While we were on vacation last month, we spent a lot of time in the swimming pool helping our kids learn to swim. On the first day we were there, my daughter let go of the edge of the pool for the first time and kicked her way several feet forward without help! It was so exciting to see her make those first independent swim moves.
Things didn’t go so smoothly for my son. He had the confidence to jump off the steps and try swimming over to me, but he was choking every time he came out of the water.
“I got water in my mouth and nose AGAIN!” he would wail, in between coughs. He choked on every swimming attempt for the first two days we were there.
Each time, I reminded him, “Nathan, You HAVE to hold your breath! You DON’T open your mouth under water!” Then I set him back on the stairs to try again.
After a couple of days, I was becoming exasperated. I couldn’t figure out why he refused to hold his breath. It was so simple and foundational for any swimming progress he could make.
Then a light bulb went off! My eyes must have been as big as saucers as I realized the likely problem.
“Nathan! Do you know what breath is? Do you know what it means to hold your breath?”
He burst into tears. “NO! I don’t understand! WHAT is breath?”
I had practically beaten him over the head for two days with the words “hold your breath…hold your breath…you have to hold your breath…Nathan, you’re not holding your breath”…and he didn’t even know what it meant. He kept trying to jump in the water, hoping he would figure it out, but came up struggling every time.
I stood on the steps with him that afternoon, doing little exercises of blowing in and out to see what breath is and showing him how to hold it. When I was confident he understood, I moved about six feet away and told him to swim to me (holding his breath, of course)!
He jumped in and soon emerged in my arms with a smile and victory fist in the air. It was the first time he didn’t choke. By the end of our vacation he was swimming all over, just like his sister.
This experience really made me reflect on how easy it is to incorrectly assume our kids understand words and concepts that are foundational to what we teach them. We throw them in the water of faith throughout their childhood, asking them to swim, but sometimes don’t realize when they’re lacking some basic pieces of understanding that make the eventual difference between a losing struggle and a victory fist.
Perhaps that’s why many kids grow up to think that church isn’t all that important; no one ever explained to them why it matters.
Perhaps that’s why many kids grow up to think that Christianity is “just about doing good”; no one ever connected the dots for them that Christian values divorced from their divine source are spiritually meaningless.
Perhaps that’s why many kids grow up to think that faith and science are opposites; no one ever engaged with them on how to evaluate cursory inflammatory statements made by the secular world.
At every step of this parenting journey, we have the choice to just keep asking our kids to swim in a sea of faith, or really taking the time to make sure they have the understanding needed to do it confidently. We give them that understanding by paying attention to their possible struggles (even when they’re not obvious), identifying underlying questions, proactively engaging them in conversation about those questions, and reinforcing the new understanding by giving them opportunities to apply it.
It certainly takes more effort, but that victory fist is worth every minute of it.