Folding Up My Map So My Kids Can Unfold Their Own

Yes. That’s my 11 year old wearing a swim mask in the zero depth pool. He’s cool like that.

You know how you want for your children all the things you never had? I cannot tell you how many times that has screwed things up for me and for my kids. You would think somewhere along the line I would figure it out and stop trying so hard to give them what I missed out on and focus rather on helping them find what they want or need. You would think that. You would be wrong.

One thing I always wanted for my kids was for them to be able to swim well. By “swim well,” I mean the kind of swimming where your face is in the water and you know how to time your breaths and you don’t hit the wall with your head. Basic stuff. I simply wanted them to swim better than I do because the best thing I can say about how I swim is that so far I have managed not to drown. Knock on wood.

To ensure that my kids would be able to swim well early, I had them on a swimming time table from birth. I enrolled in Mommy and Me swim classes with them when they were infants. They were both in regular swim classes when they were 3. They loved the water. Loved it. Yet, they each failed to pass the first level class two times before I decided that the community pool was the wrong place for my kids to learn to swim. I reasoned that the large class sizes, the too cold water at the rec center, and the myriad distractions there led to their lack of swimming success.

Next, I enrolled them at a pricey, private swim school. The water was warm (90 degrees) and the classes were only four students. This was just what they needed, right? Wrong. After a traumatic incident where Luke fell into water over his head during class and bobbed for a while before being safely recovered by his teacher, he refused to go back. Honestly, my confidence was then shaken too. I figured my dreams for them to become great swimmers were just dreams. I tried to move on, determining they would learn the way I did…over time with lots of informal practice. It wasn’t what I had envisioned. I pretended to make peace with it.

For the past four and a half years, our boys have been allowed to view the water as fun. They’ve slowly gotten braver and a bit more skilled at swimming on their own. We didn’t push them. They merely began to figure things out. Still, they have not become truly proficient swimmers. So today, once again pushing my luck, I enrolled them in a different swim school. This move was precipitated by our upcoming trip to the Galapagos where being able to swim and snorkel will be a really good thing. They’re 9 and 11 now. I was certain they were ready, but what is more important is that they were certain of it. You know what? They LOVED practicing in the pool with their instructor today. As we were leaving the school, they excitedly mentioned they wished they could go back again this week. I smiled as they told me all about the class I had witnessed via video camera from the lobby. Finally. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s okay to want things for your kids. It’s even okay to set them up to discover more about the things you want for them. But, it’s not okay to push them into what you want according to your time schedule or your plans for them. When my kids failed to pass out of swim class that first time, I should have backed off and realized they weren’t ready. I didn’t do that. Instead, I forced the issue, which then led to a worse situation from which we spent years trying to recover. We all want the best for our kids. Sometimes, though, we forget that what’s best for them will only be uncovered when we allow them to decide what interests them when they’re uniquely ready for it. If your child gets accepted into Harvard because you nagged, pushed, and henpecked them into living your dream, I suppose you can count that as an accomplishment. But, wouldn’t it be better if your child got into Harvard because it was what he wanted and worked incredibly hard on his own to achieve? I guess that if I want my kids to find their own way, I’d better stop handing them my map.

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