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Parenting Through Failure

Tonight I sat and watched my child come in last place three times. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Big Girl has always had an issue with water. Even as a baby she would cry when bathtub water splashed on her face. She would scream like we were beating her when we tried to bring her into our beach club’s pool. She would refuse to let her swim instructor — we did three years worth of lessons — move her body and teach her what she needed to know. We’ve dealt with it, but it’s been a sore spot for me since I am not the best swimmer. (I can swim, but it entails a lot of flailing.)

Then last year she joined our beach club’s swim team. Her first year she was a kickboarder. It was very cute. She, along with the other little ones, would provide a half-time show at meets kicking across the pool on a board. Even that was a trial. She was scared. She couldn’t do it. She was afraid. But something changed between last year and this year. This year — maybe it was maturity, maybe it was the end-of-year swim team party — she decided she wanted to graduate from kickboard and start competing. I told her she could. All she had to do was make it across the length of the pool. And on the first day of her daily hour-long practice she did it. Yes, she did it but truth be told she looked just like her mother — flailing. And even worse, she was slow.

Still, the promise was there. Her skills have improved tremendously. She will swim underwater now. She’s doing strokes. She’s kicking both legs as opposed to keeping one on the bottom of the pool. She loves the pool and wants to go swimming all the time. She even went down the really tall, really fast waterslide like a zillion times. But how would she do in the competition. I’d be lying if I said my husband and I weren’t worried.

On Tuesday, the day of her first meet, she put our worries to rest. She was signed up for one event — freestyle. I sat and watched her make it slowly, ever so slowly across the pool, finishing way after everyone else. I was so proud. She did it. She made it. My heart was near bursting. Tonight was the second meet. The coach put her into three events: freestyle, relay and backstroke. She was so proud as she held up the back of her hand to show me the shorthand for each scrawled across it. And then the meet started.

Freestyle was amazing. She was twice as fast as she was on Tuesday night. Mind you, she still came in completely and utterly last, but she got faster. She was growing! Then came backstroke. I watched that little girl slowly making her way across the pool — again, the slowest in the water. Heck, the slowest of the night. I didn’t care. It was her very first stroke race and she was doing it. At one point she was even caught on the ropes, and yet she never stopped. She kept trying. My heart swelling with pride and my eyes tearing up, I clapped and cheered her on. So did many of the people watching. It would have been so easy for her to stop. To start crying. But she kept on going and she touched the side of the pool.

By the relay she was exhausted. She came out of the pool — the last one to the wall again — coughing and sputtering. My husband drove her home. He told her she did a great job, and she did. Her response: “No, everyone else did great. I don’t think I did great.”

When I heard that I tipped her face upward and made her look into my eyes. I told her that yes, she did great, too. I talked about progress and bravery and gumption. And then I held her so close and so tight so she could feel just how proud I was of her.

No, my kid may not be the best swimmer in the pool, but she is, I think, one of the bravest and the most driven. And that’s probably the best thing I could ever imagine or want for my child.

4 Responses to “Parenting Through Failure”

  1. Your first sentence made me so happy. Just recently I read an article in an English paper (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1291627/Winning-banned-thirds-schools-teachers-reward-ALL-students.html) that made me feel just the opposite and I have been quietly seething ever since.
    If you don’t put children in a competition-orientated environment, how are they supposed to learn to cope with life when it becomes a little more serious? And like you said and as plenty of research has shown it is much better to have a child that can fight, is determined and keeps on trying rather than one that has never been challenged, on the sports field or off. And that is something to be proud of, not necessarily the medal.
    I am glad you both had a great day!

  2. MarthaAndMe says:

    Good for her! I agree with you 100%!

  3. [...] to do when your child doesn’t succeed? Natural as Possible Mom shares her experience parenting through [...]

  4. KiwiLog says:

    Hi! We loved your post over at KiwiLog and decided to feature it as part of our weekly mom blog roundup. Thanks!

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