My husband and I sat on the edge of a pool recently, watching our three kids swim, when we realized things had changed.
Our 9-year-old daughter was diving for toys with another little girl; our 6-year-old son swam nearby, playing with his 3-year-old sister, who splashed around happily while wearing her “puddle jumper” floaties. The water was cold, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. They were just happy to be at the beach for the weekend.
It was then that we realized that our kids don’t quite need us as much anymore. For the first time since we became parents, we weren’t in the pool with a little one clinging to our necks, or swimming with an infant in tow. Our two older kids can now swim on their own safely. While we were still keeping a close eye on our preschooler — who was only feet away — we realized that she was perfectly happy swimming with her brother, without us.
Going out on the beach was easier, too. In previous years, we’d lug a tailgate-size tent out onto the beach for shade, along with beach chairs, sand toys and floaties, a cooler, even a jogging stroller so our baby would have a place to nap. Every year, I felt like an exhausted camel hauling the equipment to and from the beach each day.
But not this year.
We rented chairs and an umbrella for the weekend. The kids carried their own towels and sand toys.
It was easy. And when you have three young kids, easy doesn’t come often.
Which made me wonder, does parenting get easier as the children get older? Does life become less complicated, more effortless? Probably not. But what we’ve started to experience is that as our children get older and experience more freedom, we do too.
And when you’ve been changing diapers for nine years straight, or when you’ve been filling sippy cups and cutting bite-sized food for a toddler or preschooler for years — when there’s a moment of freedom, when you realize your kids are growing up a little and don’t need you quite as much anymore — it feels strange.
Last week, our little family headed to a community pool one evening after work, something we do a lot in the summer. Our older kids found their friends quickly, heading off for the waterslide, while and my husband and I split our time chasing after our preschooler, who hopped frequently from the kiddie pool to the “big pool.”
While I waded in shin-deep water in the baby pool, my youngest daughter called out to me to swim with her.
“Look, Mommy,” said called out, kicking her feet out of the water. “Let’s be dolphins!”
As kids get older, maybe it means a little more freedom. But they still need us, too.
Summertime is always a good time to brush up on swim safety. Here are some tips from the American Red Cross:
— Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
— Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone.
— Never leave a young child unattended near water; teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
— Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
— Maintain constant supervision.
— Make sure everyone in your family learns to swim well.
— If you have a pool, secure it with appropriate barriers.
— Avoid distractions when supervising children around water.
— If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
— Protect your skin. Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wear sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15.
— Drink plenty of water regularly, even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.