When it comes to parenting, some days are really just harder than others. There’s the stress of wanting your child to learn what is right and what is safe, and there are the many different opinions you have to deal with because of the way you parent your child.
As my parenting journey continues, I have slowly learnt to filter out the latter, because most of the time, these opinions either confuse me or make me feel like a horrible mother. I know that my very open way of sharing about my parenting challenges seems like an invitation to some people to criticise how I handle my children, but I have slowly learnt to deal with it.
No one spends more time with my children than I do, and no one knows my children the way I do. Even if you are a teacher, whether pre-school or primary school, you are not an expert of my situation with my children, so thank you for your feedback and that’s about it.
There are certain days of the week that both Phoebie, my six year old daughter, and I dread. She dreads it because she knows she has to learn new skills and she isn’t always willing to. I dread it because I have to anticipate Phoebie’s reaction. If her reactions are positive, we rejoice together and I never fail to praise her for her efforts to learn. If her reactions are negative, she and I both know that I will blow my top.
When it comes to swimming lessons, everyone has a different point of view. Some people feel that some children are just not ready at certain ages and should be taken off lessons the moment the children don’t seem to be coping well. For my husband and I, our top reason for swimming lessons is to teach Phoebie to be water-safe. No matter how attentive we are to our children, a split second of us taking our eyes off them is all it takes for something bad to happen to them in water.
Phoebie started her swimming lessons well. She adapted quickly and picked up the basics faster than her friend who was taking the lessons with her. However, as the months went by, she started to hold herself back. With each lesson, she would refuse to try new exercises more. We dealt with this issue a number of times and she managed to overcome whatever held her back. She learnt how to hold her breath under water and could swim without her swimming board for a short distance. We commended her on her efforts and even rewarded her for the progress she was making.
The past few weeks, however, have been a nightmare again. Not only did Phoebie refuse to try the new techniques her coach was teaching her, she regressed and refused to do what she could previously do.
Knowing how my daughter is, I know that she didn’t want to try anymore because the techniques were getting more challenging and she just wanted to escape. She came to a point where, when I asked her if she was willing to give up learning anything new if she stopped her swimming lessons, she said yes.
Again, I must emphasize that, unlike other kinds of enrichment classes, swimming is something that my husband and I do not want our children to give up on because it is a life skill and it could protect our children from losing their lives while playing in water.
The last time Phoebie displayed refusal to follow the swimming lesson and to try the new techniques, everything blew up. Phoebie screamed and cried and I yelled and screamed. I had never walked home so fast before in my entire life and Phoebie had to push her little legs to full power just to keep up with me. We were both consumed by the extremity of our own emotions and no one was able to communicate properly.
By God’s grace, I somehow managed to calm myself down enough to talk to Phoebie properly again, though I honestly wasn’t expecting myself to.
I brought Phoebie into her room and started talking to her. “Do you know why I am so mad today?” I asked her. She nodded. “Because I didn’t try my best and I just gave up,” was her reply.
“Papa and I have told you many times before. We don’t need you to be the best swimmer in the world. We don’t need you to be a Joseph Schooling. But what we want you to do is to try your best and not give up without even trying. We want you to be able to swim and protect yourself in a swimming pool,” I told her. “Look around your room. Tell me what are things that you managed to learn without even trying or giving your best.”
Phoebie’s room is decorated with her art work and there are many books on her book shelf.
“Tell me, was it easy for you when you first learnt to read?” I asked her. She shook her head. “But look at you now. You are able to read so many books without any help, and because you are able to read, you are able to learn more new things about the things you like. Would it have been possible if you had given up on learning to read just because it was difficult at the beginning?” I asked her again. Phoebie shook her head again.
“What else are there in your room that you had to try before you learnt to do them?” I wanted her to think and reflect.
Phoebie looked around her room. Pointing at a learning chart on the wall, she said, “If I didn’t try and just give up, I would not be able to read these chinese words today.” Pointing at two of her art pieces, she said, “If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t have done the paper sculpture and the wire sculpture. The wire sculpture was so hard to do when I learnt. But because I didn’t give up, I managed to do it.”
I pointed to one of her drawings displayed on the wall and said, “Look at that drawing. That is one of my favourites that you have done. If you gave up halfway because there were too many things to draw, would you have that picture?” Phoebie shook her head.
Phoebie continued to point out a few more things in her room, and each time, her conclusion was the same – those things could not have been achieved if she had given up easily.
“So you see,” I explained, “Nothing around you was easy when you started. Yet you managed to do all these things because you didn’t give up. It is the same for your swimming lessons.”
“I didn’t know that until now,” said Phoebie, getting teary eyed again.
“Phoebie, can you imagine what will happen if Papa and I choose to give up just because it is difficult to be parents? What will happen to your brother and you?” I asked her.
It was an emotionally and mentally exhausting evening, but I wanted my six year old to know that I got extremely upset because instead of trying, she chose to stop doing everything. Perhaps it was an extreme evening and I know there are people who would not agree with the way I had handled it.
For me, I just wanted my daughter to know that when things get difficult in life, we do not stop trying and simple give up.
“So, do you still want to stop swimming?” I asked Phoebie as we were finishing the long talk.
“No,” she said. “I want to keep trying because I want to be safe when I am in the pool.”
Never give up, my child. Let’s keep trying, together.