This month at VT Mommies I write about taking my kids swimming and the anxiety I feel when my kids are around water. Since writing this, I've taken my kids swimming a few times and it has been great. They absolutely love it and beg to go to the pond every day.
Jumping in: Taking my Kids Swimming
“It’s going to be at a swimming pool, mom! We get to go swimming!” my daughter enthusiastically tells me about her classmate’s upcoming birthday party. My stomach clenches as I wonder how I’ll manage that one, especially if it is on a day when my husband works and I’ll have to take all three children, none of whom can swim yet.
I have no particular reason to feel anxious about my children and water. I have always loved swimming and consider myself to be a strong, if not fast, swimmer. As a child, swimming was one of my greatest pleasures, and, as an adult, I find it both invigorating and calming. I never sleep better than after a good swim, and the sight of a sparkling blue swimming pool or clear, glittering lake makes me profoundly happy.
Even the way I learned to swim should quell any fear I have about my own children and water. When I was six, my mom signed me up for what she thought were swimming lessons at the local high school. But as she sat in the bleachers with my little sister, watching lines of kids dive into the Olympic size pool and start swimming across, she realized it was swim team, not swim lessons. There was nothing she could do as she watched me obediently jump into the pool when the whistle signaled my turn. I didn’t sink. I doggy-paddled my way across and loved every minute of it.
But the thought of my own three children in a body of water scares the crap out of me. There is no doubt that drowning is a real danger, but to some degree, my fear is irrational, especially since I am not particularly risk-averse in other areas of their childhood. I let my kids climb high up in trees without a second thought, we go for bike rides on curvy country roads, and I drove them hundreds of times on the Anacostia freeway in Washington D.C., all of which should be scarier than allowing them to swim in a life-guarded pool or lake under my supervision.
I blame my fear on anxiety. Thanks to a combination of my anxiety-prone genetic makeup and our increasingly anxiety-prone parenting culture, I have let swimming slip into the category of “hazard to avoid” rather than “essential childhood pleasure.” I’m not sure why my perspective on swimming—but not tree climbing—has been skewed, but I’ve somehow let the unlikely possibility of tragedy override the absolute joy of going swimming on a hot summer day.
Some degree of anxiety is a good thing: it can sharpen our minds in a high stake situation, like taking an exam, and ensure we are vigilant while supervising children at a swimming pool. But keeping anxiety at just the right level can be tricky, especially when our children are involved and the protective instinct isn’t always rooted in a rational risk assessment.
This summer, I will get my “swim anxiety” into balance and share my love of swimming with my children. I will take them to the upcoming pool party and we will meet friends at the lake for play dates. To help ease my fears, I will ask my friends with one child to help me watch my three, and I will sign them up for swim lessons, making sure they are lessons and not team practices. Not yet, at least.