Parenting and Balance

The longer I’ve been a parent to a young child, the more I’ve realized how it’s a delicate balance of love and discipline. I love my daughter, and because I love her I sometimes have to make her do things she doesn’t like. You know the types of things: having her clean her room, put her clothes away, pick up toys, brush her teeth, etc.

I alluded to needing to reflect on an experience I had with Sadie’s swimming lessons and it taught me a lot about having my child do things she doesn’t like, but also not tolerating mistreatment.

Dad and daughter sitting on bench by pool

We enrolled Sadie in one-on-one swim lessons and our goal was for her to first and foremost have fun and also learn water safety and the basics of how to swim. Here’s how it went down…

Week 1: Sadie had so much fun! The instructor immediately came off as a “tough love” type of teacher. She was a little bit pushy and gruff with Sadie, but it wasn’t anything too bad.

Mom and daughter at indoor pool

Week 2: The instructor had Sadie jump to her arms… but didn’t catch her on purpose so she would go under water. Sadie came up coughing and crying. I could tell the instructor lost Sadie’s trust. Afterwards, the instructor told me that tactic can sometimes scar kids. Great 😆

Week 3: Before the lesson began, Sadie told me she didn’t want to go but we talked through it and she told me she didn’t want to go under water. The instructor continued to be pushy and tough on Sadie and she cried through most of the lesson.

Week 4: Again, Sadie told me she didn’t want to go to her swim lesson. We talked through it and I told her I’d go in the water with her if it helped. At this point, Sadie was timid going in the water with the instructor, cried through the whole lesson, and only wanted me to touch and help her. The instructor was rolling her eyes at Sadie, saying I was helping her too much, and even asked why she was 3.5 years old and still wearing a swim diaper. After the lesson, Sadie practiced all the skills with me and smiled the whole time.

Mom and daughter in pool for swim lesson

I left the lesson feeling like a bad parent. Definitely not the way you want to feel after something you signed your child up for as a fun thing! What was wrong with my child? Why was she crying? Don’t even get me started on the swim diaper.

We had one more lesson left in the session and I thought about it. Should I make Sadie tough it out and go to one more excruciating lesson where nobody was happy? Jimmy offered up the point that she needs to learn to tolerate people who aren’t always nice to her and she should do things she doesn’t want to.

But she’s not even four-years-old. I think my job is to protect her and her little spirit at this point in life and these swim lessons were breaking her confidence and joy in swimming. I was weighing that balance of letting her do something hard versus making her suffer through something that wasn’t necessary.

Mom and daughter picture in diner

So, you know what? I called the facility and told them we were done. I felt like a total “Karen”/helicopter parent confronting the situation, but the manager I talked to said the instructor is known to be blunt and sometimes downright abrasive (<– he literally said those words 🥴).

I don’t have anything against the instructor. She just wasn’t a good fit for Sadie. I do think some of the ways she approached teaching and the things she said were a bit rude. Like, if you roll your eyes at a preschooler, maybe you shouldn’t work with kids.

There’s something to be said about a “tough love” approach to teaching, but there’s more to be said about changing the way you teach based on the individual child you’re teaching. Every child is so unique and needs different things.

Family selfie

I hated seeing my happy, cheerful little girl cry at swim lessons! I felt bad that I subjected her to that. But Jimmy was right, she’s going to encounter tough people and situations in life. I just think she’s a little young to have to deal with that right now 😉

I absolutely loved swimming and wanted Sadie to feel the same way and she definitely felt the exact opposite during the lessons. Jimmy said that he thinks Sadie has a similar temperament to him with learning new skills, and even with water. He’s not a strong swimmer and doesn’t love going under water. He’s timid with learning new things and needs someone who is patient. Maybe Sadie is the same.

Whatever the case, I had to stand up for us. I am so bad at dealing with confrontation! I just hate it. But I didn’t want to see my child cry over this all again, you know? It kinda felt like my first “mama bear” moment and it was tough!

Family picture with mom, dad, and daughter

I talked with a few people at church, family, and neighbors and it seemed like everyone had a different way of how their child learned to swim. Some children did lessons, some did clinics, some learned from family members, others used life jackets or water wings. Even children within a family had different experiences than their siblings. It just goes to show that there’s no one way to teach a child something!

It’s a skill that’s so important in life, so I want to make sure it happens. I don’t know if we will do group lessons in the future, take a break, or if I’ll teach her myself. I do know that I want the water to be something fun. I also know I will protect my child, try to do what’s best for her, and navigate the delicate balance of having Sadie do hard things, but not allowing people to be too hard on her at such a young age.

Have you ever had a “mama bear” moment?

How did you or your child(ren) learn to swim?



  1. You definitely made the right decision standing up to them and taking her out of lessons. How unnecessary and unkind of the instructor to do that. Their job should be to build confidence and coach with kindness and patience. I really don’t think the “tough love” approach is helpful, for kids or adults.

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