“Quick. The boys are all distracted. I have to talk to you.” I said this as I hurriedly pulled my husband into our closet before bursting into tears after returning from yet another unsuccessful swim lesson with our oldest son Zane.
“He’s never going to swim. He’s just one of those kids that can’t do it. It’s like he’s allergic to it.”
I cried because I was at the end of my rope after years (and hundreds of dollars worth of lessons) trying to get him to overcome his fear of the water and finally learn to swim with no success after having a bad drowning experience at age 5.
That night after hearing my desperation, my husband told me he would get him to swim, but I just knew in my heart, it wasn’t him. Zane wasn’t a swimmer. And I knew this because I knew him better than he knew himself.
How couldn’t I? He had grown inside of me. And we mothers just inherently know who are children are. Right? After all, I had spent the last 6 years of his life raising him and getting his personality all figured out.
In fact, I knew lots of things about him in addition to knowing he was born with an inability to swim. He was an extrovert. He was a boundary pusher. He played sports, but he wasn’t passionate about them. Or competitive. He enjoyed math and science. But wasn’t into reading. And that about summed him up.
The only thing that I didn’t know was that ALL of my ALL-KNOWING observations of him from childhood were unintentionally boxing him into a person I had created. But they were not accurate to the person he was or would become. Because Zane has shown me he is a lot different than what my box created. He is a rule-following introvert that loves sports and is competitive and likes to read as well as do math. Essentially, he took my box and handed it to me. Thank God.
So what’s my point?
Well sometimes I think we take one phase of our child’s life and assume that this phase is their personality. Maybe it’s an easy phase. Maybe it’s a hard phase. But whatever it is, we take it and box it up for life in our minds. And sometimes that makes us keep our kids on a dot in a line when it was never their dot to start with.
We look at them at age 5 and think they will be the same at age 25, which isn’t always true and can at times give us unnecessary worry and anxiety. My fears have taken me to many anxious and ridiculous places.
Because he likes to wrestle as a toddler, he will get kicked out of school when he’s older for being unruly.
Because she doesn’t want to sit down and manipulate an ABC puzzle, she isn’t going to be academic or like school.
Because he’s shy when warming up to crowds, he’s going to be incredibly introverted as he grows and unable to make friends.
Now these aren’t necessarily damaging thoughts, but what happens when they affect our actions? That’s when it gets dangerous.
For instance, she’s unsteady on her feet as a little girl, so you don’t let her experiment with sports. “If we let her do it, she might get hurt. And she’s just dainty!” Little do you know, she’s fearless and driven. And miserable sitting still.
Or what if your son asks to play the drums, but you respond back with, “Our family has played piano for 5 generations. So we aren’t buying you loud, obnoxious drums.” It’s not until a mom texts you and says, “You should hear your son play drums in my garage when he comes over. He’s excellent” that you realize your son has a natural affinity for something you never expected.
Or your daughter wants to do debate, but you can’t help but continue to steer her toward sports. We’re just a sports family you think to yourself. But sports mean nothing to her because she knows somewhere deep in her heart, she’s going to be a powerful attorney someday.
Or what if your family has all gone to college and your son asks to start his own construction business, but you tell him college is a must. All the while, he doesn’t want to be boxed in because in his heart, he knows he wants to build his own creations…
As parents, one of our jobs is to provide our children opportunities to find their interests by believing in them. Of course we need to teach them about hard work and be realistic that everything doesn’t always go as planned, but we want to create a path where they can at least be in a position to GROW.
Today, my son who was allergic to swimming is on a year-round swim league. And he not only knows how to swim, he can swim really quickly. Apparently he had something to teach me after my breakdown in the closet: I may have been done with trying to learn to swim for him. But he wasn’t done trying for himself. He just needed me to give him the opportunity to keep trying.
My husband filmed him the other day at his meet, and after I watched it I burst into tears. But this time in a good way. Because I realized that even despite me, my son is going to grow. And instead of boxing him in, I want to help him think and grow outside of the box.
And I’ll leave the box play in my house to the one who truly loves playing in them still. My baby.