I was recently reminded of one of my most challenging personal parent struggles. Well, "reminded" may be an understatement; as it came out of no where during swim class and smacked me square in the face.
My daughter stood crying and shivering on the side of the pool, shaking her head to anyone who attempted to convince her to get in. The feeling of déjá vu was almost too real… standing in the same spot, peering through the same glass, watching a little boy about the same age.
And the SAME feeling.
My daughter loves the water. Unlike her older brother-who will only go under if he is wearing Scuba Steve goggles that pretty much cover his entire face-she willingly dunks herself and would be just fine spending 90 percent of her summer in the pool.
Also unlike her older brother, she is slow to warm up to new adults. Stick her in a pool with a stranger, tell her she’s supposed to trust that person to help her float on her back, and then disappear on the other side of a one-way window? I guess I was unrealistically optimistic to think anything about that was going to go well.
How frustrating it can be to watch your child struggle at something you know they have the potential to be successful in. My girl’s hesitant personality getting in the way of her enjoying something I knew she should… her brother’s fear of water getting in the way of excelling in a sport like he should.
How do we support our kids in their struggles, while still pushing them to try again? How do we relay our expectations without crushing their little spirits with those expectations? How do we comfort them while encouraging self-motivation? And how do we know when they just aren’t ready and that it’s time to bail?
I felt so torn, watching my daughter’s tiny body tremble and tears stream down her face. I wanted to run in there, scoop her up in a hug, and tell her we could leave. Yet I also knew that if I did, it was never going to get easier for her.
We bring these babies into the world, carefully and diligently setting up a safe little bubble for them to live in. It seems so quickly that they grow older and we find ourselves having to help them feel comfortable outside of the same bubble we worked so hard to create for them.
I want to tell you that being gentle but firm with a “we will try again next time” is enough. Yet, it’s never that easy.
I want to tell you that continued exposure leads to increased comfort. Yet, it does not always work like that either.
I want to tell you that you’ll know if it’s time to pull the plug. Yet, hindsight is that sometimes we find ourselves looking back and wishing we had pulled the plug earlier.
To be honest, most of the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing in these situations. What I do know is that this parenting thing- it is never one size fits all. I know there are a million mistakes we can make along the way while still successfully raising our little humans to be kind, good, and courageous big humans.
And I know that six weeks later, my little human is in the water and participating with a smile on her face.