My sweet boy at Lake Tahoe last summer. After he begged and begged, I told him he could take off his life jacket if he stayed on the rocks by the beach.
My childhood was full of swimming with a dad who loved the water. We swam at hotels, we traveled to visit hot springs, we floated irrigation canals in the country, and we swung from rope swings into the creeks. Swimming was a constant in my childhood.
No one in my family ever competed as a swimmer, but we are all confident in the water—not overconfident, but not nervous.
That all changes for me, though, when my kids are around the water. I hate to take my kids swimming, even at the hotel. I used to love visiting the lake, but now I’m terrified, even if my kids are wearing life jackets the whole time.
My 11 year old has almost had it with my fears. He’s been in swimming lessons for five years, and he loves jumping in deep water, swimming under the surface, and all the other good stuff I enjoy doing myself. But I am too afraid to let him do any of that, especially if my husband isn’t around to help me watch all the other kids and count their heads constantly. My son protests loudly about wearing a life jacket everywhere water is present, and the pushback is to the point that I don’t want to go swimming with the kids anymore.
But lately I’ve been thinking about what a gift it was that my dad taught us how to swim, and once we developed basic skills, he really trusted us. That trust encouraged us keep learning and discover our limits in the water. Instead of steering clear of potentially dangerous situations, he equipped us with abilities we needed to navigate them.
I realize that, in contrast, I’m parenting from a reactive position, and that is never good. But how can I allow my kids to try swimming or, really, any other new activity when the worst possible outcome is death? Even if I’ve taught them what they need to know, how can I be sure they’ll remember?
The problem with proactive parenting is that one of two things must be present: 1) trust that your kids recognize their limits and exercise self-control, and 2) a willingness to accept risk. I guess when it comes to my kids, I fall short on both fronts.
So tell me, how do you take the leap? Even if you do trust your kids, allowing them to do potentially dangerous things on their own is a risk at some level. How do parents reconcile this, empowering their kids to make their own wise choices when there’s no guarantee they’ll be safe?
I better figure it out soon because I’m pretty sure shielding my son from sexual pressure, drugs, alcohol, and inappropriate media is bound to lead to rebellion. And I’m not excited to take that risk either. •