I’ve been known to say that the longer I’m a parent, the less I know what I’m doing. That’s not completely accurate. It’s more that I accept that there is no one right way to do things, that doing something that works for one child won’t automatically work for another—even if that child is also yours. And I care less about what other people think about my parenting.
As my boys’ father says, the proof is in the pudding. Since we have a couple of pretty amazing kids, we must be doing something right. While I believe children are born with personalities and therefore parents can’t take all the credit—or the blame—for what their kids do, I definitely think nurture plays a role. So even though we’re pretty confident with the choices we’ve made, it’s still nice every now and then to have a bit of outside reassurance that we haven’t completely wrecked our kids (yet).
We had such a moment recently. My husband took the boys swimming at the local pool, and although they all planned to stay together, the boys really wanted to take the “swim test” that would allow them to swim more than an arm’s length from their dad, just to say they passed. Since he’s at a pretty high level, this was no problem for BB#1, he’s passed this test before. My husband wasn’t sure how BB#2 would do—normally the test involves swimming the width of the pool a couple times, but since lanes were in place that day, he had to swim two full lengths and then tread water. And he did it. What my husband didn’t realize was that kids under 7 can’t swim without a parent anyway. At only 6, BB#2 wasn’t even supposed to take the test, never mind pass. Not bad for a kid who would still be carried around everywhere if he had the choice.
Afterwards, the deck supervisor came out of her way to speak with my husband. She commented that she didn’t expect BB#2 to pass since he is small. She said she’s never seen a child his age with such determination and stamina. Then she went on to say BB#1’s strokes were technically perfect.
Everyone likes to hear their children praised, but the boys’ enjoyment and success in swimming is particularly meaningful for us. Once upon a time, we figured we’d save money and time by teaching the boys ourselves. After all, my husband was a lifeguard and swimming instructor back in the day! It didn’t take long to realize that that was not going to work for our kids for a variety of reasons. And signing them up for lessons wasn’t much better. BB#1 didn’t take direction well and refused to put his face in the water. BB#2 was actually quite fearless (not always in a good way) and physically ahead of his brother at the same age. But he was also the oldest kid in Parent & Tot swim for more than one session because even when he was old enough, he had zero interest in going to lessons without his dad. Even once he did start going solo, it was a fight every week—the weeks when he wasn’t sick, that is.
It was frustrating—unlike other activities, swimming was not optional for us. They had to learn. At the same time, we didn’t want them to come to hate it, and we couldn’t care less about them being the best or the youngest or the fastest. One thing we have learned during this parenting gig is that our kids learn things best when they are allowed to learn at their own pace. So rather than push them and have it backfire, we took swimming lesson breaks with both boys whenever it wasn’t going well.
Other parents have found that taking a firmer stance is what really motivates their kids. So perhaps naturally, we questioned our own approach at times. But doing what we felt was right, rather than doing what works for other parents of other kids, or what the books and magazines say we “should” be doing, has clearly worked out just fine. I still remember texting DH from the pool “He’s swimming! He’s swimming!” when it finally clicked for BB#1, whether due to age, strength, or the right pair of goggles.
With his health more predictable, BB#2 has started lessons again, and is doing really well. So well he’s at the right level to attend a swim summer camp—but he can’t because he’s not old enough. And while our goal has always just been for them to be safe around water, and hopefully have fun, I admit a part of me is pleased that holding them back hasn’t, well, held them back from actually excelling too.