Reflections on a birthday

“We’ve had Prince since August and he’s not dead yet,” my daughter remarked of our pet fish last winter.

I smiled. Since our first fish didn’t make it past the one-month mark, it did seem like a milestone. Then she added: “We’re taking such good care of him.”

That gave me pause.  Alive is not synonymous with thrive. The mere fact that a being is breathing does not confer a

Fish, fishy, in the tank, who's the happiest one of all?

Fish, fishy, in the tank, who’s the happiest one of all?

gold star on the caregivers, in my judgment.

At least, it didn’t. But as I approach the one-decade mark in this parenting gig, I’m rethinking that position. Last summer I read All Joy And No Fun, which challenges the central tenet of helicopter parenting: that with sufficient hovering, parents can (and should) engineer a happy, successful life for their kids. Author Jennifer Senior’s well-researched and flat-out reasonable ideas resonated deeply. With so many other factors influencing happiness, parents should focus more on achievable outcomes (seeing their kids go to school, keeping them physically healthy) and let the kids find their own happiness and success.

I’ve not yet seen one of this summer’s hot movies, Inside Out, but it, too, debunks the idea that parents should protect their kids from “negative” events and emotions. Resilience, character, perseverance, and notably, success, after all, arise from adversity as much as opportunity.

Maybe alive is good enough. Maybe alive is plenty, actually. Maybe for Prince’s birthday today, we’ll give him five fish food pellets instead of four. But tomorrow, he’s back to four.

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