my 9-year-old has lost her mind

by Janelle Hanchett

My daughter, Ava, turned nine last November. I think the cake was laced.

Or she’s been possessed. Jury’s still out.

I read at some point about the “9 year change” – basically it’s a second major separation from the parents (following the one occurring at around 2 years), but it’s a sort of existential separation, where the child realizes she is not only physically separate from her parents (mother mainly), but also mentally and emotionally distinct. It is an awkward, precarious, questioning time resulting in mood swings and a lot of boundary-pushing. Some nine-year olds begin to contemplate death – including their own (which seems weird. I didn’t realize I was going to die eventually until I was about nineteen, while sitting under a tree in the quad in college, but by then I had discovered Captain Morgan and Hemingway, so it all seemed rather irrelevant).

Anyway, whatever the psycho-babble explanations, my kid has turned into a complete whack-job. One moment she is calm, collected and really quite grown-up, discussing relatively mature topics in an engaged, humanlike way. Five minutes later she’s giggling, flailing about and uttering strange sounds in a manner so goofy I can’t decide if she’s cute or has some sort of formerly unrecognized handicap.

My aunts, who’ve each had a small army of children, assure me this is normal.

And I’m sure it is. The aunts also muttered something about prepubescent hormones and I’m sure they’re right about that too. But I don’t want to talk about the fact that my baby girl who isn’t a baby girl at all could potentially in a couple years be faced with her biological make-up in a very real way and I may actually implode upon myself in grief, denial and fear.

I think this is an exaggeration, but one can never be sure.

What I want to talk about is the fact that my daughter sometimes irritates the living hell out of me and no, there is no gentler way to put this. And I don’t mean irritated like “wow, that’s kind of annoying. Wish it would end.” I mean irritated like a tag tickling the back of your neck, like an itch on the bottom of your foot, like I don’t really want to be near you irritated. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it comes, whoa. Look out.

It makes me sad to feel this way.

I don’t know what’s happening here and I don’t like it and I’m pretty ashamed. Do good mothers feel this? Probably not. Good mothers probably have the maturity to recognize the brevity of the whole situation. They are probably less selfish and ego-centric, which enables them to be patient, forgiving and understanding with the kid, rather than short-tempered, visibly annoyed and retaliatory.

I ask her nicely. She ignores me. I get mad. I yell. She responds or doesn’t. Or she screams and storms off or she cries or gets hysterical. And my heart breaks.  Sometimes I’m a bully. I use my power as mother, use my strong voice and body to control and make things change and get what I want. Then I apologize, having acted poorly.

It’s a different feeling than the irritation I feel when Rocket is still naked after 25 minutes of coaxing to get dressed, or Georgia decides to nurse the instant I finally get up to take a shower. It’s a separated irritation. It’s a real irritation. She annoys me like other adults annoy me. And this is strange because she isn’t an adult. She’s not even a little adult. But she is. But she’s not.

Oh, Ava, I love you.

What burns child is that you’re walking right away, just as you should. I feel the world and time and biology pulling you down the hall, closer to the door, someday you’ll cross the threshold. But I want you to stay inside, baby girl. With me. Here at home. Right by your mama.

We’re separating, she and I.

I try to enfold her in arms that don’t quite reach any more.

Everything about her demands distance. She occupies more space physically. She has her own interests. Often she prefers being alone in her room. I see her thinking and contemplating things in there, by herself (objects or photos or books but rarely dolls any more), checking in occasionally to see what I think. Or not. She has real smells like real adults (bad breathe and sweat and stinky feet and unwashed hair). She is not uniformly pleasant any more.

Screw you, biology. Give me my baby back.

No, don’t.

Rather, God, give me the strength to love her as she needs me now. And I promise I’ll get used to this.

It’s funny how nature knows how to baby-step a mother and child into separation – knows how to make a kid just big enough and strong enough and smelly enough and annoying enough that separation becomes even slightly palatable to the mother. What a stark contrast to the way I feel about my infant Georgia, who is so luscious and aromatic and infinitely attractive in absolutely every way that I want to eat her sometimes – literally consume her! – because I just can’t get close enough.

So little Ava, I guess the deal is that you will remain forever stitched into the fabric of my soul, though you are no longer hanging on my coattails.

Huh. Guess I did want to talk about it.

  • Denee Rebottaro

    Another awesome post!

