“The miracle of children is that we just don’t know how they will change or who they will become.” Eileen Kennedy-Moore
I am trying to overcome a love/hate relationship with water, good old H2O in mass quantities, like pools and lakes. I’ve always liked playing in and around water. I’ve even had some “near death” water experiences, but my fear of water surfaced when I had kids. All of the sudden I had horrible images of my beautiful, helpless babies falling in to deep water with disastrous consequences. In my imagination, I wouldn’t be there or get them in time…horrible, just horrible things like this would race through my mind every time I took my kids around water between the ages of one and five. So naturally, I bought many floating accessories to be prepared: swimsuit with built in floaters, life jacket, arm floaties, and a float for the baby to sit in. As a parent, I have an internal drive to protect my children from harm, hurt and danger. When we were around water, I wanted to insure that my child would not fall victim to water’s treacherous and unyielding grasp. Thank goodness for baby floatation devices and the assurance they give!!
However, as a parent, there comes a point where we should move from protecting our children to preparing them. Protecting my children is my job, but so is preparing them for the best and worst life has to offer. The goal of our relationship with our children is independence, and we only have, what seems like a very short time, to set them up for success.
Slowly, I relinquished one floating device, and then another as my kids gained their feet and ability in the water. Honestly, they can’t truly learn to swim with a life jacket on. With a life jacket on they can learn moves, techniques, ideals, but until the life jacket is gone, they will never truly learn to swim. Finally, I had to let go of the life jacket. I had to let the kids venture into the water; to learn the way it feels on their body, to experience it and to master it. Of course there is risk for both the parent and child in removing the life jacket. For the parent, the fear may be very real that something tragic will happen to their child. For the child, the fear of the water may be overwhelming. However, parents know there is freedom in the risk. The risk of learning to swim brings with it the freedom to swim in open water, to swim fast, the ability to go down water slides or be on a swim team.
Sometimes in life, we risk leaving the “life jacket” on too long in our own lives, or those of our children. The break seems too scary, the leap too costly. My daughter loved her life jacket, she knew what she could do with it, and was hesitant to give it up. If I were to let her continue to use the life jacket, eventually she would have become dependent on it, convinced that only with the jacket should she be in the water at all. The thought of actually swimming independently would have become too absurd to even consider. With most things in life there seems to be a point when we have to take off the item of safety and risk it on our own “in open water”. Sometimes we take off right out of the gate, and some times we bob for a bit, sometimes we may even take in some water and really have to focus to get our legs under us. But without removing the “life jacket”, we would never really know how to “swim”.
As parents, we live in this balance: trying to figure out just how to parent, without leaning too much this way or that way, and it’s HARD!! Parents, I want to encourage you today. It’s hard, but we’re in this together! There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but being present, caring and understanding is all children need. Take a moment and think about some of the things you’ve done well! Or, ask your kids – the answers might surprise you (mine said “babysitting babies” smile). Spend some time in that, often illusive, mental space that will allow you to just be and breathe. And give another parent a high-five because being a good parent is hard!