Happily Even After
Swimming Lesson Showdown
by Josh Noem
I’ve written here before about our six-year-old, Simon, and how he is like a pair of Chinese handcuffs—those woven tubes you put your fingers in. The harder you try to pull them out, the tighter they squeeze.
We’ve been going to swimming lessons for three and half weeks this summer, and Simon had been doing great. Then, with three days left in Simon’s rotation—for the whole summer—he decided that he was not going to finish.
There are two pools where the kids take their lessons—one is a shallower warming pool, and the other is a deeper pool kept at a cooler temperature. Simon’s class had been starting in the warm pool, and gradually spending more time in the deeper pool.
When Simon’s third-to-last class started, he just stood next to me, whimpering, because he didn’t want to get in the water. With all the other parents watching, and the instructor waiting, my instinct was to force him to get in the pool.
Stacey and I have grown into a style of parenting, however, that is not quite so overtly authoritative. We assert parental authority, of course, but we try to do it in the context of our relationship with the kids, not apart from it. So, I informed Simon that there would be consequences if he did not finish his lesson. He has had parts of lessons in the deep pool before, so, I told him, he would have no screen time or treats that day if he didn’t get in.
Well, we went back and forth like that for ten minutes. I took him into the showers, got him all wet, and he still stood on the pool deck, shivering and whimpering. Like a pair of Chinese handcuffs, he dug in and would not budge.
I considered picking him up and literally dropping him in the deep end. But he would be of no use to the instructor or the class if he spent the lesson in tears. He had to decide to do this for himself.
I was at my wit’s end. On one hand, I didn’t want him to think he could get away with throwing a fit to get out of something. On the other hand, he was not responding to any of my parenting techniques. So, I called for backup.
I called Stacey and she talked me down from the ledge. She reminded me that Simon had been complaining about the cold pool, and that when he gets cold he gets cold to the core because of his slight build. She suggested loving him up, calling it a day and having a serious conversation later that day about the remaining two days of lessons. She also mentioned that he is at an age where he would remember the way that I reacted and it would not only influence our relationship but possibly his relationship with his own children one day.
I conceded the point about him getting cold, and bought into the idea that he was not being willful—that he was driven by self-preservation. So I bundled him up in a towel and resolved to talk with him about how it would be in his best interests to participate in the next lesson.
When the next lesson came, he dug in even further. And this time, it was clear that it was not just about the cold pool. He had the opportunity to join his class in the warm pool and still refused.
That made things much more clear in my mind—I went from confused and frustrated to certain and firm. I gave him consequences for the day, and told him that the consequences would be worse if he did not finish the last lesson the next day.
I spelled out three clear options for him—either finish the last day with Lucy’s lower-level class in the warm pool, finish with his regular class in the warm and cold pool, or he could choose to not participate. The first two options would result in a treat, and the third would result in serious consequences. I told him he needed to make a decision, one way or the other, before bedtime.
My goal was to have him decide for himself what he would do, and sure enough, he came through! He made the decision to finish with his regular class. It might sound funny after all of the wrangling and attempted brainwashing, but I was sincerely proud of him. He could have chosen the middle path—joining Lucy’s class—and gotten what he wanted, but he decided to finish what he started, the right way.
And then, of course, when the lesson came, he began to whimper again. I immediately got up, left him on the pool deck, and walked out the door. I knew he’d figure it out on his own, and he did. When I came back in 10 minutes later, he was doing just fine.
I think God has given me Simon specifically to teach me patience. At times it feels like God is beating it into me with a two-by-four, but in my heart, I know that I’m being called to new life by balancing the boundaries and clear lines of authority with patience and gentleness.
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