Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

The Pursuit of Happiness

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Mar 8, 2013 1:29 PM
"Some pursue happiness. Others create it." (Anonymous)

Several months back, my daughter and I began bantering on a car ride back from my parents' home in New Jersey. I don't remember how it started, but she was playing pessimist to my optimist, and we became engaged in a good-natured volley of comments "in character." Once we got home, the conversation traveled onto Facebook, and earlier this week, she brought it up at dinner, picking up in the middle of the conversation as though we'd just stopped it five minutes before.

As the daughter of one optimist (me) and one pessimist (my husband), my daughter could probably have played either role. Consequently, I got a kick out of this exchange on a couple of levels. The counselor in me liked putting the positive spin on everything she threw at me. The parent in me loved hearing my daughter's quick wit and verbal skills in action, thrilled that she enjoyed the volley as much as I did.

I think I've said before that car rides with my daughter are something I enjoy, especially when it's just the two of us. Playing chauffeur is a job that a pessimist could find much to complain about, but most of the time, I'm grateful for the opportunity because I know interesting conversations are likely to ensue. Car rides with multiple teenagers (only one of them my own) are equally enjoyable - and often infinitely more amusing - as I struggle to keep my mouth shut and let the conversation from the back seat wash over me unless I am invited to join in.

Several of my friends post daily gratitudes on their Facebook walls, a further testimony to the notion that optimism is alive and well. They range from gratitude for heat on a cold winter day to gratitude for sleeping children and devoted spouses, and these gratitudes remind me that it's sometimes the things we take for granted - like car rides -that are cause for great thanks.

Parenthood is a lot like those daily gratitudes. Sometimes, the big things - or the million tiny ones - that drive us crazy manage to silence the still, small voice of  optimism. The pessimist hears the blaring music; the still, small voice of the optimist reminds us to be grateful for the presence of the noisemakers. The pessimist lives in the hurt feelings that overtake us when our kids walk five feet in front of us in public; the still, small voice of the optimist reminds us to be grateful for their independent natures. The pessimist is annoyed when our kids ask us to do things they're perfectly capable of doing themselves; the still, small voice of the optimist reminds us to be grateful that we're needed.

The balancing act that is parenthood requires tremendous optimism. Without it, we would focus entirely on the mistakes we make and worry over every mishap and misstep. Mired in pessimism, we'd be unable to allow our children out of our sight, let alone encourage them to take the risks required for their growth and development into first teenagers, then adults. Tuned in only to the voice of pessimism, we'd paint our children's futures in blacks and greys, unable to see the sunshine hiding behind the clouds.

But pessimism tempers optimism, too. This business of expecting only the best can lead to disappointment, and while the optimist is busy making lemonade out of the lemons of disillusionment, the pessimist remembers the tang of the citrus, reminding us that disappointment can come again, and so we need to be on our guard.

So, I guess it's good that my daughter has one parent who's an optimist and one who's a pessimist. Maybe we balance each other out. At the very least, we teach our daughter that there's more than one way to look at life.





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