Our big kids had their second swim meet this weekend.
It went really well, both of them improved on their times from their first meet, and Judah swam two new events.
But this competition experience is challenging me in a new way as a parent. All four kids for the most part enjoy their swim practices. They like their friends and their coaches and have gained confidence in learning new skills.
But truthfully, the meets have been hard for Judah and Amelie. They are really, really intense experiences: noisy and crowded and competitive. David and I aren’t allowed to be on the pool deck with them, so we drop them off at the door into a sea of coaches and children, armed with bags of towels, swim caps, goggles and snacks, and they spend the day with their coaches and team. They have some help, but still need to remember where to line up and what heat they’re swimming in, what the whistles mean, when to start and when to end the race. They’re surrounded by kids who are way, way better than them.
We’ve had lots of tears, lots of requests to not do swim meets anymore, even requests at times to quit swimming altogether.
It hurts me so badly to see them scared and pushed beyond what they think they can do. In short, I want to let them quit. I want to wrap my arms tight around them and protect them from the hard things in life: from making mistakes and being embarrassed in front of their friends, from coaches who yell at them and from being told they aren’t doing it right.
But I know (largely from my husband, who’s much wiser than I) that it’s not the best thing for my kids.
I think that a real weakness of homeschooling is the ease with which we can shelter our children from adversity.
I see that desire in my own heart. I want to tell the kids that if they want to quit swimming, if it’s too overwhelming and scary, they can. When they face a bully or a clique in our homeschool community, I want to intervene or to pull them out, to search for another group where they’re treated better.
That’s a strength for those of you with kids in school. There are typically more built-in opportunities for adversity, less opportunity for you to just remove your child from classes and teachers and experiences that are hard, more teaching moments as you help them navigate difficult situations, more chances to learn to get along with people who are different.
Although I’m not saying it’s any easier for you to go through it than it is for me. None of us parents want our kids to suffer. All of us have this innate desire to rescue them from the hard things.
Lately, dipping my toe into the waters of parenting older children is testing my faith in a new way. It feels downright excruciating for the momma-bear in me to see adversity as a healthy and important part of growing up, and to even embrace it as an act of God’s love for them.
I’ve come to willingly affirm the way God has used suffering in my own life, to humble and change me and make His care for me more personal and dear. I’ve even reached the point of being able to thank Him for suffering.
But somehow when it comes to my kids, I feel the opposite. I fiercely want to protect them from any kind of trial. I want to straighten their paths and raise their valleys. I want to step in and micromanage circumstances and keep them from pain.
But we all know that does not prepare them for real life.
In real life, we suffer. We are lonely and misunderstood and sometimes we get made fun of. We fail and we get embarrassed and have to do things that are really hard. Sometimes we get sick or anxious or depressed. In real life we also sin against other people and have to face the consequences. We have to learn to see and admit our sin — our own bullying or cliques or unkindness — and repent and ask forgiveness from others. Our pride gets hurt as we realize we’re not quite as awesome as we once thought.
And so, David and I are asking God to give us wisdom to know how and when to put our kids in the path of scary new situations and possible adversity.
Does that sound crazy to you? We’re no masochists — of course if a struggle goes on too long or is affecting our child negatively over a long period of time, we’ll reevaluate and seek a different solution.
But thus far, we’ve seen good fruit from allowing our kids to face hard things. We’ve seen them grow a little more humble. We’ve seen them trust Jesus in new ways — to pray to Him themselves instead of just waiting for Mom and Dad to pray.
We’ve seen them learn to forgive. We’ve seen them grow thicker skin and learn some resiliency, to learn that they aren’t victims, that they’re stronger than they thought they were. We’ve seen them become just a little bit more compassionate towards other people.
If you’re a parent of kids older than mine, I’m sure you’re thinking right now, Oh this is just the beginning, Julie. I know you’re right. And while I’m tempted to fear the unknowns in my kids’ future, I trust that God will give us grace for the hard things yet to come, just as He’s helping us day by day right now.
I trust that He’ll give David and me the courage and wisdom to know when to push our children and when to gather them close and protect them. I know we’ll make mistakes — we’ll push when we should protect and vice versa.
Though it breaks my heart, I’m not naive to the fact that some of my children’s suffering will be caused by the two of us, who love them more than life itself, but who are broken and sinful. I beg God to somehow use even that in their life for good.
I’m so glad, with all our fumbling and failure and learning, that nothing is ever wasted with Him.