If It Were Me | July 2017

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

My husband, two teenage children and I are going on a trip to the Bahamas this summer. It is a dream vacation that we have planned for many years. The only problem is that my husband wants us all to go snorkeling, and while I have never even attempted snorkeling, something about it terrifies me. I don’t like the idea of mingling with jellyfish, octopus and other sea creatures. What am I, a mermaid? I am afraid of my snorkel filling up with water and seeping into my lungs, and I’m afraid the boat driver will pull a “Home Alone” and leave me stranded in the middle of the ocean. I don’t want to ruin my husband’s dream vacation by sitting on the beach with a fruity drink while the rest of the family goes off on their snorkeling adventure. At the same time, the thought of joining in the “fun” causes me a great deal of stress. What should I do?

— Afraid and Unashamed

Dear Afraid and Unashamed,

You say this is a dream vacation, but it doesn’t sound very dreamy if you’re already going into it with such dread. You basically have two choices: face your fear and go snorkeling or accept the fact that you don’t need to conquer every fear in life. This is not just your husband’s vacation — it’s your vacation too. If you would rather spend it sitting on the beach reading a good book, that is your prerogative.

I urge you to base your decision on your own desires and goals, not on your husband’s personal dreams and ambitions. While I am a huge proponent of serving our spouses in marriage, facing fears is a very personal issue that can trigger trauma and lead to physical, emotional and mental repercussions. Only you know if you are ready to address this fear. Just like losing weight, earning a college degree or breaking a smoking habit, you must use your courage muscle and overcome your fear for yourself, not to please other people.

So let’s take a closer look at your two options:

Face Your Fear.

You may have heard the saying, “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” Often the anticipation of something is far worse than the actual event. We create false scenarios in our minds and when we actually face our fear, we realize the little movies we played in our heads were actually works of fiction — and much more painful than the reality we experienced.

While facing your fear requires courage and resolve, it also warrants some practical tips:

Snorkel with a buddy. This ensures you don’t get “left behind” as you stated. It also makes the experience more fun.

Stay close to shore. If the family doesn’t take a boat tour, this is a great way to become acclimated to snorkeling. Newbies can still have a great experience even while staying close to shore — just stick with your buddy. You will feel more in control and much safer.

Wear a life jacket. Safety first! This is a no-brainer.

Don’t use the cheapest equipment. It is tempting to use cheap equipment because you think, “How often am I going to snorkel?” But the cheaper the equipment, the worse your experience. A bad mask means water seeping in and getting in your eyes and nose. A poorly made snorkel means difficulty breathing. Try to rent or borrow quality equipment if you don’t want to purchase equipment. You will be glad you did.

Practice before you go on vacation. A sprinter doesn’t show up at the track meet without ever training. A basketball player doesn’t arrive at the state finals without ever playing in a game. The same principle applies to you. If you practice with equipment in a backyard pool, you’ll feel more comfortable and less intimidated when it’s time to snorkel in the ocean.

Relax. A guaranteed way to mess up your breathing while snorkeling is to become tense and scared. The best advice for snorkeling is to relax and enjoy the view.

Accept Your Limitations.

Sometimes it is OK to accept our limitations in life, whether mental, physical or emotional.

We’re not all meant to climb Mount Everest or go skydiving. If you accept the fact that snorkeling falls out of your range and you are comfortable with that, you must then decide if you can be OK with disappointing your spouse. Some people are such people-pleasers that the sheer thought of letting their spouse down would motivate them to face their fear. Personally, I think this is the wrong motivation.

If you decide that snorkeling falls under the BASE jumping and hang gliding category, then feel free to enjoy every other aspect of your vacation without guilt. But talk to your husband before you leave for your trip so you both go into your dream vacation with the same expectations.

Dear Elizabeth,

I am a stay-at-home mom with three children, ages 5, 8 and 10. My youngest is entering kindergarten in the fall, and I am really nervous — not for my child but for myself. My child will do great. She has watched her older siblings go off to school the past few years, and she is so ready to join them. I, however, feel like an empty nester. All my baby birds are leaving the nest, and I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. How will I spend my time? My whole identity has been wrapped up in taking care of these kids the past 10 years. I know I am not ready to return to work, but I don’t know what to do. Any thoughts for a mom losing her youngest baby bird?

— E.W.

Dear E.W.,

I assure you, you are not the first or only mom struggling with this issue. My kids’ elementary school hosts a “Boo-hoo Breakfast” for all the kindergarten parents on the first day of school because it’s tough to release our little ones into the world — especially when those little ones are our last ones.

However, let me encourage you to switch your lens and see this new stage as a gain not as a loss. You are gaining so much in this new stage of life.

You are gaining freedom. You can run twice as many errands in half the time. You can go to the grocery store without feeling pressured to buy Dora the Explorer cereal. You can have breakfast, coffee or lunch with a friend without entertaining your sidekick with the iPad. You can schedule a doctor’s appointment without worrying about child care. Your entire calendar just opened up, and you get to fill it however you choose, which brings me to my next point.

You are gaining opportunity. You get to choose what this new stage of life looks like. I encourage you to spend some time searching your soul and discovering your gifts, talents and passions. Then decide where and how you want to apply your gifts. If you have the gift of teaching, consider substitute teaching a couple of days a week at your child’s school or teaching a Sunday school class at your church. If you love to organize, contact a local nonprofit and offer your talents there. Whether in your church, your child’s school or the Waco community, volunteer opportunities abound.

You are gaining availability. Now that you have more time on your hands, I encourage you to be in tune to the needs around you: drop a card off for your friend who is struggling. Fold a load of laundry for your friend who is sick. Rock a newborn baby so your friend can sleep. Cook a meal for a neighbor. Look for simple ways to make a big impact.

You are gaining time with your spouse. We often plan date nights, which require babysitters and working around our kids’ activities, but now you and your husband can plan day dates. If his job is flexible, drop the kids off at school and meet for breakfast. If that doesn’t work, set a weekly lunch date. With all the kids attending school, you will find you have more time and mental energy to connect with your husband.

It’s OK to grieve the loss of one stage of life, but I encourage you to embrace the blessings that come with the next stage

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