It’s the third lesson and the Mamas with little ones find chairs at the end of the pool deck and wait for the clock to strike ten. She sits quietly in the chair beside me.
There is a little boy behind us in tears. Softly at first, then his sobs grow louder as he realizes he will need to get into the water soon. It’s a repeat twice over of the weeks prior. Last week his teacher lifted him into the pool against his will and his wails were heard from all corners of the pool.
I’ve been watching her – his Mama. Blonde and pretty, gentle and sweet, she leads three equally blonde boys onto the pool deck. The youngest one she swings easily on her hip, the oldest one follows without a word, and the middle one – the one in the bathing suit – cries louder now.
Then I hear different sobs and I turn to my own and she’s crying softly. “I don’t want to swim today,” she says with teary eyes.
This is new. She loves swimming. Looks forward to Mondays. But she’s been watching the little boy and perhaps his fear combined with her short night is causing these tears.
“You have to go in the pool,” I say firmly.
She shakes her head and cries louder, her toes digging firmly into one spot on the deck.
“It’s time for swimming lessons,” I say unwaveringly. I take her by the hand and lead her to her group. I nod and her swim instructor reaches for her hand and leads her to the water’s edge. She’s still crying, but in she goes.
I find my seat again and my attention goes back to the pretty, blonde mother. She’s sitting now in the circle with her child’s class, her little boy desperately clutching on to her arm. She’s bouncing the baby on her knee and her eldest is stilling quietly on her other side. Soon the other little kids follow their teacher into the pool, but he stays stubbornly by his mother’s side.
But instead of forcing him to follow them, she whispers quietly in his ear. Reassuring him. Coaxing him. Easing his fears.
And this continues for the next half an hour. All the while she stays calm, encouraging him to watch the others splashing in the water, doing her best to convince him the pool is great fun.
He never does go in the water.
I’m amazed at her patience and her state of calm, but mostly intrigued by her mothering strategy which is obviously very different than my own.
I’m a push-them-through-their-fears Mama.
She’s a wait-until-they-are-ready Mama.
I wonder which strategy is more effective? There’s the obvious fact – mine is in the water, hers is not (I won’t mention that mine came out of the water twice during the lesson in tears insisting she wanted to go home). However, her child went home happy, whereas mine was still upset as I got her dressed.
I’m not doubting my strategy at the pool. In my daughters case, I know it was the right thing to do. But I wonder which strategy is more effective for the overall duration of raising children?
I’m sure her gentle and patient spirit is not only reserved for the pool, just as my firmer, more determined approach extends to most areas of my mothering.
Which strategy yields a confident, secure, whole child? Which strategy enables a child to reach their full potential in the kingdom of God?
We left the pool with these questions swimming around in my mind.
Later that evening as I thought about it some more, I wondered if maybe there is no cookie-cutter answer – no one way of parenting. Perhaps mothering needs to be done in the unique way God made each mother. And perhaps God has given children who need more of a gentle encouragement to mothers whose natural spirit is one of gentle encouragement. And maybe God has given children who need a firm nudge towards taking risks to mothers who firmly encourage their children to try.
Perhaps He really does know our children best.
Leaning heavily on Him in each and every situation is the answer. And as we listen to the Spirit guide and direct our interactions with our children, He parents them through us by giving them what they need to grow in character, faith, and maturity.