Poolside Smackdown: Bullied By A Swim Instructor

For a moment I wondered if I was a good parent or part of a breed of guilt laden moms who overcompensate by letting their kids run wild.

But then clarity hit me and I’m not; and it angers me to no extent to be judged by people who don’t know me, and to be told that if I’m not doing my job as a parent someone has to intervene for the safety of my children.

You are questioning me about the safety of my children? Let me step back a bit.

I live in a condominium with a shared pool, and that pool has rules: no glass, no diving, no running, no toys, etc.  No one follows the rules; it is Miami after all.  In fact, they should be renamed as “guidelines.”  If security sees you with a ball in the pool, they won’t say anything but if a resident complains then they will remove the ball.

I’m absolutely okay with that.  If anything I am the over cautious parent who doesn’t want my rough and tumble boys to bother anyone.  So I was taken aback when this happened:

It was the last week of summer vacation and we had a pool play date with my two boys and two other children.  Our day consisted of pool, pizza, pool, beach, pool – pretty typical for here. My friend and I plopped ourselves in the shade and watched the boys.

Doing this does not necessarily make me a bad parent.

Exactly how I was sitting that day

Towards the end of the day a swim instructor arrived to give his back-to-back swim lessons; he was hired by his students … not my building.  I know that if I’m paying for lessons, I wouldn’t want other kids who happen to be at the pool to interrupt.  So I told my group to stay at the other end of the pool and leave the instructor to give his class in peace.  They obliged and from then on stayed away from the class.

My boys began running and jumping.  I know it’s not the safest thing in the world but I don’t bubble wrap my kids.  I do let them take calculated risks, but when they began jumping near the edge I got up to talk to them.  The swim instructor asked me if I wanted him to talk to the kids to explain why that wasn’t safe.  I accepted; as a teacher myself I know children listen to anyone more than to their parents.

Throughout the instructors’ stay at the pool my group of kids behaved, got rowdy, I got up to talk to them, they behaved, got rowdy again, and I got up to talk to them again.  I didn’t feel the need to pull them out, I didn’t think they were being brats, dangerous or bothering anyone. They were being kids at a pool play date.

Each time I got up, the instructor also yelled at my kids to stop.  We did this simultaneous “hey” thing several times and I began getting irritated.  Shouldn’t he be focusing on his lesson rather than on my children?

The kids began a different game: one with the potential to be dangerous but that with some guidelines I thought would be okay.  One child stands on the border, and another one pushes him in.  The one falling makes a silly figure on his way into the water. Eventually the pushing became harder, and so I got up and began walking to them to redirect.  Not to stop them, but to show them how they could play this game safely.


This can be played with acceptable risk

As I walked the swim instructor yelled at them.  A bit frustrated, I told him “I got this” and continued walking.  He told me what they were doing was dangerous and it was his responsibility to point that out.  I politely replied, “thank you, I got this.”

Interjection.  If you know me you know I am a complete dork and if confronted my first reaction is to cry … not to be rude, respond, or get into an argument.

So I was polite.  The instructor began to lecture me, and so did this other couple who out of nowhere scold me for my lack of parenting skills. What?

It got so bad (and again, I am such a dork), that my friend got up to talk to the instructor and “defend” me when he said:

“if you guys aren’t doing your job as a parent it is my job to intervene for safety reasons”

Huh? Who are you to tell me that I am not doing my job as a parent?  I was furious, livid, embarrassed, powerless, and so but so incensed that not one single damned word came out of me.

Because I doubted myself: was I not doing my job as a parent?

they were not playing chicken fight that day, and right after the picture I told boys to move away from the edge of the pool ...

they were not playing chicken fight that day, and right after the picture I told boys to move away from the edge of the pool …

I am (or was) a preschool teacher.  Let’s say I’m at the playground and I see a child that is a bit too high for my comfort on a ladder.  His mom has asked him to come down several times, he does, and then heads back up.  She is standing right there.  Should I go and tell the kid to come down because she is not doing her job as a parent?

Not in my opinion.  Each child is a universe and has capabilities (or lacks capabilities) that an outsider will never know.  Each family’s tolerance for risk is different.  My tolerance for risk might be too much for you or vice versa.

If that mom, knowing I was a teacher, asked me for help in speaking with the child, I would.  If that mom then said she would take it from here, I would back off.  Her initial invitation does not give me the right to take over care of her child while at the playground.