  • Kimberly

    I find that our firstborns have the unique ability to effect us, good and bad, like no other child. My good friend’s oldest child is a 15-year-old manboy, and my oldest is an almost seven-year-old girl. Yet, we struggle with the same thoughts all too often. That first child paves the way into our hearts and souls, and paves the way for the subsequent children. I have a lot of thoughts about this dynamic, but can’t articulate them at the moment. Please know that you are not the only one feeling this irritation….and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad mom.

    • renegademama

      Thanks, Kimberly. good to hear I’m not the only one — that’s the worst feeling…wondering if I was just absent the day the universe handed out “good mothering” skills. 🙂

  • Lisa Lucke

    Okay, so I was all set to cut and paste a few lines from your post that so closely mimic what goes on in my own mind that it’s more than a little eerie..BUT, I would have had to cut and paste the entire thing. Brava!

    I am a recent addition to the SacBee blog connect and found your site when looking at the SacMom’s club FB site. There is another one you should check out if you haven’t already: the name of it is Yep, They’re All Mine. Not sure of the URL. Finally, you might want to check out this archive from my own blog ( for confirmation that you have company out there:

    Thanks for saying it like it is!


    • renegademama

      Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. I have checked out the Yep, They’re all Mine and I think it’s great. I will also check out your blog, as soon as I get a minute. Really looking forward to it. Thanks again!

  • ZenaliciousMom

    WOW just so you know my BFF who has a 9 yo (just turned 9 too about 3 weeks agoi) was remarking about this very same phenomenon. Her pediatrician was remarking about it too basically saying “good luck with that” at her 9 year wellness visit. Makes me want to cry since my 8 1/2 yo daughter makes me sooo annoyed sometimes. This on top of the antics with her younger brother and sister. ACK!

    And if it makes you feel any better…every day I expect to receive my Ironic Mom of the Year certificate 😉

  • Shan

    The meanest thing I ever heard is that mothering, if done right, is a long series of goodbyes.

    Know what this means? You are doing it right. And yeah, there are probably mothers who don’t yell or say things they regret. But what else *do* they do? We all have something. As one of my very wise good friends said when I told her about a blowout I’d had with my son, “Oh, everybody does now and again! I just figured I was preparing my kids to deal with *anybody* who might come into their lives. Everybody’s not Susie Sunshine, ya know? And they can handle that.” And they can. Her kids are adults and they’re all kind of awesome.

  • Maia

    You write beautifully. I actually just got teary eyed. Marly is not even 14 months and I can already see her growing independence, it happens so dam fast. I so understand wanting to consume your baby, it is like this uncontrollable need to be that close them. When Marly was a few days old my midwife told me it was normal.

    • renegademama

      Thanks, Maia. It’s so cool that you are already aware of how fast the time goes with little ones. I didn’t realize it until this third baby. But I’m a little slow…with my first one, I was so caught up in how hard it all was, I thought it would NEVER END. I sure know differently now.

  • Sam Kidd

    She will forever be leaving you in one way or another.My daughter is 30 and started leaving me long ago. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.It doesn’t end and never gets easier to handle.
    Sorry, but I don’t have any comforting things to say to you. I guess I shouldn’t have responded at all.<3

  • Crissy

    It’s a relief and a comfort to know that there is another mother out there that thinks and feels and reacts to parenting like I do. I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a while now and every time I come back to it (grad school makes it hard to read what you want), it is like I’m reading experiences of my own life with my kids (only you have the awesome ability to articulate it in a way (with humor to boot) that I could only hope to achieve). My oldest just turned nine on Christmas. I’m terrified of him pulling away and yet, so anxious for him to become more of his own person. Motherhood ‘is’ a series of goodbyes, and because of that, I know there are times where I want to smack myself for not having more patience or care or being the perfect mom. I sometimes feel like I didn’t do enough, or I wasn’t nice enough, or that I’m screwing them up because of my lack of whatever it is I’m lacking…and then, out of the blue- one of my boys will come up and just hug me- for no other reason except to get some love and connection, and I know I must be doing something right. You are a good mom. Even on the bad days. Her smile in that picture is proof of it. 😉

  • shauna

    Call me pregnant, but I am a bawling blubbery mess. And my baby is only 2. I cried when he was 3 months thinking about the mamas who had to leave their 3 month olds and go to a shitty office (I’m an apartment manager, so I can be at home) and i bawled reading an article in Mothering magazine about the teenage years, how it can all go to hell for a few years after all the unimaginable love you pour into them.

