Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person's story.
I’ve always joked that I would be a terrible homeschool mom. I love my kid. I love spending time with her. Being a mother is truly my favorite thing in this world.
But I’m a terrible teacher. And I lack patience for people who don’t pick things up as fast as I do. I know this about myself — I attempted to be a tutor in college, and it was a complete and utter fail. I have no doubt that my trying to homeschool would result in lots of tears — both mine and my child’s. Still, it never occurred to me that I might not be able to teach my child a basic thing like how to swim.
When my daughter was born, we did mommy-daughter swim lessons for a few months. It was a lot of fun, and she seemed to really enjoy it. Even the getting her head briefly dunked part.
But something changed in the year that followed. My daughter had never been the baby that loved bath time, but she slowly started to really hate it. Every time I attempted to wash her hair, there were wails. Screaming, clawing, panicking… even at just a year old, my little girl could morph from sweet toddler to terrified demon child the second I attempted to get her hair wet for washing.
And swimming? Not a chance. While she had previously enjoyed being in the water with friends, suddenly she started writhing every time we got near a pool. In fact, for a long time, we just stopped going. It wasn’t fun for anyone to have her freaking out near water.
At around her third birthday, I realized that needed to change though. We live in Alaska and are forever surrounded by open bodies of water. Being able to swim is a safety thing, and I needed my daughter to know at least the basics. So, I started taking her to the pool myself at least once a week.
At first, we just sat in the shallow end and she cried. I would spend hours cuddling her right there in that water, not pushing for anything beyond being a few inches in it, praying she would get more comfortable over time.
Eventually, she did. I was able to convince her to let me carry her around the pool. We started bringing toys to play with in the shallow end, and once or twice I even got her to agree to quickly dunking her head underwater with me. But I was never able to get her to loosen her latch on me. This kid had no interest in attempting to float or practice kicks, and she never really wanted water anywhere near her face.
After a year, I decided it was time to bring in a professional. So, I spent gobs of money on expensive lessons and hoped she wouldn’t refuse before ever even trying.
It was touch-and-go that first lesson, as she sat on the side of the pool, looking on apprehensively in nervous anticipation of her turn. But then, the teacher called her name. And my daughter hesitantly walked over to this woman who seemed like a sweet grandmother, encouraging her forward.
By the end of that lesson, my daughter was proudly bobbing up and down in the water, dunking her own head without prompting. I was baffled.
“This happens all the time,” the instructor told me. “Most kids are willing to try things with me that they would never try with mom or dad. You’re her safety net. As long as you are in the pool, she has you to hold onto.”
That was when it hit me… she was totally right.
All that time, my daughter had been using me as her floatation device because she knew she could. Because she trusted me to keep her safe. That’s not a bad thing: I want to be that for my daughter. But when it came to teaching her a new, and somewhat scary, skill — I was not the person for the job.
Over the next few months, my daughter blossomed in the pool. I still have no idea what caused her initial fear of the water, but I do know that it melted away as she bobbed and played in the pool with an instructor, other kids her age, and me on the sidelines without a swimsuit of my own.
I’ve since realized the same is true about a lot of the things my daughter does. She always clings to me a bit at preschool drop-off, not wanting to be left behind. But the second I leave, I’m told everything changes: She plays, she participates, she loves every second of being with her friends. And when we attempted dance classes, having me in the room proved to be a huge distraction for my little girl. But there was a noticeable difference when I was no longer there to turn to.
My daughter and I have an incredible bond. But I’m realizing that sometimes that bond can get in the way of her growth. Because I am her safety net, and there’s something to be said for challenging ourselves without a safety net to fall back on.
Of course, I’ll always be here for my little girl. And I will act as her safety net as long as she needs me to. But I’m also not going to be as afraid of pushing her out on her own from time to time. Because I’ve seen how she rises to the occasion when I’m not there to cling to.
When it comes to math, science, and even driving 10 years from now, I’m probably going to leave it to other people to do the teaching. But when it comes to playing, talking, and helping her to work through problems — I’ll always be right there.
For me, I think part of being a good mom has been learning what I can — and can’t — teach my little girl.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice, after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also the author of the book and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via , her, and .