“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.”
I reflected on this Robert Tew quote after a lifeguard at the public pool called us out after he noticed T struggling in the water.
The outdoor pool has been our savior the last two summers. We are there every other day to soak up as much summer as we can, while allowing T to burn off his excessive energy.
T is in his element in the water and the outdoors.
We park ourselves at the corner edge of the rope that separates the shallow and deep ends.
T likes to jump into deeper water. He enjoys sinking to the bottom and pushing himself back up. This year, he began to do front and back rolls.
T doesn’t know how to do proper swim techniques but he is very comfortable in the water. He can doggy paddle or float kick on his back from one end to the other.
Due to the pandemic, we have not enrolled him into lessons and our focus is building his confidence and comfort in the water, so he is ready for lessons when they resume.
One way we do this is to let T explore freely in the water. We stay close by but don’t micro manage every movement. T knows to, and does, ask for help when he needs – and one of us would immediately hold him up.
This week, there was a new lifeguard at the pool. He was stationed at our corner and he noticed T with his head titled up, as usual, as his arms and feet flailed, his way of treading water.
“I think you need to move to the shallow end,” he said.
I knew the lifeguard was well intentioned and was just doing his job.
I politely told him that he is doing fine and that we are keeping a watchful eye on him. The hubby added that we’ve been doing this the last two summers.
The lifeguard then added that T looked like he was struggling.
I explained to him that we would not let our child drown and this was our routine. It was my polite way of telling him to buzz off.
As we continued to swim, and later into the night, I thought about the lifeguard’s comments.
I understood and appreciated his concern, but I also balked at the idea that we shouldn’t allow kids to struggle.
“Struggle” is a trigger word for me, as I am sure it is for other special needs parents.
I often think, and have already experienced the last five years, about the ongoing struggles that T will have in his life – at school, in relationships, with future work and with self concept.
I don’t know what the future holds and every child is different, but struggle is a common thread for individuals with an invisible disability.
As a parent, the instinct is to hold them close and protect them from the negative emotions and moments associated with struggles.
But the hubby and I know that this is not helpful.
A little struggle, incrementally experienced, is good for everyone – special needs or not.
As this Big Life Journal article so nicely articulates, struggle is important and helps kids develop perseverance, problem solving skills and confidence – as well as build emotional regulation and a growth mindset.
We always remind him that it’s ok to ask for help if he needs to and that we are close by. He has so far not been shy about asking for help.
As if he was trying to prove our point to the lifeguard, our encounter at the pool ended off on quite a hilariously empowering note.
Immediately after our conversation with the lifeguard, T floated on his stomach and started moving his arms in a circular motion and kicked his legs.
The movements were choppy and far from polished, but there was no doubt that he was trying to do the front crawl. He did this from one end of the pool to the other.
He had never done this before! The timing felt more than a coincidence, it was poetic.
The hubby and I gave each other a surprised and delighted look.
Not being able to resist adding his usual smart ass commentary, the hubby said out loud, so the lifeguard could hear, “Struggling, my ass.”