Never Wash Your Fish with Soap

My kids want a dog.  I love dogs, but I’m resistant to adding the care and feeding of another soul to my already overflowing plate.  Maybe next year I’ll be ready.  In the meantime, my 11 and 13 year old still dream of a pet.  Two weeks ago we negotiated a compromise. betta fish

When the kids were in their early years, we had fish.  Tank care was up to me, and it took some work. “Here’s the deal,” I told my beloved cherubs at the conclusion of our pet decision summit. “You can each get a fish with your own money, using the tanks and other equipment we’ve already invested in, but their care is entirely up to you.  I will not be involved, even with reminding you of your responsibilities to the fish.”  They eagerly agreed.  

They scheduled an appointment with me for fish shopping at 3:30 PM, set off to prep the equipment, and left me happily alone in my office to concentrate on work. Hours later, at the appointed shopping time, they proudly showed me the washed and prepped equipment. 

We headed off to PetSmart.  That’s where we heard the bad news.  One kid had influenced the other to wash everything (tank, fake plants, play structures, etc.) not only with hot water, but also with dish soap.  According to the fish expert at the store, the use of soap meant that all our equipment had become permanently useless. Dismay.  Frustration.  Anger.  Anxiety.  Oh, and the kids didn’t like it either. 

They quickly calculated that they didn’t have enough money for 2 new sets of equipment plus 2 fish. I felt guilty.  I had known it’s not safe to wash the tanks, plants, etc. with soap.  But I didn’t oversee their preparations because I was working.  Standing aside while the kids conferred on the next steps in their game plan, I reminded myself to take deep breaths.  They are learning independence.  Part of learning is making mistakes.  It’s better for them that I am giving them space to make them.

The kids decided to pool their resources to buy one small tank and only one fish.  They set up the tank together.  They named the fish together.  They created a feeding schedule that requires them to take turns.

[bctt tweet=”I am practicing letting go. Clearly that does not come naturally to me.” username=”connecttwo”]

I am practicing sticking to the boundaries I set.  At first, I occasionally asked whether the fish had been fed. Was that the kids pushing back on my boundaries?  No, I was! Did the kids feed the fish this morning? Do they have a plan for changing out the water, which is starting to look darkish?  

I don’t know and I’m not asking.  Yay, me.


  1. Linda

    Oh. I gave up on my boundaries long ago. Maybe I never set any. My daughter has had pets of all sorts and sizes since she was three. And a dog. I just cleaned the hamsters and guinea pigs. I'm a lost cause but I'm half the reason they are here so not all her fault. I'm an animal lover with compassion for all creatures great and small. I've taught her compassion. She has a kind heart for every thing and everybody. PS way past wanting a dog. She's an equestrian. You know what that means!

    • Debra Woog

      And because of that choice, your life is all the richer, at least in one sense!

  2. Karen

    We are currently fostering parakeets, rabbits, and a chinchilla for the local animal shelter. The kids love them, but I definitely do the bulk of the work. Still easier than having a dog!

    • Debra Woog

      It's so cool that you are fostering for the shelter! I imagine that fostering is actually harder because you know you'll have to say goodbye too…

  3. Julia

    Wow! This is my biggest challenge as a parent. Thank you for sharing a real life, practical example of letting go. This is inspiration for me!

    • Debra Woog

      Thanks for writing in. This is definitely a topic we need to continue to explore together.

  4. Devra

    Really important lessons for both mom and cherubs. I guess I can pat myself on the back for letting our 17-month-old goldfish die a couple of weeks ago. I provided most of the care during that time (-1 letting-go point) but didn't nag the kids to do their share (+1 letting-go point) and had let go so much by the time it died that I didn't even toss it for a week (points for letting go, but gross)… However, I was recently reminded that I have not let go of things I had resolved to let go – e.g. it is my job to ensure my child has the proper environment for doing her homework, but it is her responsibility to get it done, and somehow I have been nagging her and setting consequences when it isn't completed. Let this be my reminder – she will face her own consequences at school, and I need not overstep my bounds.

    • Debra Woog

      There's a funny concept – let's compete for letting go points! How HyperCompetent is THAT?! But seriously, I agree that natural consequences are the best way for kids to learn, even though it's not always the easiest for parents. BTW – A just cleaned the fish tank!

  5. Debra Woog

    Baby steps, baby steps – for both of us.

  6. @joshuabrickman

    Great blog Deb. I'm having a hard time letting go with my 21 year old, never mind my 12 year old. Seems like you are doing the right thing!

  7. Brinda Sen

    I loved the fish story to illustrate how to set boundaries for yourself. Will remember this all the time.

    • Debra Woog

      I'm delighted, Brinda! Would love to hear an example of how you apply it.