How my parenting journey shaped my approach to work in the water
"When I was a young toddler my parents didn’t enrol me to ballet classes, instead I danced in our empty living room. I didn’t go to rock climbing lessons but instead I climbed the backyard hill which was my Everest. I played outside with my neighbours’ kids, all together, regardless of age differences, so it was completely natural for a 3 year old to play with a teenager.
Sometimes my mum would sit outside with other mums, watching me from a distance while chatting, socialising, having her own fun. But most times I was out on my own, and she would just take a quick glimpse occasionally to make sure I was alright.
I learnt to swim in the Mediterranean ocean as we just cycled to the nearest beach daily once I was at an age where I could sit on my mom’s bicycle with her.
I didn’t have a busy afternoon schedule and when I asked my parents to help me find something to do because I’m bored, they would always send me to find it by myself.
Regardless of how much I protested I normally found the solution independently, and that might have been one of the following: creating an imaginary game such as watching the clouds for hours and finding creatures or patterns in them and inventing stories about it, or laying under a big eucalyptus tree and having deep and meaningful conversations with it, drawing for hours, building fantasy castles, or just singing and dancing, have been my solutions to “what should I do now”. All those things that kids do if given the opportunity to have enough time with nothing to do.
My childhood was a lot about open fields with lots of trees and orchards, flowers and herds of sheep. It was also a life under the threat of war, when fathers were suddenly called in the middle of the night to put on their uniforms, to pick up their guns, and say goodbye to their children, while us kids ran to the bomb shelters. Israel of those days was a lot about immigrants building a country while grieving for those that were lost in the holocaust. However, despite of the gloomy reality, my childhood was also full of magic, love, laughter, real friendship and connections and I couldn’t wait to re-live it through the eyes of my own children.
When I eventually became a mum, the world was already so different to the world of my childhood, and with my children growing up it was shifting faster than ever, so my parenting style adjusted with it. As I gradually didn’t feel confident anymore to allow them to wonder around the block without close supervision, the spontaneous play that I had as a kid had to be carefully organised. As I’m part of this era I understand why parents has to became more vigilant and driven to control every aspect of their children lives as it doesn’t feel safe otherwise. Furthermore, we all feel the pressure of the demand to prepare them to survive a faster, smarter, more sophisticated world.
However, I believe that despite our limitations and worries we can still allow our kids some space to be bored, to take their time, to struggle and make mistakes, to practice freedom and learn that like everything this practice has the potential to result in joy and pain. This is my attempt to deliver an empowering massage to parents to give their children time and space to ‘just be’, to allow them to find their own adventures and discoveries even if it means stumbling on their way while we let them get into the mud of what this life is all about.
As I’m an aquatic fanatic, and as water is maybe the only place I can really relax, it was natural for me to allow my kids to be free in ways I couldn’t practice outside of the water.
I was an elite competitive swimming coach and a young mum to a young baby girl. I coached a group of energetic teenagers, and at the end of my daily session, my baby was brought to the pool by her father for an hour of family play in the water.
She was always excited and eager to enter the water. Not hunger, tiredness, or even the cold water would stop her.
By the age of 12 months our playtime became more adventurous, more daring. Now when she was able to hold her breath under the water for 20-30 seconds she had lots of time to move freely under the water, using her arms and legs in an instinctive kick and pull. She would normally want to start her playtime by jumping at the deep end of the pool, then gently surfacing up to find me under the water, and climbing my back so she can ‘catch a ride’ by holding my swimsuit straps while I swam to the other side of this Olympic sized pool. This was our favourite game and my opportunity to be with my baby, my miracle, in my preferred world, the water.
She was 19 months old when we drove to the Northern part of Israel for a camping, bushwalking and swimming trip at one of the most beautiful reserve, complete with rivers and waterfalls. While I breastfed her 3 months old brother, my daughter took her father to stroll around the reserve, insisting of jumping into every pool, puddle, or tiny waterfall she encountered along the way, and protested if her father said no. Only when I entered the water myself I realised how freezing the water was, then learnt that it was about 10c° and thought to myself how my mother, her grandmother, would have lost her mind knowing I was allowing my baby to swim in this freezing cold water.
However, as she was so happy in the water and didn’t signal any feeling of discomfort, I just looked at my baby with wonder, while she shattered everything I thought I knew about babies.
By the age of 24 months she found a way to independently come up for air between dives, and by the age of 36 months she dove freely in the Mediterranean ocean.
I didn’t have a teaching plan or an agenda to what she could or couldn’t do. I just followed her exploratory play with wonder, holding a curious and open attitude to what’s possible for her and by providing a safe container, in which she was free to make mistakes knowing that I’m at arm’s reach. So, when she just wanted to go up and down the pool stairs for weeks, I was there making sure that she is safe while sometimes suggesting games around the stairs. At other times when she just wanted to jump from the edge and climb back, almost a million times, I again just watched, and only when it was absolutely necessary did I give her a hand.
I actually didn’t know anything about how one should teach a baby to swim and I didn’t even wish her to learn anything specific. I only wanted to extend the joy of being with her in the water and to watch the wonder of her becoming stronger.
We were using public pools, so soon our water play attracted attention, mainly as you wouldn’t normally see babies in the 80’s jumping and swimming in the “big” adult pool.
Soon we were approached by parents with young babies, asking us questions and requesting instruction. I soon realised that as much as I’m excited to share my discoveries with other parents they didn’t possess my aquatic skills and the outcome wasn’t the same. This was the start of my journey of learning how to teach other parents what was quite natural for me. It took me a few more years, giving birth to two other children, and moving a few houses, to formally start teaching parents with their babies in my own pool. It took me another 15 years to verbalise and refine a formulated method that can be delivered by others as well. Now, 30 years later, I get to witness how those babies I initially taught became parents themselves are now sharing their joy with their own newborns.
So, for me teaching babies to be free in the water is about sharing the love and wonder of being a parent; it’s about respecting little humans and believing that they are capable of bringing new great things for the future of humanity."
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