Swimming in Clothes: For Moms Who Struggle to Play

The hot sun shone brightly, reflecting on the warm sand. Sitting comfortably in a half-chair, feet burrowed in the powdery sand, I tried to concentrate on my book. Glancing frequently towards the water to keep track of the swimmers being tossed by the waves, my attention was divided. The sun grew hotter, and even the shade of the umbrella failed to cool the temperature.

I was wearing a t-shirt and denim capri pants, but the water looked so inviting. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. I finally put the book aside and decided to join my family in the water.

We had been at the beach for a couple of days, but I hadn’t gotten any farther than a walk in the surf, wetting my ankles. Between helping with grandchildren and reading in the shade, I didn’t have any desire to swim.

Wading through the surf, the waves got deeper and my pants got wetter. One of the children spied me coming towards them and called out, “Mama!” What happened next made me feel embarrassed and elated all at the same time.

Seven people turned around and watched me move towards them. Six children and one husband stopped their play and excitedly greeted me. The expression of their delight at my joining them astounded me. For a moment it seemed that time stopped and it was one of those shining moments in the sun. My heart caught in my throat and tears sprang to my eyes.

Five-year-old Sophie greeted me with a knowing expression and called out “See, Mama?” as if to say “I’m a pro at riding the waves, hopefully you’ll get it in time.” The next surprise came when everybody gathered around and stayed nearby, laughing and talking, playing a made-up “sharks and dolphins” game, and warning each other of the next big wave. They had the whole ocean, and they stayed by me.

As an adult whose childhood was filled with anxiety and the wariness of life being unsafe, I’m not very good at playing. Being the mother of a large family has often been a convenient excuse to avoid getting involved in the actual hands-on of games and play.

Sure, I provide the cookies and light the candles, but how often do I sit down to join the tea party? I’ll take them to the beach and stand guard, but when do I jump in the water and discover the fun and relaxation of play?

That moment of joining the family in swimming made me realize that I don’t play enough. If I had decided to remain on the beach and protect my precious clothes I would have missed out on a special, life-changing moment. If I had stayed in my comfort zone, rationalizing why I didn’t have time to swim, my children wouldn’t have made a memory with their mother. If I had made the choice to remain in my comfortable chair, doing what I wanted to do, I would have missed the joyful reception that fed my soul.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that we “don’t have time” or “aren’t the type” to have fun. We might feel uncomfortable about relaxing or playing because staying serious and being on guard is what feels normal. Years of thinking patterns have created behaviors that we aren’t even aware of. The good news is that a new way of thinking and behaving is as simple as the next choice.

We live hundreds of miles from the beach, but the lessons learned will go home with me: work hard, play hard and relax. The sands of time are shifting and life is too short to live without fun, laughter and PLAY.


  1. Janie Ballenger says:

    Thanks Charlotte,
    I too have GREAT difficulty stopping to play.  It is uncomfortable for me as well.  Your reminder pierced my heart.  Message received.

    Thomas, his bride, and YOU looked amazing and happy.  So glad and happy for your family.


  2. Sandra W. says:

    Did you HAVE to start my day making me cry?!!  Went to the lake this past weekend…I sat on the shore while my seven year old little boy asked me to come in….I sat on the shore.

    1. I did the same, Sandra… :o(

  3. I’ve never understood until reading this article why I never learned to play.  Thank you Charlotte.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful blog post.  It is so easy for me to be the responsible one and stand guard, but my children also need ME.  I’m always amazed when I take the time to play (even when I feel that it isn’t practical or even logical) with my children that I reap such great rewards.  I needed your words today.  Thank you for the blessing.

  5. I love to play. Thank you for the reminder on the childrens’ perspective – it’s good to look at the world from their point of view too! The wedding sounds just perfect.

  6. Oh wow!  Thank you Charlotte!  What a necessary reminder this was for me as I battle using my summer days to declutter, regroup for the school year, get caught up on things from LAST school year, etc, etc, while my children are begging to me to play, sit, watch…thanks for sharpening my focus.

    The wedding, your family, and you was/are beautiful. 🙂

  7. Johanne aka Clarity says:

    Well, probably the opposite of many (what’s new 🙂  )  I have the Laugh-Play-De-dramatize personality which helped me (the real verb is “SAVED ME”) over the years with what I’ve been through since I’m born.  It’s part of life to laugh and to play.  We have put “work” into a serious category and we all NEED to work to be a good person but who said that playing is not part of work?  Who said work cannot be playing?  

    Our body needs to let go the stress of a working day.  Our mind needs to let go the playing time to feel a valid use during the day.  Everything has a place.  Balance is what we can focus on in our life.  Exercising, Meditating / Praying, Eating, Working, Playing, Sleeping… are all part of a balance life, leaving one out is putting ourselves in an unbalance situation.

