Swimmer Rebecca Adlington on why she’s a more confident mum second time around
For Olympic champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington dipping her toes in the parenting pool was much easier second time around.
The four-time Olympic medallist is mum to six-year-old Summer and eight-month-old Albie, and, like many parents, she happily admits she’s a far more laid-back parent now she has a bit of experience.
“When I had Summer, every little thing I was like, ‘Oh my God!’” she remembers. “I think first-time parents are a little bit more on edge, whereas second-time round I’m a bit older and a lot of people around me have kids, so I know the terms a little bit more now, and I’m kind of in on the parent code.”
Adlington, 32, who married her partner Andy Parsons in August, gave birth to their son Albie during lockdown – an experience she describes as “weird”.
She says: “It was just different because I had something to compare it to, like other second or third-time mums. With Summer, I got to have a proper baby shower and family came round, and my mum and dad came to the hospital when she was born, whereas none of that happened with Albie. We couldn’t have any visitors to the hospital, and once we got home we were still in isolation with all the restrictions. It was weird.”
While it might have been weird, Adlington says she wasn’t particularly worried about looking after her new baby, explaining: “I was more anxious about the birth and what that was going to be like, because I couldn’t really find a clear answer – it seemed like every hospital had different policies. But once he was here I had no anxiety.”
That refreshing lack of anxiety isn’t shared by every parent – indeed, research by Adlington’s own BabyStars swimming programme found more than a quarter (27%) of parents of children aged under two were worried lockdown restrictions had hindered their baby or toddler’s development, 22% were anxious and 21% admitted to feelings of guilt.
“I can definitely understand why parents have been anxious,” says Adlington, “but when you’re a second-time mum you’re more used to things, and you know a bit more about what’s right and wrong – you’re a bit more confident.”
And of course this time around she’s got the help of her ‘big girl’ Summer to help with baby Albie. “They absolutely adore each other, it’s really sweet,” she says fondly. “Summer’s like, ‘Mummy I’ll feed him, I’ll change him, I’ll do that’. She absolutely loves helping – she just thinks he’s a real-life doll for her that she gets to dress up and everything.”
Adlington is clearly loving being a mum-of-two, and doing her best to juggle looking after them with helping run the SwimStars swimming programme, which she founded in 2013 to teach children aged from three to 11 to swim ‘with an emphasis on fun’.
She’s just started its sister-programme BabyStars, to give babies and toddlers aged from 0-3 water confidence, just like her own children have.
“I’ve taken both my kids from when they were a couple of weeks old – Summer was three weeks old and Albie was five weeks, and they both absolutely loved the water,” she says proudly. “They’re used to being in water when they’re in your tummy, after all.”
As you’d probably expect from one of Britain’s greatest ever female swimmers, Adlington – who first got into swimming herself at the age of three because her parents wanted her to learn a life skill – passionately believes you’re never too young to start getting used to water.
“I don’t think there’s an age too young – or too old – to start swimming,” she says. “The earlier the better from a fear perspective, because it’s like anything, the longer you leave it, you start to develop fears, and children can be very fearful if they’re going swimming for the first time at the late toddler age.
“It’s scary, it’s a big pool and they’ll be thinking ‘Hold on, I’m used to my bath, not this’, so I do totally get it.”
And as far as her own kids are concerned, water safety, confidence and enjoyment are what it’s all about for Adlington – she’s not taking them swimming with a view to them becoming Olympic champions like their mum.
“So many people ask if Summer’s going to follow in my footsteps, but she’s six, you can’t say. As long as she enjoys it, that’s the main thing,” she says.
“My rule is she’s got to be able to swim 25m on all four strokes really confidently, unaided and without stopping, and then she can decide what she wants to do after that. If she gets into trouble, I need to know she’s such a confident little swimmer that she’s going to be fine and not panic. She needs to be at a level that’s going to help save her life.
“That’s my standard, and after that what she decides to do is on her. She loves going in the pool – it’s not like it’s the massive chore of the week.”
As for swimming herself these days, the busy mum usually only manages a dip once a week – and her swims are a world away from the level that won her two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she broke the world record in the 800-metre freestyle.
“I try to swim once a week, though it can sometimes be hard to keep the consistency, depending on work and other plans,” she admits. “That’s just my time – I don’t even use it for fitness. I don’t go for long, just 40 minutes, where my phone’s in a locker and it’s just me in the pool. I don’t go hard or fast, it’s just a nice paced switch-off for me, really.”
But does she miss the competitive swimming from her glory days?
“Gosh no – definitely not! I had my time and it was great, but I don’t miss that at all.”
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