For those of you who were around last year, you will remember that Ali got fired from Private Swim Lessons. And rightfully so – she doggedly persevered in her 6.5 year rebellion against allowing water to come into contact with her face.

The child doesn’t have a strong-willed cell in her brain – except when it comes to fear. And the convergence of h2o:face is the epitome of all fearful events.

At seven and a half, I foolishly hoped that things in her head would have magically fixed themselves over the winter. But as soon as the pool began coming up in conversation, she was quick to remind me that she had no interest in putting her face in the water, and therefore, there was really no need for me to make her take swimming lessons again.

But the kid is SEVEN AND A HALF. She’s as tall as a nine year old, and she’s starting to look seriously absurd in her Puddle Jumper – the same one she’s been wearing since she was one.

Puddle Jumper Absurdities

Even Toddler Ali is judging her.

So I decided that yes indeed, we were going to do swimming lessons again, and no indeed, I didn’t think it would work.

But I had a plan. It was a hail Mary, but it was all I had.

I would use her brother against her.

I signed them both up for lessons this year, once again with The Beloved Mr. Ray, and they would be receiving their lessons together, so that I could fully use Ali’s Elder-Sister-Complex to my advantage.

Thereafter, every time Ali began to bemoan the impending lessons and the inevitable facial-liquid contact, I would remind her in a grave, dramatic, and super-important voice, “Your brother is listening to you, honey. And if you’re afraid, he will be afraid. You must be brave – for his sake.”

It would shut her up every time, but she still wasn’t exactly looking forward to the process.

Nor was I, for that matter – not just because of her, but because of the flashbacks I was sure to have from last year – from Noah’s pootastrophe.

Thankfully, he’s potty-trained and past those Dark Days. But still. My Parenting PTSD is deep with that one.

Day One.


We showed up at the pool and began lessons. Ali was unsure but quiet. I was quick to remind her how very, very important her role was – she was her brother’s biggest influencer, and she didn’t want him to be scared for years upon years like she was/is – riiiiight??

It worked. She didn’t notice that Noah wasn’t paying any attention to her (but instead was whimpering over and over about how much he needed to poop and giving me The Tremors), and by the end of the day, she was willing to attempt it.


It was equivalent to a moon landing for our family.

Day Two.

Although Ali had successfully faced off with the water the day before, she had told me (privately, out of ear shot of her impressionable brother) that she had no desire to repeat her successes, and would really like to no longer attend swim lessons.

But that wasn’t an option, because her brother needed to learn.


Once in the pool, she again felt the full burden of my manipulation.


And, miraculously enough, swam. For the first time in her seven and a half years.


There was something empowering about that first swim. Something that grabbed ahold of her subconscious with a power greater than her fear. And with Mister Ray’s magical teaching abilities (something to which she didn’t offer a fighting chance last year), she was sold out.

She could swim in the deep end. She could swim so long that she had to come up for air and then go back under. She could even jump in the pool.

She. Was a Swimmer. And our family had metaphorically taken a trip to Jupiter, thanks much to her completely disinterested little brother and my shameless use of him as a pawn in my parenting chess game.


Noah learned very little, but that was the plan. I had no intention of him swimming. He has years of appropriate puddle jumper use to go.


So. If I were a Disney movie, would I be characterized as a magical Fairy Godmother, who finds unique ways to help their elect discover the strength within themselves? Or would I be an Evil Stepmother, pitting my subjects against each other with narrowed eyes, a pointy nose, and an evil Raven on my shoulder?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that it worked.

So, Parents. Find your children’s weak spots. Find their sense of responsibility. Find where their conscience is most sensitive. And use that sucker against them as hard as you can.

For the Greater Good.

24 thoughts on “Parenting By Manipulation.

  1. Way to go, Ali! This post totally gave me flashbacks to my early teen years, when I used to hear my mom say, “You’re the oldest. You need to set an example for the rest of the family,” about ten times a day. So, regardless of whether you’re an Evil Stepmother or a Fairy Godmother, you are not the first mom to launch this plan on her offspring. (It worked on me, by the way. We had a “blended” family, and I went from carefree only child to uber-responsible oldest of four within 18 months.)

  2. Definitely Fairy Godmother. I am so proud of her for swimming. Even though she was coerced it is great. I bet Noah swims before long.

  3. Trying to read your blog while sitting in the drive through this am was kind of embarrassing. I was smiling like a fool and laughing like a crazy person. I’m surprised they actually gave me my food and didn’t call someone to come get me. Lol. Use what you can-you know they use those big eyes and “love you, Mommy” to get what they want! Thanks for a great start to my day.

  4. You are most definitely a magical Fairy Godmother! The best part is she now knows how to swim! Good job!!

  5. Congratulations! That is truly huge news! And as a former swim instructor and lifeguard, I’m quick to say that the ability to swim is so very important, you should use whatever means necessary (short of being unkind, of course) to get her to learn. And as I remind my kids all the time (because they are really fascinated by this fact for some reason), once you learn to swim you can NEVER forget.

  6. Tendai learned to put her head under water only when her younger brother who had only been in a pool like twice in his whole life (that we know of since he only came when he was three) stuck his head in and swam around like a fish…) Forget responsibility… she just couldnt be the older sister who couldnt swim when her little brother could!!! :)

  7. Yay!! I’m so glad she finally learned to swim! In my family, we were the opposite. I’ll never forget the day my mom pushed my brother in the pool, (he was 8), and from then on he LOVED it. Like seriously, loved it. Hopefully, that won’t happen with Noah.

  8. Hooray for Ali!! And kudos for the mom-nipulation! It is a skill with which all truly great moms are blessed!

  9. How in the WORLD were you silent while she was swimming across the pool?! I would have been yelling and screaming! I don’t know how you did it. :-) I’m so proud of Ali! Tell her I said so, and I can’t wait to congratulate her in person!

  10. I’m not a parent, but I am an educator & I have to say this is wonderfully brilliant. You used what she found most motivation (being a good role model for her brother) to cause her to make her own choice to get beyond her fear & swim. SSo I say no to either the evil stepmother or the fairy godmother. You’re the less common Disney role of the really good mom that found a clever way to help her child grow, & she will some day be so very grateful for that.

  11. Way to go Ali! To be honest, I hope you’re still blogging when she’s old enough to read this. I really want to know what she’ll think.

  12. Nice work!! And genius parenting I might add. Your daughter sounds a lot like mine. Mine is 5 though and I just signed her up again and requested she try blowing bubbles in the bathtub to get over her water in the face fear. Thankfully she also has an impressionable little brother I can use against her!! hahaha! Way to go!

  13. It’s probably better than my method which was to force dunk until they got used to it. I’m not very patient. They seem to have survived it fine, tho, and still love going into the water.

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