There are some times when, as a parent, your kid makes you wish the earth would open up and swallow you. This was one of them for me, at first.
A couple weeks ago, our family goes to an aquatic center, a really nice one. It’s the kind with a big water slide, a splash zone, and a therapy pool I would typically love to lounge in. Unfortunately the day does not involve lounging.
My preschooler jumps right into the pool, happy to ride the alligator slide and splash around with friends. So he is set, and good to go.
My one-year-old, however, does not find the situation amusing. As the overwhelm of the noise and water everywhere kicks in, he simply starts screaming. He opts to wander around the pool deck and observe everyone else, but won’t go near the water without letting us hear it. I even walk him into the oh-so-lovely warm therapy pool, in which he goes maybe thirty seconds without wailing.
Twenty minutes go by, then forty.
Nothing sways him. Dipping his feet in, holding him, even leaning him towards the splash of water – nothing. His shrieks are probably filling the entire room.
An hour later, I sit with him on the sideline, holding his hand, out of options. It seems like we are destined to sit it out and watch our friends enjoy the pool time. It’s something that’s frustrated me in the past, feeling like I can’t fully be present and participate because of my kids’ unpredictability.
I’m starting to feel the frustration, and a little embarrassment. I want to go home.
Instead, I try just one more thing.
Cautiously, I lean forward and dip my fingers into a spraying stream. Then I pull them back out quickly, as if it’s a surprising thing.
“Wah-tah!” I emphasize to him, like how he says it. “I touched the wah-tah!”
He giggles because it feels like a game, and he loves a good game. I ask him if he wants to touch the water too, and he shakes his head and lets out a firm, “no!” This happens a few times. But after fifteen minutes or so, he leans forward and just barely puts his fingers in, too, laughing at his own cleverness for figuring out the game. Finally, a victory!
Fifteen minutes of me splashing my feet in the water trying to make it look fun, and his little chunky feet are in, too. Fifteen minutes after that, he is in the water splashing, giggling, and enjoying it. He even goes down the alligator slide. Now we’re all enjoying the pool.
This is one of the most beautiful moments of parenthood so far for me.
And one of the most bonding moments with my littlest guy. I was so ready to pack it all in, give up, and go home. It would have been easier, probably than bearing the hour of on-and-off screaming and the 45 minutes or so of coaxing him in the pool.
But oh how precious the moment he touched the water for the first time. How we giggled and splashed and played a gentle tug-of-war of the wills between us.
Raising littles means a lot of training and guidance for little minds without much life experience. It takes a lot of work, a lot of repeating yourself over and over, a lot of doing for them what they can’t do for themselves.
And it’s frustrating. There’s stubbornness involved on both sides, plus a million other factors. Like whether or not they can find the shoes you told them to put on. Or if you’re in a time crunch. Or if the moon is full, or you’re on your period, or they’re teething, or if school is or isn’t in session, or if they miss bedtime…
There is so much to be said for getting on their level.
For going through the trenches with them to help them overcome. Even if it means 45 minutes, and coaxing, and playing when you just want to throw in the towel (literally). Sometimes it means talking through it a few different ways, letting them practice a few times, showing them how to do it.
Mamas, I can’t say I always do this. I’m not the most patient. In fact, I’m pretty sure God was working on my heart that whole time with me while I was working with my youngest to get him in the water.
And this isn’t always the solution. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. No judgment here, only solidarity.
But this is your encouragement for when the going gets tough, for when you just want to keep pushing or you want to give up entirely. Maybe instead, get on their level. Coax, talk, go with them, see things from their perspective. It really is a stunning experience when you help them achieve a victory this way.
How can you get on their level this week?