could happen with my own children. The male teachers I worked with did not have the same issues.
    Secondly, I have always admired homeschooling but my daughter and I would have a strained relationship if she had to listen to me all day every day. If she were my second or third I probably would've started out homeschooling. I also try hard to take Kendra's advice and not take her behavior personally, but I still do sometimes. So for now we go to an excellent Catholic school.
    We always say that what makes our oldest so challenging to parent will also make her an excellent Catholc adult!! She'll be strong (very strong in fact!) in the face of adversity and will probably be able to debate the hardest of hearts without fear or cowardice. But turning her weaknesses into strengths can be daunting on the best of days.
    Good luck in the new school year!


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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