    Having a “Aha” moment about a lacking-part of your life was a gift that GOD sent you.  Make it a life-long gift…

    Again, thanks for sharing it !!!

    1. Johanne aka Clarity says:

      (when I say we all need to work to be a good person, is the perception we have .. that we should work to be a better person … but we don’t.   Working can be applied on so many levels and to be a good / better person means (to me) to be in peace with who we are.)

  8. This was so good!!  With many responsibilities, “serious and on guard” is my usual mode.  I used to be more playful…  and now and then I am surprised like you, to find that my children actually still want this old lady to join in on their fun!  😀

    Loved the wedding pictures, too.  CONGRATULATIONS on making your goal!!  

  9. Amderbyshire says:

    Mothering seems to be very serious and sobering business most of the time.  Thank you for sharing a learning moment with us!

  10. This is me all over the place!  I so need to remember to relax and play with my children.  Thankfully my sweet husband is very talented at making things fun and drawing me in!

  11. Jerabisar says:

    great post! I’m in tears. Thanks!

  12. Charlotte you are my twin. I didn’t really think we were much alike, even though you felt like we were kindred spirits. This story made me cry. WE ARE ALIKE in too many ways. Now, the next time we are together we will have fun. Flight or no flight we are staying up, visiting until the cows come home. I want to know more about YOU my friend. Let’s walk this work hard, play hard and relax life together all the way to our success. Our families deserve it.

  13. Victoria Gazeley says:

    Oh, Charlotte – I so needed to read this today.  With building this business, I find I’m getting diverted from the other things in my life that are even more important.  It’s time to join the tea party!  Thanks so much…

  14. Elevenarrows says:

    Having just read what will probably be the last post from a friend that is a mother of 7 and is dying, I was so touched by your comments about making time count. I, too, am a mother of a large family and I run our business. It is so easy to get bogged down in the mundane and forget to make the memories. I can really relate to your comments about providing the cookies, but not enjoying the tea party.

    Recently I gave my smallest children giant cardboard boxes as “playhouses”. I helped them set up their village and gave them chalk to decorate their houses. We laughed and drew flowering vines up the “walls”. An older child cut doors and windows for the younger kids. I brought out snacks and real dishes. The children loved it all, but the highlight for them was when I literally got down on hands and knees and crawled through each house to “visit” them. I, too, realized how seldom I participate in their play. I did so much more of that with my first 5 or 6 kids. I don’t want these younger ones to grow up feeling that Mother was too old and worn out to play with them.

    Thank you for helping me to realize again the importance of carpe diem!

  15. Ksullivan1259 says:

    Loved this! I am a size 20W and working hard with T-Tapp to get healthy. However I always swim because I don’t want to miss out on the joys of life. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to have fun while we can. I’m so glad you had such a lovely experience.

  16. Beautiful post, as always, Charlotte… We all need to be reminded how precious each and every day is …to take time to “smell the roses” and simply play!

  17. Leeannbarton says:

    Hoorah for you Charlotte and a great reminder for all of us to embrace the now, trust, trust.

  18. I love this, Charlotte.  Thanks for the inspiration.  I did too much sitting on the beach with my kids, but I am really trying to change!

  19. I remember this story from last year….it is as touching today as last year. I do hope that you updated the bathing “suit” to a lighter one!
    Ps- I marked in my phone calendar the T Tapp Trainer Certifications. Planning on being there….we’ll see.

  20. Pat Anderson says:

    Charlotte – when I saw your picture on Facebook I had to click on it to see if you are a “wet-hair” Mama and sure enough – there you were: in the water with your children, WITH WET HAIR! I was so warmed by the sight of that. I had heard Diane Wilson speak at our church this spring and she said she had determined to be a “wet-hair” Mom! So this year on vacation at the water parks I forced myself to stay under the dumping barrels of cold water and allow my kids to spray me with the squirt guns for the very reason you mention in this post – an involved Mom making memories!

  21. It wasn’t until I took my children to Cape Cod (where I was raised) and stayed with my parents for three weeks, taking frequent trips to my favorite beach, that I found the relaxing power of playing with my children in the waves. Something about that water….I’ve never been able to relax as deeply anywhere else.

  22. this brought tears to my eyes Charlotte. Your insights are such a blessing.

  23. You were describing me when you were talking about being the one to sit on the sidelines, provide the cookies, etc. Yet when I do allow myself the freedom of joining in with the kids and grand-kids, I feel so much better. It actually gives a better feeling of purpose. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Annette Siems Moore says:

    Siems’ memories on the beach in Galveston are always Great! 🙂

  25. Charlotte Siems says:

    Aww, sweet. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *