An interesting thing happened this weekend at the life saving competition my daughter entered. The conditions were fairly nasty. There was an icy cross-shore wind. Various strong rip currents and very short breaks between sets of pounding waves. She’s a pretty strong swimmer, and she can handle herself in the ocean. There are safety officers all around monitoring them, and if they ever get close to being in danger, they get whipped out of the ocean super fast.
On this occasion she set off on her swim really well, in about 3rd place as they headed towards the buoy. But a few metres just before it, sets of waves started rolling in, and coming in hard. She got stuck. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get round that orange buoy. Eventually there were about 5 or 6 of these little heads bobbing up and down, all stuck in the same place, trying to move forward, but fighting against the currents, and not going anywhere.
By the time they eventually got round that buoy and came into shore, they were completely wiped out. Then they still had to sprint around a flag and get to the finish line. She came in 10th, getting points for her team, but she was SOBBING. She was so upset that she could hardly breathe. I held her strong little body on that finish line and hugged her so tight and felt so PROUD of her, but I also felt a lot of guilt. How could I let her go through this ordeal? This is supposed to be fun! I’m ruining the ocean for her! I felt like the worst mum in the world, and mulled over it for ages.
I then chatted to a few friends after this incident, getting their opinions on it. And I got some really interesting perspectives. Some parents were like “Hell no, that sounds terrible! Poor thing! I’m sure you won’t let her do that event again?”. But a few others said things like “Wow, that’s going to be incredibly character building for her. That must have been tough to watch, but how is she feeling about it now?”.
And how does she feel about it now? I asked her this afternoon if she’ll be doing the same surf swimming event at the next competition and she looked at me like I’d asked a stupid question.”Why would I not Mom?” She’s forgotten all about the trauma (although I most certainly have not!). She says she learned a lot of things and she knows she can do it better next time.
From a holistic view, I know that she also learned all about timing, a great life lesson if there ever was one. Sometimes you can have all the good intentions in the world, and more than enough talent, but if your timing is off, and you get caught behind a set of pounding waves (conditions beyond your control), you can fall really short. But you just have to push through on your own, because nobody else is going to save you (unless you’re really in danger, and then someone hopefully will;).
These difficult lessons are essential teachings for our kids, even though they may make us parents deeply uncomfortable. We’ve all seen the stats. Depression, anxiety and mental health issues are rising amongst the young people in our world and it’s becoming pervasive. There are so many factors at play, but as parents one of the only ones we have control over is the lessons we let our kids learn as we raise them. We have to try our hardest to refrain from making their lives too easy, because we need to raise kids who are resilient in the face of adversity, and who have the characters and skills which will make them adaptable to the massive changes in the world that we know are coming.
Obviously it all depends on your child and your family situation, as only you know what they really need. And not making things too easy for them certainly doesn’t mean being hands off parents either, and letting them suffer through bullying, or learning difficulties for example. Instead it’s about letting them make mistakes, or go through tricky situations that you know will benefit them in the long run.
So even when you feel like you want to sprint into the ocean fully clothed and rescue them from whatever hardship they’re working through, I’m trying to remind myself to take a big a breath, hold back and refrain from making their life one easy slipstream. Because if we do this, then by the time they leave our homes and our care, life is going to be extremely hard and disappointing for them. Rather let them have little hardships now, than years of despair and confusion as a young adult.
We all KNOW that we should be doing this (it’s no newsflash), but sometimes we actually need the world to give us a crystal clear signal and what happened on Sunday in those rough seas was a timely reminder for me. And I’m grateful for that.