Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bad Mother

I was recently at a family reunion where the main attraction for the children was an in-ground pool. My girls were excited to dip into the pool as soon as we arrived, so we put on our sunscreen and headed out.

My 7-year-old decided to leave her life jacket behind and use a floaty toy instead. I put a life jacket on my 4-year-old and hung out on the edge near her, my feet dangling in the water.

Suddenly, my older daughter lost hold of her floaty toy in the deep part of the pool. The toy remained a finger length away; all she needed to do was reach for it. Instead, she panicked and began to dog paddle frantically in circles. I stood up in alarm but calmly encouraged her to grab the toy. She continued to swim and call for help when a man I didn't know jumped into the pool — fully clothed — and grabbed her.

All of this played out in a few seconds, but the shame I felt for not jumping in immediately to rescue my own child may last a while. What made me hesitate? What could those few seconds have cost me?

There is a fine line between encouraging our children to rescue themselves and knowing when they are about to drown. Life threatening situations call for us to put our needs aside and even sacrifice our lives (day-to-day or literally) for our children. But a situation like a forgotten piece of homework or credit card bill may require some thinking before we rush to our children's aid.

The lesson in my experience at the pool is a big one but I'm too close to it yet to fully comprehend how I or my daughter will come to terms with it in the future. When things like this happen in our parenting, it's important to accept that it happened and to take some positive action that will honor its significance. I'm so grateful to the person whose reaction and proximity were faster than mine. Even in that there is a lesson: we are not isolated in the love and care of our children. We need others to assist and help us to see the solution before it's too late.

Bless your little ones and big ones this summer.

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