by Mommy MD Guide Jennifer Hanes, DO
Where is the last place you want to end up in your swimsuit? In the emergency room, watching me and an entire room full of people working and praying to save your child. In that moment, the enormous guilt felt by moms unwilling to get their hair wet and swim with their child, in what may have been their last day at the pool. Ever. This is my warning and advice on swimming with children, both as an emergency doctor and a mom of two little ones.
The serious part first. All children need to be supervised by an adult in the pool. I all too frequently hear, “I will watch from the side and jump in if they need me.” To begin with, being on the side, unless you are a lifeguard, almost universally means your mind is elsewhere. When your body is physically in the pool, it helps you to stay more engaged in your focus. Secondly, although every mom swears she is watching every second, this is never the case, especially when on the phone or chatting with a friend. If older children are swimming, and even if they are very mature and responsible, it is not the same as your level of attention. Most adolescents are unable to assess when another swimmer is in physical danger either from lack of experience or they interpret the distress as a game. It takes an adult to quickly assess danger and act on it. (To clarify however, this is different from a teen lifeguard who is trained and being paid to only watch kids in the pool, not play with them.) One of the worst mistakes is called diffusion of responsibility. When lots of parents are present, there is a false sense of security somebody else is always watching, when in reality, nobody is.
Now with the admonishment over, let’s get to the fun part. It is shocking the number of moms who refuse to swim with their children yet then pay to go work out. You can get in a great workout in the pool no matter the ages of your children, and you can create a lot of wonderful memories in the process. You can race them in swimming laps, run underwater, jump on one leg, or hold your breath. Older kids can play Sharks and Minnows, Marco Polo, and underwater tea parties. Bath toys are a fun idea for the pool, such as measuring cups and funnels. The pool is a wonderful place to place sink or float with objects or use imaginations to create scenarios like being stranded on an island. If you are looking for exercise, you can throw your kids in the air or try to carry them over your head. It seems counterintuitive at times, but if children are played with intensely given one-on-one attention, they will feel content to play on their own when you return home. This intense play, in the end, gives you the break you want. I view swimming as a chance for me to play with my children knowing they will be worn out so I can have Mommy time afterwards.
If your lack of swimming is due to concern you will dry your hair or damage the hair color simple, mix up a spray bottle of one part conditioner to three parts tap water. Spray your hair before getting into the pool. This will ensure your hair absorbs the water, and the conditioner leaving it less penetrable to the pool water. If your concern is how you look in a swimsuit, I have a truly scientific guide to picking flattering swimwear that is different from anything you have ever seen. The article and pictures are on pinterest http://pinterest.com/drhanes/ If you are unhappy with your current body also realize that being active and playing with your children in the pool will get you that much closer to your ideal swimsuit body!
My final warning is to beware of cell phones around the pool. Text messaging and e-mail are incredibly distracting, and any text or email should be able to wait until you are finished swimming. That said, I do keep my phone by the pool to watch the time and to have if I would need to call for help should there be an emergency. I am happy to share with you my smart phone savior, Ziploc bags! I put my phone in a Ziploc mostly to keep it from getting damp. It is too hot in the Texas heat to leave the phone in the sun so I put it under a towel. As you could predict, the phone tried to jump in the pool this week. But thanks to Ziploc, it stayed dry. Even better, the baggie also had air inside so it helped the phone to float for a quick retrieval. Truly miraculous.
So this summer, take a lesson from my phone. A tiny act of prevention saves immeasurable heartache and sorrow. And as such, may you create fun memories for your children with Mom in the pool and avoid creating memories of crying over them in the emergency room. It might not be feasible to put your children in a Ziploc, you can be the fun safety net that keeps them from sinking. Swim safely!