What do you do when your child is not very good at something? Do you let them continue? Or do you steer them toward activities more suited for their gifts?
I started swimming when I was a wee one–swim lessons, private lessons. I sunk like a rock doing backstroke. My freestyle was okay. Butterfly was out of the question.
My first summer competing on a summer league, I was always in the third and slowest heat. I swam on the “C” relay, which meant I cheered on my teammates and hoped we all would make it to the other side of the pool without drowning. I was, admittedly, a pathetic competitor. I was not at risk for burnout, but instead, I’d say my parents were the ones at risk for utter embarrassment.
Instead of allowing their pride to get in the way, though, they encouraged me to continue swimming; to work hard and see the fruit of my efforts. They shlepped me to practices early in the morning. They sat through meets in the sweltering sun. All to watch their daughter often come in last place. I don’t know how they did it. My mom realized early on that swimming wasn’t going to be about getting first place, but, instead, about bettering my times and improving myself meet after meet. She made a graph of my performances and we plotted my times to watch a steady progression as I improved. God bless her.
When the time came to make a decision about swimming during the winter, I jumped at the chance. I started having practices during the week and was accepted into the lowest “bronze” team for our local USS program. Subsequently, my parents committed to more practices. Meets were now on the weekend and meant they sacrificed even more personal time so I could swim amidst hundreds of other swimmers, often being toward the bottom of the barrel.
Looking back, I am amazed they allowed me to stick with it. Would I have the fortitude to put so much effort into an activity in which my child did not excel? Could I swallow my pride and silence the helicopter-mom tendencies and encourage them to endure?
The beauty of the story is that the pudgy 8yo swimmer who could barely make it across the pool steadily improved. I made my first “B” time cut then an “A” here and there. I moved to the “silver” group then “gold”. By middle school, I was practicing 7 times/week with meets every weekend. The work was paying off. By high school I competed in the state meet and became team captain. Meanwhile, my development in swimming procured my true God-given gifts in running. Had I not labored all those years in the pool, I might never have discovered God’s true plan for me as an athlete on the track.
Pride is a delicate thing. To re-direct a child because of a lack of ability is to rob them of the benefit of humility, goal-setting, and hard work. They may not be a future Olympian or a virtuoso in the making, but as their parents, we need to be okay with that.