    I’m going to be (AM) an absolute mess, unless things get really ugly and I pray for it to be over quick, or at least fast forward 10 years so they can have kids of their own and sort of fathom all the love we have.

    Amen, Sister. Keep going, as always!!


  • GrammieAnnie

    So enjoy reading your blog…even though my five children are all grown up…I’ll never stop being a mom. When my two girls went through the 9-year-old change, I was agast at their behaviour…and then it didn’t end! It went on for two years until they started menistrating and then I realized they had PMS…for two years!

    When one of my sons was 9, he managed to portage his own canoe, all by himself, he looked me in the eye and said, “Now I am a Man!” I glared at him and responded, “No you are not, and don’t ever say that to me again!” Somehow he managed to grow up to be a fine man and Dad.


    I had never thought about it, but the comment about mothering being a series of “Good-byes” is so right. My children are all grown and on their own, and I want to tell you that it turns out all right. If you give your children their “wings” and let them fly, they WILL come back-if you do it right. It is a struggle, and sometimes we do lose it. They survive, they grow, and they thrive. THey say good-bye,but they do come back to you when they mature. THey realize you were there for them-despite your mistakes. There was a particular incident that I remember “losing it” with my daughter when she was in grade school. She is now 29, and I mentioned how badly I felt about that incident. My daughter said to me, “Mom, I was acting like a brat-you had every right to lose it”. I had relived that episode many times over the years and worried that I had scarred her, and it was no big deal to her. I think we “overthink” to much. None of us are perfect. I don’t think our children expect that of us. Our expectations of ourselves are probably too high.:) They just need to know we love them.

  • MomToo

    What an honest and descriptive post! I completely disagree with your “good mother” comment. Your love for your daughter comes through in every paragraph loud and clear. And it is so helpful to know we’re not alone in each of these uncharted developmental stages that come on with no warning and no users guide.

    I’m just not ready to let her go, even a little bit. Can’t we freeze time?

  • Cat

    I get told I’m a good mum, and I feel like that, although I often doubt their reasoning behind calling me a good mum. My daughter is only three, almost four, but she can be the most infuriating little thing, and I all I want to do is shut myself in a cupboard and hide from her! other times she’s lovely though, but I think that’s just what it’s like when you live with someone, you can’t like them all the time.

  • Rachel F

    Thank you! Your article resonates so strongly with me – I thought I was alone…feeling like an awful mother.

    It’s comforting to know that it appears to be a normal stage, however that does not make me feel at all “comfortable” with this stage of my first born’s life.

  • Carrie

    Thank you so much for this post. I happened to find it when I was googling 9 year change in search of some explanation of what was going on with my baby and why I am struggling so much with her right now when it all seemed so perfect a few months ago. It hit me half way through reading this that what i am really struggling with is not her smelly feet or her constant irritation and moodiness. What is hard for me is the fact that she is separating. She’s not a little me. She’s not sharing everything with me or handling everything how I would suggest. She has her own thoughts and feelings and destiny and I can’t control any of it. And that really hurts and scares the hell out of me. Thank you for helping me see the source of my own struggles with this crazy stage.

  • Cat Two

    Thank you so much for your blog. I have nine year old twin girls, who have been through so many changes (divorce, one remarriage, countless moves, father’s pending remarriage and yet another move for them) nothing seems stable for them. I am sure their own moodiness is distressing for them, and knowing that this is a normal girl thing makes me feel much better. Maybe I can help them through this knowing that this is a change every little girl goes through.

  • Holly

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this!!!!

  • Frustrated Mom

    I stumbled upon this while searching the internet for info, help, or at least reassurance that I’m not alone. See, I have 9 year old twin girls, and I love them of course, but they are driving me a little insane! Ok, not a little, a lot. The mood swings, yikes! And they have me outnumbered! I can only imagine how fun it will be when they are teenagers. Anyways, loved this. Made me laugh, and its nice to know I’m not alone!

    • Christina Lopez

      OMG! Thank goodness someone is in this boat with me. I’m trying to wrap my mind around what I should do to stop my 9yo from being such a raging jerk, the only conclusion I have reached is whooping her ass. It’s like nothing I do is good enough, and I always get a look of annoyance from her, sassy mouth, and storming off. I read you’re supposed to set more clear boundaries with strict rigid consequences, but I always feel like I’m yelling and I can’t take it! Please tell me it gets better!!!!

