Recently, I rearranged my schedule so that my preschooler could try out a private swim lesson. I watched my youngest daughter sitting at the edge of the pool, looking over at me in tears, begging to go home. I felt terrible. At home, she talks a lot about wanting to swim with her big sister. But at that moment, she was crying, more focused on her fear than on the outcome.
We’re all afraid of something. And for many of us parents, we’re afraid of something bad happening to our kids (or to us). Some of our fears stem from our own childhood experiences. When I was growing up, one of my cousins almost drowned and we lost an uncle in a water-related accident. For years, I was terrified of the water. I didn’t actually learn to swim until college. So naturally, I worry about my own kids when they’re around water.
In life, there are risks all around us. Because we can’t live in a bubble, we take steps to try to reduce those risks. And as parents, we try to educate ourselves about different dangers out there and take steps to protect our kids. My family’s house has a pool. Before we even moved in, I insisted that a child-proof fence be installed. As I watched the installer set up the fence, I breathed a sigh of relief. But I knew that I couldn’t stop with just the fence.
So my husband and I enrolled our preschoolers in group swim lessons. Our eldest took to the water immediately. But our youngest daughter has struggled. Almost one year later, she still hasn’t moved up to the next level. She panics and freezes up during lessons. She clings to her instructors, and at home when we try to practice, she does the same thing. She says she wants to swim, but she’s scared. I could try to teach her myself, but I prefer to leave that to an expert. I’ve never taught anyone how to swim, and I feel like I’m too emotionally invested in the situation. So that’s how I ended up at a private swim lesson on a weekday morning.
I worried about my daughter never overcoming that fear. And even though we’ve taken precautions, I couldn’t shake the thought of her slipping into our pool and not being able to make it out on her own. I weighed our options: continue the lessons or take a break.
As a mom, one of my biggest priorities is making sure that my kids are safe and in good hands, no matter what happens. I’m careful about who watches my kids and I’ve even made arrangements for who would care for them if something bad were to happen to me and my husband.
I want my kids to be safe and feel safe. I don’t want them to worry like I did as a kid. Growing up, one of my relatives wasn’t the nicest guy to be around. But he had a good job and was married and had kids of his own. I knew that my parents admired him. One time, I overheard my parents’ conversation about life insurance and who would take care of my brothers and me if something bad happened to them. I was terrified of the idea of losing my parents and having to live with that relative. To this day, I don’t know what would’ve happened to us if something bad had happened to our parents.
Eventually, the coach coaxed my daughter into the water, led her in a splashing game, and got her to relax. Slowly, he got her to float on her back. She cried and scrunched up her face. Then he let her take a break and they tried again. At the end of the lesson, my daughter shivered and sighed, exhausted from her efforts. As I wrapped her in a towel, I dried her tears and asked her how she felt. She said, “Mama, that was fun. I want to swim again.” I wasn’t expecting to hear that at all.
I’m so grateful to that kind and patient swim coach who stuck with her and knew just what to do to help her. My daughter may not turn out to be an Olympic swimmer (but anything is possible!), but the lesson ended on a good note. Still, I think we’re going to take a little break from swim lessons.
I have faith that at some point, she’ll learn to swim. I’ll continue to encourage her in the water, and of course I’ll be vigilant about the pool-fence and water safety. We’ll try formal lessons again next year. In the meantime, I’m learning to get a grip on my parenting fears. I’m doing the best I can, taking it one day at a time.
Myrna Serrano Setty is a wife, mom and lawyer living in Tampa, FL. She helps people love and protect their families through estate planning. To learn more about her work, visit serranosetty.com, subscribe to her free newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (813) 514-2946.