I love Barton Springs pool and as I get older, I appreciate the cold water more and more. One of my favorite ways to start a morning is meditation and a hard workout followed by a dip in that cold water. It soothes my bones and aching muscles, and it reduces inflammation.
Barton Springs maintains a year-round temperature of approximately 70 degrees. It isn’t freezing (I have taken ice baths before, and that is a whole different kind of cold!), but it is almost 30 degrees below body temperature, so it can be quite a shock when you first enter the water.
If you hang out near the steps entering the pool, you will begin to hear a common conversation: What is the best way to get into the water? Invariably, there are two opposing perspectives. One feels that, like ripping off a Band-Aid, the best strategy is to just jump in. Get it over with. Take the full shock in one fast moment (and perhaps offer a startled scream under water) and then you will be fine.
The other view prefers to take it slow, entering the water one body part at a time. First the feet, get used to that, then the lower leg. Eventually, after a sequential progression up the body (and a lot of Lamaze breathing) the person is fully in the water.
After hearing enough of these conversations, I began to notice a pattern. These two types of people did not understand each other’s approach. Those who liked to jump in often pressured those who didn’t. They would tease, cajole or even ridicule the other person, convinced that if they just jumped in, they would have the same experience they had. Sometimes, they would even look at me and try recruiting me to help persuade the other person that they were doing it wrong.
Those who preferred to take their time responded in a much more reserved manner. They seemed more inwardly directed, focusing primarily on their process or dealing with the criticism from the other person. I cannot remember hearing someone slowly working their way into the pool telling a jumper that they were wrong for jumping. If anything, they would say things like, “this is just how I like to do it.”
I am totally a jumper. My wife, Julie, prefers to take her time. I can remember feeling that her approach seemed pretty ridiculous. Why prolong the discomfort, especially in those particularly sensitive areas of the body? I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t understand.
But after listening to other people have the same conversation I realized two things. First, these two types seemed to be hardwired. I’ve heard older couples say that they have been having the same disagreement about how to get into the water for decades. A jumper doesn’t becoming someone who takes it slow, and vice versa.
The second realization was that though neither side of the debate seem to understand the other, the jumpers tended to express themselves in ways that showed contempt for the other person.
I began to think back on things I had thought and said about Julie taking so long to get in the pool. I realized that I too had shown a lack of respect for her perspective. And because getting slowly into the cold water is something that is likely hardwired for her, I was also showing a lack of respect for her needs.
And this is significant for us as parents. For our children, we are the ultimate authority. Because we have so much power in their lives, we can do and say things that have profound impacts on their lives and emotional well-being.
It is easy for us to forget that though we share DNA and family culture, and, as a result, we have much in common with our kids, that they are still very different from us. And with those differences come different needs.
Our lives are busy and parenting is often hard, frustrating work. When we get at the end of our rope, it is easy to want our children to just do what we say when we say it. We want them to jump. But there are times that they need a more gradual approach.
For her second birthday, our daughter received a balance bike. She was very excited to get it. We assembled it, she hopped on and immediately fell over on the hard floor. She was banged up, frightened by her unexpected fall, and refused to touch the bike for months.
I found this frustrating. When I get on a bike, I turn back into a ten-year-old. I love riding, and I knew she would love it, too. All she needed was a positive experience on the balance bike, and she would be hooked.
I quickly figured out that, like when I tried to get Julie to jump into Barton Springs, pressuring our daughter to get on her new bike not only didn’t work, it introduced discomfort that made her more resistant. Like Julie, she needed to take steps at her own pace.
Now, our daughter is a maniac on her bike.
When you get stuck with your child, disengage and take a step back if you can. Does your child have needs that you don’t understand? By applying expectations that disregard those needs, are you doing more harm than good?
Parenting well is very difficult. It requires constant learning to be skillful at it. Listening to your child and learning his/her needs, especially when they are needs that you do not share, is essential to that process!