When parenting failure leads to success…in a weird kind of way

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parenting, failure, swimming, confidence

Helen, my eldest child, had a little upset the other day. She was involved in an activity that proved too much for her and she had to pull out. The way she did it, however, made me fell incredibly proud and taught me a few parenting lessons.

She’d been invited to take part in a swimming competition. For her age she’s quite a strong swimmer. Even though, on arriving at the swimming pool I was more than a little surprised to discover the kids would be expected to swim 25 metres butterfly, breast, crawl and back strokes. Roughly speaking, we’re talking boys and girls in school years one to three.

Up until this point, Helen had only ever swum a total of about 10 metres, but she has received formal lessons in the deep end of the pool. Even so, she’d never attempted anything like this distance. This was meant to be a bit of fun to mark the end of the term’s swimming lessons. In actual fact it was a very formal atmosphere. I wasn’t entirely convinced Helen should be taking part but she wanted to try and was confident. I felt I should let her have a go. If it was too much, we could go home.

I should, by the way, point out the place was saturated in lifeguards. If any kid had got themselves in trouble, help would have been on hand immediately. Safety wasn’t a concern.

Helen successfully did two lengths. The time then came for the kids to do back stroke. Helen wasn’t happy.

I could tell she wasn’t happy but was stood on a viewing platform some distance away trying to keep an excitable Toddler Adams under control. She loves the water and was doing all she could to get away from me so she could jump into the pool fully clothed. I couldn’t extracate myself and get to my other daughter straight away.

Thankfully Helen had the confidence to remove herself from the starting line and tell one of the instructors she wasn’t happy. At this stage there were no tears or drama, she simply explained herself to the instructor. In the interim I managed to get myself down to the pool so I could speak to her myself.

She was going to sit out the backstroke but would have a go at the front crawl on the condition she was on an outside lane so could grab hold of the wall if she needed a rest. When the time came, however, she just wasn’t happy and so we left.

She was a little bruised by the experience and there were a few tears. I made clear that I was incredibly proud that she’d swum two lengths, a message mum reinforced when she got home from work that evening. I also told Helen I was incredibly proud of her for speaking up and saying no, this was not for her. I think some kids her age would have struggled with this.

Truth is, I did feel extraordinarily proud. She’s done so well with her swimming over the poast couple of years and I didn’t want her doing anything that would knock her confidence. I was glad she had spoken out. I thought she had coped with the situation incredibly well.

Needless to say, I have to question my own role in all this. Should I have let Helen take part in the first place? I have to be honest about my mistakes; no I probably shouldn’t. I actually learned a lot through this experience. I didn’t ask the swimming instructors enough questions about the competition. I must also be ready to question my child’s confidence and abilities.

My eldest child is six, I still have much to learn about this parenting thing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Toddler Adams will benefit from the mistakes I make with Helen.

Thankfully Helen is keen to go swimming again so there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage. While Helen seems to have got over it, I’m not sure I have!

Pic credit: Dagny Mol, Sourced from Flikr.com and reproduced under Creative Commons agreement 2.0.

14 thoughts on “When parenting failure leads to success…in a weird kind of way”

  1. I think I would’ve done exactly the same as you. Not letting her take part at all would’ve always carried the bitter ‘what if?’ question, but pushing too hard would have ruined swimming completely. Letting her have a go but leaving as soon as it became uncomfortable was probably the best scenario in my mind. I’m incredibly impressed she had the strength of character to say when enough was enough, you are right to be proud.

    1. I was very proud of her for knowing her limits. Sometimes you can forget how young your kids are but she is only six and to push her would have been very wrong.

  2. I agree with the comment above. Letting her decide for herself whether to try or not showed respect and faith in her, as did letting her pull out when she couldn’t cope. I have to say that she showed remarkable maturity in the way she handled it so you must have equipped her pretty well, emotionally, so far.
    I wish more parents would be more un-pushy and competitive and respect their children’s limits and wishes. I have seen too many unhappy little faces as the parents push them too far.
    I am glad that your daughter still loves swimming and that it all ended well, but maybe you should try being as kind and understanding towards yourself as you were to her ? You did the best job you could at the time, with good intentions….which is a very good life lesson for your children 🙂 x

    1. Thanks for your very kind words Sarah. I think being nurturing, encouraging and allowing your children to push themselves is one thing, being pushy is somehting else and counter productive. We started giving Helen swimming lessons largely because she’s usually fearless when it comes to water and we knew this had to be harnessed and kept under control! Compared to her peers she swims very well and I didn’t want to see her confidence knocked and abilities damaged as a result. I think I go t away with it on this occasion but I know in future to ask many more questions.

  3. Very well done to her for dealing with it so calmly! A lot of kids would have just dissolved into tears. As parents I think we’re all sometimes guilty of not finding out enough about activities we let our kids go into and occasionally we make mistakes, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s good news that she was still happy to swim again.

    1. Thanks Sarah. I learned a lot by this expereince. I was very proud of her for swimming these distances and I know next time ot ask many more questions.

  4. I’m really impressed Helen spoke out, explained herself and knew her own limits. That’s a very sensible young lady you have there, to deal with sees pressure as she did. I think we can all get swept away by supposed experts or teachers telling us our children are good enough to be chosen to be part of something, it’s flattering. But you’re right, we have to ask pm many questions and sometimes I’ve found I am deemed too protective because of the questions I ask. It’s a fine line and one that is only truly discovered thru experiences such as these. I

    1. Well Tracey, I’m with you; ask the questions! I’m a former journalist and my wife is forever telling me I ask too many! On this occasion I didn’t ask enough and look what happened. Tracey; de deemed over protective and be proud of it!

  5. Carol Cameleon

    That really does take a lot of confidence, speaking up at the that age. But then again, I suppose children can be more outspoken than us in this area… Whatever the intention and initial outcome, at least her swimming confidence hasn’t been knocked John. And you can’t quibble at that!

    1. Her confidence does seem to have held although she is now a bit wary about deep water which is a shame because she was previously feraless. No huge damage done…and I know in future to ask more questions!

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  7. I don’t even think you made a mistake, given how you dealt with it. All I know so far is that our children can often do more than they or we often realise, and sometimes the only way to discover is too try. Of course you don’t want your child to be scared off something, but it seems that isn’t the case here and your (genuine) pride in her would’ve helped enormously. It’s great for our children to understand that failing and learning from it is a normal part of development.

    1. Thanks Simon. It was a tricky one to deal with but making her aware that by swimming in two races my wife and I were very proud seemed to tbe the right thing to do. I was also so pleased she had the confidnece to calmly go and speak to an adult and not have a meltdown. You’re probably right, it wasn’t a huge mistake but as I allowed Hen to ut herself in that position I naturally feel it was my fault.

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