Now, if the child is running into oncoming traffic?  Then it’s my duty not as a teacher, nor a mom, but as a human being to stop him and report the mother.  There is such a thing as eminent danger.

I’m just not sure where that line is, and if I say it’s up to each parent to draw it then you can cite abuse, neglect, and whatever else as a need for outside interference.  I don’t disagree.  Children deserve the best, and society needs a safety net to protect them.

But I know that my kids and their friends were not bothering anyone, interrupting anyone’s swim class, or being dangerous enough for outside intervention.  And I don’t think I am a neglectful, inattentive parent.  I wasn’t partying it up poolside while my kids played without supervision.  I wasn’t so distracted with my friend, or on my phone that I wasn’t watching.  I was there and I was aware.  If I weren’t, I wouldn’t have been getting up to redirect my kids.

I posted something on my personal facebook page.  Granted, I didn’t do a great job of describing what had just happened because I was still livid.  I also didn’t say I was the mom in the story.  I wanted to hear from others, honestly, without them trying to make me feel better, what they thought.  There was a lot of room for interpretation, and there were just as many interpretations of what happened.  I didn’t take any of it personally though I secretly (not so secretly now) admit I gave a virtual high five to the guy who said he would beat up the swim instructor.

Yes, I allow my kids to jump a pool

Yes, I allow my kids to jump into a pool

We all judge people; it’s necessary to decide who you allow into your life or not. I am not sitting in a glass house throwing stones, but I know that next time I see a mom laying on a chair by the pool I may not be so quick to label her as a sofa mom: one who parents from the couch.  I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of that before.

Someone judged my parenting and decided I was not doing it well.  If he was paying attention he would have seen:

a mom who loves her children more than anything in this world.

a mom who understands that you need to be flexible within limits, and that some children need constant reminders.  That does not mean they are rude or spoiled.  It means they are learning.

a mom who was parenting and disciplining in her own way, and whose children’s behavior was not endangering or bothering anyone in the pool.

a mom who is quite aware she is not “mother-of-the-year” and accepted your invitation to help, but who expects you to respect when she sets a limit and says “I’ll take care of it.”

I was embarrassed by this whole situation.  After all this is where I live, my home, and someone felt he had the right to talk to my guest and I that way.

When I feel powerless and angry I need to retract.  My friend left and I was still shaken.  I picked up a pad and paper and went back to ask the swim instructor for his name.  I wanted to sort out what I wanted to tell him so that I wouldn’t regret my words.  He wouldn’t tell me.  He said that if I wanted to find out who he was I could do it on my own.

I didn’t bother.  It would be more effort than I had time for. Not because I didn’t care and not because I was too intimidated but because my way of standing up to people like him is to stick to my guns and continue being the best parent I can be.  And still go to the pool, and still have my kids be who they are with the limits that I choose to give them.

So next time dear swim instructor … if you spent half an hour lecturing me about how I’m not doing my job as a parent, that’s half an hour that you have not done yours as a swimming instructor.  Stick to your real job buddy … and I’ll stick to mine.



2 thoughts on “Poolside Smackdown: Bullied By A Swim Instructor

  1. I was waiting to hear a big apology from Mr. Swim Instructor. I guess we all want people to “learn their lessons.”

    I feel strongly that no one person is better than anyone else, we all make mistakes, and we can’t be so judgemental. You are a great mom and an even greater human being for not losing your cool in front of the kids. In the end, I think the kids are the ones who learned the real lesson. Not only did they get some serious pool safety tips, but more importantly, how to let it go and move on.

  2. The swim instructor was out of line, in my opinion. Just because you invited him to assist does not mean you didn’t have the right to withdraw your request/consent. As a parent, it is very frustrating to be on the receiving end of judgmental comments from strangers (or even loved ones at times) who do not understand your kids, the context of a situation, or even that a parent of small children must pick his or her battles. Sorry this happened to you. If it helps, I suggest that you tell yourself this young man probably has no clue what he’s talking about, and is still suffering from that particular brand of omniscience that we only have in our late teens and early twenties. Once life goes a few rounds with you, you tend to be a little more cautious! Finally, I don’t know about you, but my patience and my situation-reading meter is a little impaired now by 8+ hour training weekends/12+ hour training weeks! And it’s a little tougher to let go of things and move on than it would be otherwise. Onward and upward, and may your friend have triplets one day!

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