  • NK

    Thank you so much for sharing this!!

    For the first time in months I feel like I am not the only one that is experiencing this. I am relieved that I am not personally responsible for seemingly turn my daughter against myself…..I am so relieved that this will fix itself and I can relax and just concentrate on loving my daughter for she is and what she will become….I owe this feeling solely to you 🙂

  • Lucy

    Wow… I know this was written a whole ago but thank you!! My daughter is 9 next week and it has been an absolute nightmare being around her recently. I was unaware of the 9year old change phase… Thank you!!!! So comforting to know I’m
    not alone in thinking I’m a bad mother.. Thank you ladies xx hope it has all worked out …. Xxx

  • Andrea

    Thank you for this! I see that it was written a few years ago, but it showed up just as I needed it!

  • Nikki

    Yes! Thank you! This is what I have been looking for as I have been combing the internet to try and learn how to deal with this stranger that used to be my child. She is soon to be ten years old. It’s such a comfort to know that others are,or have been, going through similar feelings.

  • Miriam

    Walked around the block last night with my 9 yearold boy telling me how bad a Mammy I was and kicking his scooter. I had tears in my eyes thinking where is my baby gone ….thank you for letting me know I’m not alone !????

  • Honey Grodt

    I am so glad I found this article. My almost-9-year-old has been acting like a growly monster for the past few weeks and I am at my wits end. I am glad to know it isn’t some lack in my parental skills, but a natural occurrence among their species.

  • Jacqui

    Well I really needed this! You described my almost 9yr old perfectly! I feel better knowing it isn’t so hidden issue that requires therapy, just normal occurrences! Still doesn’t make this a fun time with her right now but at least i am not the only one!

    • Miriam Doherty

      Thank you for highlighting this shocking change! In June the teachers for next year 2016/17 said we would see major hormonal changes in our kids ( age 10 ) . I commented that this had happened already this year at school much to the amusement of parents but I wondered was it just my son …was he having PTT (pre teen tension) early? The same boy was a great toddler and is now a moody, back chatting, cocky know it all!
      It makes me sad to lose him so early …

  • C

    This post is perfect. It even made me cry at the end! (Dammit) My little girl will soon be ten, and I’m struggling with these hinges; then I saw that your girl is now at least 15… hope she appreciates mamma more now!

  • JLD

    I just stumbled across this after looking up mood swings in 9 year olds… boy did I need this today! After having yet another “blow out” with my daughter last mighth about her attitude and feeling completely guilty all day today about it 🙁 Thank you for this… you made one stressed out mama feel a bit better today!

    • Miriam Doherty

      You are not alone . Having a really hard summer with my darling 8.5 year old son. Hope this phase passes soon !!!????????????

    • Jade

      I really needed to see this tonight. I’ve been convinced that I’ve gone wrong somewhere or that my 9yr old daughter needs help. She was so respectful and just lovely but at the moment she’s argumentative, constantly lashing out at her younger sister and is generally just unpleasant, disrespectful and difficult. Mainly towards me.
      I don’t suppose anyone has any advice on how to deal with it and get through it? Also, does it pass or is this it until she’s through her teens!!!??? I love her so much but she’s not very likeable right now!x

      • Tired Mama

        So great to read all of the comments. Thank you for this post. Trying really hard not to beat myself up for not “fixing” my absolutely obnoxious daughter. One minute she’s full of love and cuddles and wants kisses, the next she’s arguing with me about every gosh darn thing and sassing me. It drives me crazy.

        I read this article and plan to have a similar conversation with my daughter in the car.
        Check it out!

  • C

    OMG I needed this. I have been wondering why I am such an awful person, haven’t enjoyed any moment of being a parent, as I was married when we decided to conceive and once pregnant he would leave me, alone and desperate until she was 2 and I asked him to leave for good. I despise single parenting, didn’t ever want to be one, and since turning 9, my dd has been so unbearable to be around at times that I have had a lot of “diarrhea” (locking myself in the bathroom for just 10 minutes peace)
    The lying, the sass, the expectation, the demands, the obsession with stuff, then the methodical and determined destruction of said stuff (usually xmas or bday gifts) her dramatic gossipy bitching about other girls, and her 100% lack of interest in helping me with anything.
    Dramatic entitlement at its finest – and a record breaking 2 months of lying about brushing her teeth, me:”see honey, you dont need crest white strips, you needed to BRUSH YOUR TEETH” her: “wow, theyre so white!”
    I was never sold on being a mom, dont really enjoy it, I had a terrible mother, but OH. MY. GOD. at least I know that my kid isn’t broken ….just developmentally assholish. <3 Thank you.

