Lessons in Swimming and in Parenting

Summer is here! Blistering hot summer… which means days of holing up inside, trying to keep kids entertained in ways that do not involve screens, and find ways to use up some energy when it’s just too roasting hot to go outside and play.

The one exception to outside play, of course, is water. There’s nothing better than cool water on a hot day… so this past month, we’ve been going to swim lessons at the community pool. (The City of Phoenix pool system has 2-week sessions for only $15 per kid! Can’t beat that!) I was even able to find a mommy-and-me class for my son (18 months) that met at the same time as a “Red Star” class for my daughter (4). Come to find out, though, I’ve been getting to practice my parenting skills and attitudes as much as she’s been practicing her swimming.

See, Madeleine LOVES the water, always has, and was ready to learn some basic swimming strokes. Classes are based on ability, so Madeleine was one of the very youngest in her class, but I knew she was beyond the basic “White Star” class (for kids who are afraid of the water) and would be bored if I put her in that. So I sent her off to the far end of the pool while Corbin and I hung out with the StarBabies class at the other end.

Throughout the next 2-3 days, though, I watched with increasing embarrassment and dismay as Madeleine became one of the worst-behaved kids in the class (at least from my vantage point, 75 feet away). She moved down the wall away from her teacher, swam out when she wasn’t supposed to, splashed and dipped when she was supposed to be waiting her turn, and had to sit out for a few minutes on several different occasions. Now, I knew already that she’s not the best listener, but somehow her excitement at swimming seemed to take her impulsivity to the next level. The days took on an unpleasant routine… I’d watch her from the other end of the pool with frustration, give her a lecture after lesson and make her apologize to the teacher, she’d assure me she’d do better, and the next day it would happen all over again.

I finally lost it during the 2nd week of class, when she was a pain for her teacher all through the lesson and then wouldn’t get out of the pool when lessons were over. Being a teacher myself, plus a people-pleaser, I couldn’t believe that MY kid was being the problem child. One of the other parents said “She’s a handful!” and gave me THE EYE, if you know what I mean. So embarrassing! I gave her an angry lecture poolside, the cold shoulder all the way to the car, another lecture on the drive home, and then a time-out. She cried and apologized, but I tried my best to come down extra hard so she’d know how serious this was. After she was settled down for her afternoon rest time, though, I spent some time thinking things over, and I realized that…

… this was just as much about my parental pride as it was an attempt to teach my daughter good behavior.

Yikes. That wasn’t a fun realization. As I thought more about it, I realized that my embarrassment at her behavior was driving my anger and impatience, and that I wasn’t making decisions based on what would be best for her. Obviously she did need her behavior corrected, and I want her to understand the way her actions impact others and take responsibility for that, but I shouldn’t add my feelings about how I think people are going to judge my parenting to her actions.

So, over the next few times at the pool, as she continued to have several slip-ups in her behavior during lessons, I tried to set my feelings aside, put away that desire to be seen as the wonderful gold-star mom, and deal with Madeleine’s discipline on the merits of her actions alone. That still involved apologies to the teacher, some more time-outs, and lots of discussion about following the rules, but I wasn’t bringing my baggage to the table. I’m sure this will come up again, oh, about 1000 times in the next 14 years, but hopefully I can remember what I learned at swimming lessons.

Does anyone else struggle to separate your parenting pride from your child’s actions? It’s hard!