Tag Archives: respect

Clear cut parenting (Ha!)

It’s no secret that it was challenging for me to learn to trust my child’s snail-paced journey throughout years of watching him observe instead of participate. Fearing he would never move himself out of his comfort zone, we wondered if he needed a push from us. In the end, we committed to honoring his temperament and developmental pacing, which meant not forcing participation, listening to his fears and respecting his decisions. We watched in awe every time the excitement of an activity motivated him over the first hurdles. It was never our push that made him jump.

The other side of the coin is that some skills just have to be learned. Let’s start with an obvious choice, like safely crossing streets. Parents don’t let their kid run into traffic simply because that’s what lil’ Jimmy wants to do. They also don’t leave Jimmy on the other side of the road because he won’t cross with them. Jimmy’s hand will be held and his always-in-the-moment mind will be reminded a million times to “Look both ways!” until the People With Brains That Contemplate Consequences are certain he understands. Love & Logic’s “natural consequences” get thrown in front of the bus. Not Jimmy.

Other lessons are not as clear, but can feel just as critical.

Take swimming, for example. A sensitive topic in my household for a few months last summer. If Little Monkey hadn’t scared the daylight out of me with the pool-bobbing incident, I doubt I would’ve endured the initial phase of his latest swim lessons.

In the weeks after that nightmare, I signed him up for a couple private lessons through Seattle’s parks department. He participated well but continued to demonstrate the lack of fear that originally got him into trouble. Despite his inability to float, he kept trying to swim unassisted. On a few occasions he jumped in impulsively or lunged at me without warning. Obviously, at this point I was watching him like a hawk, so he was quickly scooped up. But I didn’t feel any better about his water safety by summer’s end.

Not wanting to enter next summer at the same level, we decided to take the plunge last fall and signed him up for intensive private swim lessons recommended by a friend. He dug in his heels, certain they would be “horrible!” With a little probing I learned that he believed that this swim coach would squirt him with a water gun. Ah, the rational fears of a four year old.

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With a firm promise that his coach wouldn’t shoot him, and quite possibly a pack of Pokemon cards in hand as bribery, he willingly entered the pool during his first lesson. At his request and the coach’s approval, I was in the water with him for his first two lessons. Courtesy of the most methodical, safety-oriented, and efficient swim lessons I’ve ever witnessed, Miles learned to open his eyes underwater, swim with his head under, and begin to backfloat. To get there, he was pushed farther beyond his comfort level than ever before. It was painful to watch him struggle.

The third lesson consisted of me sweating on the sidelines with my teeth grit together, trying to hide my anxieties from both the coach and Miles. He screamed and sobbed a decent portion of the lesson. The swim coach heard his complaints but did not let him give in to his fears. She kept him moving, practicing and struggling his way through each critical skill. I felt sick to my stomach.

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I spent that evening wondering if this lesson style was the right choice. DId I betray his trust by not just ending it there and calling it quits? Was he being pushed too far? Did I trust this coach and her judgment?

As I contemplated, I thought of all the parents of children with learning disabilities I interacted with when their kids came to me for evaluations and therapy. Many required months to trust me enough to follow advice or accept a diagnosis. I sympathized then, but I understand their hesitancies far better now that I’m a parent. Acknowledging that another adult may know what is best for your child is not easy to swallow, no matter the situation.

I came to believe that years of experience have taught this swim coach what children tolerate. She is not worried about their well-being as they go underwater, cough a bit, and correct themselves. At least not in the short-term. But long-term, she is absolutely concerned. She wants these kids water safe. To get there, she accepts the struggle as part of the learning process, like the countless falls toddlers take while learning to walk. She knew what my boy was capable of achieving. She knew that he needed to conquer his fears to move forward. While Miles and my brain were in fight or flight mode, hers was calm, cool and collected.

