What Should I Tell My Children About My Past Mistakes?

I had flashbacks all last week to one of my most traumatic childhood experiences.

My son’s elementary school headed to the local aquatic center last Friday for a field trip party at the pool. The thought of him going swimming with his schoolmates flipped my mind back to the time when my elementary school did the same — and the time when I was a few seconds from drowning.

I was 8 or 9 years old when the experience happened. My school was heading to their annual trip to the local pool. We walked with a buddy and were to stick with that buddy while swimming.

Unfortunately for me, my buddy could swim and I couldn’t. My mom warned me for days to stay off of the donut-shaped floatation tubes. She knew I couldn’t handle them. She wanted me to stay in the shallow end where I would be safe.

But my buddy rented one of the tubes then headed to the deep end of the pool. Stupidly I followed.

Almost immediately I ended up under the donut floaty while waves splashed around me and I fought for my life to climb back up. The tube’s slippery plastic, along with other tubes slamming on top of me, kept me from climbing to safety. Luckily a sixth-grade swimmer saw my desperation and drug me to safety where I coughed up what felt like a gallon of water.

It was one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me. And I still haven’t learned to swim because of it.

Not only was I scared for my life in the pool, I was scared for my life at home. I don’t think I told my mom about my near-death experience for almost a week. I knew she would be furious. She had warned me not to float on a tube. I was terrified to hear her say, “I told you so.”

So with that experience in the back of my mind, I geared up to let my 6-year-old baby splash in the water with his friends. Despite the fact that the school sent home a note forbidding flotation devices, I was still terrified.

I didn’t want him to sense my hesitation in letting him head to the pool with the student bodies of two elementary schools and only their staff and a couple dozen lifeguards there to protect him. But how could I hide it? And I didn’t want to tell him about my experience because I was certain he wouldn’t go after that.

I tried to encourage him to go, but I was so scared.

He has taken swimming lessons for the past three years, but he is just starting to feel comfortable in the water, and he is definitely not a fish-like swimmer.

He ended up not wanting to go so I picked him up early from school Friday and he hung out at home.

Honestly I was relieved because I knew he would be safe with me, but it got me thinking about what I should share with my children.

I don’t want my children to know of all of the major mistakes I have made or will make in life. I don’t want my stupid choices to impact their decisions. But when they have challenges in life, maybe it would help them to know of my own challenges. Maybe it would help them realize that I am an imperfect human, just like they are.

Now I know that floating in the deep end of the pool when I knew I couldn’t swim wasn’t an immoral or illegal action, but it was something that was seriously stupid. Should I tell my boys about my experience?

Maybe if I didn’t completely scare him from the field trip, my oldest might have been able to learn from my story and use it as a what-not-to-do example.

Heaven knows I have other stories of stupid things I have done. Should I shed all of the skeletons from my closet and come clean with my children?

Maybe, for now, I’ll keep the skeletons locked up, but not forgotten. That way when my sons make mistakes or do stupid things I’ll be able to sympathize. Hopefully all of my stupid mistakes will make me a better parent, a more understanding parent.

Because as the mother tasked with raising three boys, I am sure I will parent through my fair share of their mistakes.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elise
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 08:59:36

    My thoughts are to tell my kids my “skeletons” when they’re about the age I was when they happened, so long as I think they’ll EVER come across something similar. I worry that I’ll tell them when they’re too young or just not ready to hear it yet, but I also worry I won’t tell them something that totally could have helped them.


    • Natalie
      Sep 13, 2012 @ 13:20:10

      I’m with you Elise. Which way do you go? Maybe they can actually learn from my stupid mistakes, but will it make never want to try some things? I guess I’m going to have to play each situation out differently and hope I don’t mess my kids up 🙂


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