Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

On the second Sunday of Lent, as we were driving to Mass, we decided to check in as a family on how each of us was doing with the personal disciplines we had chosen for the season. 14-year-old Oscar was working hard at his and was doing well. 7-year-old Lucy was not working hard at all on hers—because it depended more on our not having sweets in the house than on her own effort—but was doing very well. When it was 9-year-old Simon’s turn, he burst into tears and spoke pretty heatedly about how he did not like what he had chosen and wanted to stop it.

Many parts of this situation were troubling.

First, we were almost to the church and he was a mess. Next, he had chosen a really good discipline: giving up one of his precious weekend days of screen time each week. Our children get 30 minutes individual screen time on each day of the weekend and Simon had voluntarily chosen to fast from one of them for Lent. It was a great idea. It was also—unlike Lucy and the candy that was not even in the house—extremely challenging when his sister and brother still got their 30 minutes on a given day, and he got nothing. Finally, what was most troubling to me was this question: “What is our role as his parents in the face of his wanting to give up his Lenten discipline?”

In the moment, we just tried to settle him down and said we can talk more about it later, hoping that after an hour at Mass he would let go of the whole thing. He calmed down as much as he could. But when I would peek at him during Mass and see his still teary eyes, it was obvious he was still thinking about it.

So at roughly homily time I thought, “Okay, what are the possible ways we could handle this situation?” I came up with three:

First, we could listen to how troubled he was and let him drop his Lenten discipline. This would effectively mean he would fail at following through with it. He might experience some guilt about that. We would not lord it over him, of course, but he is sensitive enough that it might bother him. The possible positive side would be that next Lent he would be more discerning in his choices and spend more time examining options and possible implications of those options.

Second, we could talk with him about how important it is to personally observe Lent and allow him some space to think of and then propose an alternative discipline that he would take up for the remainder of Lent. The downside here would be a certain lack of follow through in the face of challenge. What is a “discipline” after all if we don’t stick with it when it is challenging? The upside would be empowering him to take responsibility and think things through.

Third, we could hold him to the discipline and not allow him to drop it or change it. The primary reason for this approach in my mind would be helping him to understand and experience what it takes to have personal discipline. The negatives would be that his experience of his personal observance would be one of heaviness and weight without any of the freedom and generosity that come from personal choice.

Perhaps for folks reading this there is a pretty clear best approach. In truth, I was really pretty conflicted about what the right approach was in our role as parents in this situation.

In the end, when I talked it over with Joshua, it came down to remembering that we show our children the face of God in the way we parent them. So we asked ourselves, what face of God do we want to convey to Simon?

After Mass I walked into Simon’s room and I sat on his bed and talked with him. I told him I felt a bit stuck because it is hard to know how to help him be the best version of himself in this situation. I told him the three options I had come up with. He said he would like to consider changing his Lenten observance and would like to take the day to think of a substitute. “But,” he said, “I won’t do my screen time today until I think of something else that you say is ok.”

In the end, and through his own initiative, Simon decided he would like to give up complaining for the remainder of Lent, which to me was yet another reminder of our God’s abundant sense of humor.


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