I dreaded telling Miles about lesson number four. I promised to take him to a favorite playspace afterwards. To my astonishment, that was enough to get him over the hump. Maybe he knew he needed it, like the toddler that keeps running despite scraped up knees. Maybe he found the outcome satisfying enough to account for the struggle. He entered the pool without complaint, seemingly forgetting his fears.

The reprieve didn’t last long. She asked him to stick his head underwater to retrieve a toy, and he completely broke down. In the skilled, graceful way that experienced teachers exhibit, she guided him back with ease, letting him repeat a skill that he found pleasurable and comforting until he calmed.

She moved him into snorkeling next, which was a completely new skill. “I DO NOT WANT TO SNORKEL!” he yelled and sobbed. Unaware of her motivation, I watched anxiously and questioned this choice. She introduced him to the mask by talking about its function and demonstrating its use. Then, the snorkel. She quietly put both on him. He protested throughout, but she assured him he’d be fine, and sure enough, soon he was excited to search underwater for toys. After he got the hang of it, they spent the rest of the session snorkeling around the pool to round-up tiny pumpkins. (It was October.)

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IMG_8898He was hooked. “Mama, I think I could be a scuba diver now!” He was over the hump.

I realized, yet again, that she had a clear plan and vision. The hardest skill for him to learn was how to transition from swimming forward with his head underwater to rolling over on his back to rest and breathe. With the snorkel, he could delight in swimming all around with ease. She took his biggest struggle out of the equation.

After lesson five I believed that he would have a chance at survival in a water accident. During lesson nine he took a “Clothes Test,” demonstrating the ability to fall in with clothes on, float on his back at length, swim to the closest exit, and other skills like getting his shoes off while floating. (He worked his tail off during 20+ minutes of testing.) We both walked away from this lesson stupendously pleased. Miles was thrilled with his accomplishment, and I was greatly relieved that last summer’s nightmare won’t be repeated.

I’m not sure how I’ll know when my boys need to be that far out of their comfort zone again. Right now we are contemplating decisions that could upset both of them, but we think would be for their benefit long-term. It is incredibly hard to choose between respecting their emotions and trusting in their resilience. I want them to do things of their own accord, but I also don’t want them to become paralyzed by fears. One thing I can count on: I am going to mess up a lot. I am going to error on both sides of the coin. Once I know I’ve gone too far in one direction, all I can do is apologize as we all learn from the mistake.

I’m glad I didn’t get in the way of progress this time. By learning to trust the coach, I didn’t rob my boy of these skills, nor the pride and satisfaction that resulted. Plus, how cute is a kid with snorkel gear? Sheesh.

Parenting is rarely clear cut. I couldn’t be more thankful that it comes with support staff.

(Pssst! I added a little video from one of his lessons to my facebook page. Head on over to see him in action. I always appreciate you “liking” my page while you’re there, too! Thanks!)

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On trust

In the comfort of his home, within sight of his Mama and Papa, his confidence and abilities shone. He wasn’t even two, but he used complete sentences to convey the utmost importance of the airplanes flying by, the blue cheese he craved and the trucks he needed to drive around blocks he’d lined up. Utterances were constant, play was complex. There were puzzles to be completed and playgrounds to visit. He’d cry if surprised by the jet-loud roars of our food processor, so I’d try to prepare him for it’s use or wait until he wasn’t around. Otherwise, he rarely showed anxiety at home. It felt easy to respect his needs.

Though aspects of his development were advanced, he wasn’t challenging himself physically as much as his peers. He didn’t walk until he was 15-months. Likely the perfectionist in him, genes courtesy of yours truly, waited until he would not stumble. Slow and steady, calculated and predictable. He observed his toddler buddies ride their balance bikes, climb ladders and zoom down big slides. He developed pretend play routines instead. His playgrounds were bakeries and kitchens, chocolate shops and coffee shops. These themes probably also had something to do with his mother.