  • Challenged Father

    River, my little girl, turned 9yo four months ago. Since then, something changed. She’s MEAN, then nice, then funny and loopy, then back to MEAN MEAN MEAN. She deliberately does things to upset my wife and I. She has become defiant, and moody, and often storms upstairs to her bedroom while screaming that she hates her life (wtf?). I’ve tried speaking with her about it, but as soon as she perceives criticism about her behavior, she becomes so defensive it is nothing short of chewing staples to continue to push through to a resolution. She has begun lying about her behavior, and finding even the stupidest and most obviously false excuses to justify the emotional abuse she subjects everyone to. I feel really bad for her sister, Morgan, who is 8. They share a bedroom and pretty much everything else. It’s a large room…so space isn’t an issue. Of course, Morgan isn’t innocent either, and she knows exactly how to push River’s buttons in the smallest way to get to to explode in to batshit crazy. They fight, they kick, they “abuse” one another. For the past few months, our house has had no harmony at all. None. I’m worn down….and my wife and I are truly exhausted. We have 4 kids total, and our oldest at 14 is special needs…so we’re almost always distracted.

    Very recently, River has begun challenging me in a very different way. When she gets mad, shes taken to trying to stare me down with hate filled eyes. Not only is it shocking, it’s a challenge to me on one of my most primal levels, as it feels like she’s challenging my patriarchy, my authority, my status as pack alpha. No shit, I have literally felt myself feel like growling and my shoulders bunch up like I’m raising my hackles. Like I’m under assault. Where in the the holy hell did that response come from? Upon analysis, there are quite a few existential and introspective ponderings surrounding exactly why, physically, I respond like that. I’m supposed to be a million generations removed from a caveman, right?

    The situation is emotional and painful, because I feel like I’m losing my wonderful little girl. With every confrontation, our distance is growing…and that hurts, because she’s so wonderful and smart, and I really am proud of her.

    Can anyone tell me how long this lasts?

    • Mary

      I’m so sorry to read your comments…especially because I am starting to relate with my 8 year old. There is a coldness there that I’ve never experienced before. I know that stare. It chills you to the bone. I was expecting some of this in middle school – not now. It’s killing me. So, I can’t offer you advice but I can tell you you’re not alone.

  • Mary

    I know you wrote this 7 years ago, but it’s caused fresh tears on my face this morning. I’m getting the first taste of true separation with my almost 8 year old. She admitted to me last night that she “doesn’t love me sometimes.” Meaning she wants me to step back – give her some space. She has a hard time finding the right words and the ones she does find are a knife in my heart. I want her to stay in the nest, too. Thanks for this – Mary

  • Mere

    Thanks for this. So much! My nine year old daughter is a complete nightmare. We have knock down screaming fights and she ruins every evening after school with her awful attitude and her back talk and rude behavior. I am at the point of literally thinking she needs therapy or something- anything. I can’t live this way. My youngest is seven and such a sweet little girl but unfortunately she has to live with all this turmoil too. It’s so bad that she had to receive the backlash of me being upset too. When my nine year old was little she was so sweet and adorable and kind and funny. I find myself wishing, hoping and praying she was that little girl again. I don’t know what to do anymore. But I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has issues similar to mine. I’m praying for all of your having these problems and I hope this too will soon pass.

  • Tara Romano

    I know this post is a few years back but I typed in what’s going on with my emotional 9 year and this was one of the things that came up. This is exactly what I am going through with my daughter.She turned 9 in September and it has truly been a nightmare. How did you get through it

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Blogity-Blog-Blog « This Adventure Life
    Sunday, 20 March, 2011

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  • Trackback from Hello To Goodbye « Sparrowed
    Monday, 10 September, 2012

    […] been mulling over the phrase “motherhood is a long series of goodbyes” from this post on Renegade Mothering. It struck a spark of conversation between some friends and I and it was rather revolutionary for […]

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