As a parent, sometimes the decisions you make for your children are the wrong ones. Parenting is a path littered with missteps, and miscalculations. Honoring our children, and respecting who they truly are, is not always an easy task. Too often we get caught up in our own stuff. Our own projections of who we think they are, or who they should be.
My daughter is an amazing swimmer. She has all the essentials: motivation and drive, sharp observation skills, and ability. GIRL is beloved by all of the teachers she has had for those very qualities.
She recently was promoted to a level called "Shark", where much more is required. They begin every class with a 200 IM - 8 laps in a 25 yard pool of various strokes. At 6 years old, she is the youngest in a class of children 7-10 years old, and physically, she is considerably smaller than all of them.
I have always encouraged her, and she has been excited to move up to every level - not looking back. Except for this time. Suddenly, she is in the land of occasional timed laps and kids being primed for possible future swim team. She is exhausted after every class, drooping in her chair, about to fall asleep at the dinner table.
A couple of weeks ago she started to cry one day after class. She had been timed in a race with a boy on the last lap of the day. She hated it. She wanted to quit.
Mommy, it's too many laps for my little body.
I felt like I was in a flashback to my own childhood, with the roles reversed. When I was 6 years old, I was on a Junior Olympic swim team. I hated it... braving the freezing water, because back then they thought it would make you faster, and the racing, because I didn't have that competitive edge. I was a frustration and puzzlement to my coach, who thought I had so much potential. I didn't want it, and she didn't get it. How could someone with so much talent not want to win? But, what drove me was the desire to please my mother. She was so proud of me, and I continued for longer than I should have, because I didn't want to let her down.
When I heard my daughter speak those words, it killed me. Yet, I didn't want "my stuff" to override what was happening to her. So, I put my Parent Hat on, and we talked it through. I asked GIRL how she would feel if I talked to her teacher about what she was feeling. She agreed, and at the next lesson, we walked over to the teacher together. I explained that GIRL did not like the racing aspect, and it was upsetting to her. The teacher was great about talking it through, telling GIRL that she was not keeping track of who was "winning", and that she would pair her with both kids that she was better than, and with kids who were stronger than her. She told us that the class was about building endurance and strength, not about racing. GIRL seemed satisfied, and did the class. After class we talked, and she said she wanted to sign up for another month of class. We also discussed the possibility of taking a break from swimming lessons over the summer. All appeared well.
The new session started last week. We got to the Y a half hour before her class, so that she and BOY could have some fun "free swim" time together. They played for about 30 minutes, and then the lifeguards cleared the pool for swimming lessons. She got out of the pool, walked over to me, and started crying.
Mommy, I don't want to do it. I want to take a break.
I wrapped her in my arms, asked her if she was sure, and then we left the pool and walked back to the locker room. It was her decision, and I wanted her to know that I was not invested in her continuing to swim, and neither was her daddy. Most of all, I wanted her to feel empowered by her decision to take care of herself - to give things a chance, but to be able to speak up if something doesn't feel right.
She is 6 years old. She's been taking swimming lessons for almost 4 years, with only a few breaks, and she's loved it. But, it's time to do other things. She says she wants to continue to swim in the fall. We will see. I know that whether she decides to swim again, or not, is up to her. She may be 6 years old, but she is wise in the way of knowing what she needs. I believe the most important gift I can give her is not only my love, and my belief in her, but the realization that she knows what is best for herself, and that her mother will be by her side holding her hand...