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Outside of our home, loud noises, new people or unpredictable kids made him nervous. Hiding behind us or begging to be held, I quickly learned to expect a tug on my pant leg. “Mama, pick me up!” was repeated incessantly until he was safely in my arms. We couldn’t leave him with anyone besides his familiar grandparents. Even with them, we had to sneak out after they provided ample distraction. Every other place we dropped him off paged us back to rescue him. They could never get him to stop sobbing.

At a friend’s son’s second birthday party, he didn’t leave my lap. As things wrapped up, moms encouraged their tots to gather on porch stairs for a picture. I plopped my boy down in their midst, ignoring the discomfort I read in his tense body. I backed away to see if he’d adapt, but of course, his lower lip proceeded to curl downward and he sobbed. I knew he would. I only tried to make him participate because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I felt like I needed to show the other moms I at least tried. I retrieved him from the stairs feeling pangs of anger and humiliation. Why wasn’t my kid like the others? Why couldn’t I just chat with the other moms while he played?

This was the first of many times I’d realize my expectations for him in public were different than they were at home. Simply because I wanted him to reflect a certain way on me.

After months of holding him up while other kids jumped into play and rarely getting to drop him off somewhere for a break, I grew to resent this pattern. I also started to worry. Would my little boy always be this needy? Did I baby him too much? Is attachment parenting a surefire route to timidity?

Eventually I began redefining my hopes and expectations. I was learning a new way that I needed to trust his natural development. Just like he learned to walk and talk, roll and and hold a spoon, I needed to believe that his emotional journey would progress in it’s own meaningful way.

4739917866_8b6102c4c6_zIMG_3084Thankfully, as years passed he grew more comfortable without us. He attended preschool with ease. He remained hesitant to participate in most activities beyond that, particularly if they were physical, and we respected his wishes. As a five and six year old, this meant kindly saying no to offers to go to rock climbing birthday parties, join soccer teams, or play at bounce houses.

I began to accept that he may never play a team sport. I began to embrace that he savored his time doing math problems and building towers more than playdates. I grew to love that he preferred to play with girls, engaging in complex play routines instead of climbing trees. I started to let go of my fears of him regularly feeling lonely and isolated.

There was grief in this process. I longed for aspects of motherhood that I didn’t think I would ever experience with him and that was disappointing. I simply began to walk more firmly in the knowledge that it would be far more devastating for him not to be true to himself. Or not believe he’s accepted for who he is.

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My boy keeps surprising me. This past year he jumped right in to his new school despite having only one friend in his class. He eagerly participated in physical games at recess and in PE. He tested for his yellow belt, even choosing to continue sparring after being punched in the face. He happily attended a rock climbing birthday party. Harnessed in, he grabbed the holds and climbed right up without hesitation. As he neared his limit and needed to rappel for his first time, I saw how scared he was. I anxiously anticipated him melting into a pool of tears and loud sobs. Instead, he worked through the fears with with just a little encouragement from the coach. I could not believe it. Any of it. I went to that party envisioning us watching all the other kids from the sidelines, while he felt disappointed by his fears. Instead, he kept climbing higher and higher, confidence growing with each summit. I picked my jaw up off the floor.

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Carried by World Cup excitement, he agreed to soccer camp. It was a huge hit and he begged me to go again before summer ended. At his request, he also played on a team this fall. Despite being the new guy with the least amount of experience, all he wanted was to be on the field. He even enjoyed playing goalie. Balls whizzed past his face by request! It has been wonderful to be shocked by his growth.

I know little to nothing about what’s coming ahead as a parent. These changes in him may swing the other direction. I can certainly count on parenting being unpredictable. Generally, it seems the challenges will surround my ability to grieve and accept. My ability to deal with my own expectations and fears. My ability to cope with the noise, chaos and mess that my energetic (may-as-well-be-on-stimulants) monkeys leave in their wake. Hopefully my ability to make a mean batch of cookies will temper it all a bit.

Every few months something happens in which I have to consciously examine whether or not I’m respecting their journeys and honoring their paths. How much do I believe in their natural emotional development? It seems that only my fears speak against trusting it.