Posts Tagged ‘ parenting challenges ’

Giving Up the Extra Legroom for the Kids

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Airplane seatsEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

My career was taking off, and so was I. As my star rose in the very, very small firmament that is my specialty, the invitations for the honor of my presence increased: keynote speeches, advisory boards, prestigious panels, exotic meeting locations, all-expenses-paid trips with notes saying, “Please bring your wife if she can get away.” Success was intoxicating; it was nice to be recognized and admired by peers. My kids were little, and I told myself they were sleeping for most of the time I was out of town, anyway. My wife caught me up on the milestones I missed.

As the kids turned 5, 3, and almost 1, they weren’t sleeping as many hours as they did when they were younger, and they were starting to have experiences – in kindergarten and preschool, at playdates and Gymboree — they would remember without me. T-ball was starting in a month for our 5-year-old, and our 3-year-old’s hair was just long enough for first pigtails. The baby was walking — running really — to keep up. I tried to keep up, too. To know their friends’ and teachers’ names, what they liked best on TV (how badly do I date myself if I tell you it was Barney?). But even when I was home and they were animatedly telling me about their day, my mind wasn’t with them. Instead, my mind was on the next colloquium I had to prepare, the next flight I had to catch, and the call I should make to a colleague to discuss the seminal lecture I would be giving in Scandinavia. It was during our middle child’s third birthday party that I had my fateful Dorian Gray moment. I was filming my kids running around in party hats with ice cream cake on their cheeks. As I filmed my daughter opening her presents, I had a stark vision of my future, but I didn’t look like me; I looked like Rick, Mike, and James.

Rick, Mike, and James were real people, colleagues I knew from my hotshot meetings, established megastars in their universes of influence. Million Milers! There wasn’t a major meeting in my field without one or more of the MMs on the dais. In the lounges after the meetings, they regaled us with travelogues; they had been everywhere and seen it all. For small talk, we compared frequent-flier miles and upgrades, and chirped about the legroom. Rick had trouble remembering if his second child was in 10th or 11th grade, but worried that his oldest, a college freshman, was probably drinking a little too much, as she did in high school when she got a DUI. Mike’s three teenagers were estranged from him since he left them and their mother back east to move west for a big promotion. He was confident they would reconcile when the kids were old enough to understand adult responsibilities. James’s divorce came with a brutal custody battle. His wife made wild accusations about his extracurricular activities on the road. I was on my way to becoming George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air while George was actually still an intern on ER. There was just one big difference between George and me. Okay, maybe more than one big difference. But the one that matters for purposes of this discussion is: George’s peripatetic character didn’t have kids, but I did.

With a vivid and terrifying vision of becoming Rick, Mike, or James, I stopped filming the birthday party and started to really see it. I realized a few things: I liked hearing my kids tell me their adventures better than I liked hearing those of the MMs. I liked sleeping at home with my wife better than alone in a luxurious hotel room that I could only describe to her by phone. I liked hearing my baby giggle better than I liked hearing polite applause from colleagues in a far-off ballroom. I wanted to be at the first T-ball game. Heck, I wanted to coach the T-ball team.

That was the day I grounded myself. Not all at once, of course. I still had obligations to fulfill. But I learned to say no, and I learned to be a lesser player. I was fortunate that my job didn’t require the travel or the renown — those were merely accoutrements of my success. I could still earn a decent living and sleep at home, as long as my ego would survive a cut in prestige. And it did. In a matter of months, I went from budding superstar to just being a regular star. If any of this story sounds familiar, if you are superstar wannabes, ask yourself these questions before you get too hooked on the fanfare: How much status and stature do you need? How much do you need to know your kids, and how much do they need to know you? And how much are you willing to miss during all those hours on the tarmac? For me, even though I lost my Premier Executive status with the airline and gave up the extra legroom, I gained something more precious — time with my kids that I’ll always be grateful for. And, yes, I did end up coaching T-ball, too.

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).


Image: Well-lit empty airplane interior with window and blue seat via Shutterstock.

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Teaching Kids Perseverance on the Monkey Bars

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Playground monkey barsEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month.  He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

Let me say this right up front – not every child masters the monkey bars. Unlike sitting, standing, walking, potty training, or riding a tricycle, the monkey bars are not considered a developmental milestone. At well-child visits, doctors don’t ask, “Has your child mastered the monkey bars yet?” the same way they ask, “How many words are in your child’s vocabulary?” Trust me, I’m a pediatrician. There are even successful adults working alongside you who have never been able to master the monkey bars.  Trust me, I’m one of them.  I was never able to climb a rope or do a pull-up either. I always blamed my inabilities on a poorly-centered center of gravity. But enough about me. This is about our daughter who, happily, did learn to master the monkey bars. She absolutely had to.

Emily’s best friends in grade school were tiny wisps of girls who didn’t touch the ground when they walked because they were too light for gravity. For them, the monkey bars were as natural as breathing – they didn’t have to think twice before sailing from one end to the other, with each girl outdoing the other in speed and panache. When the monkey bars became the “must” place to be during recess, Emily was in a tough spot.  Her feet did touch the ground while walking and the monkey bars were not automatic like breathing – they were more like hyperventilating. Not being a wisp came in very handy for Emily when she played sports later in life, but this was first grade and nothing mattered except the monkey bars.

Knowing no one would be at the school playground on Saturday, we packed everyone in the van and headed there for a monkey bars crash course. First, our oldest child (who was in third grade) tried to inspire Em by hopping onto the launch step and zipping all the way across, gracefully swinging from each arm to get to the next bar.  He dismounted and encouragingly said, “See, Em, it’s easy!” Emily didn’t find this inspiring. In fact, she started crying. Next, the youngest child (who was in preschool) needed a turn. We held him up and walked beneath the monkey bars as he touched each one with his hands. Then he was off to the sandbox.

Finally, Emily stood on the launch step, grabbed the first bar with her left hand, stepped, and…just dangled there.  Her right arm waved toward the next bar, but her body did not obey. She dropped to the ground and sobbed, “See?! I told you I can’t do it!” Of course, we asked ourselves how much of the obstacle was physical or mental.  We pretended to be sports psychologists for a little while, probing her deepest monkey bar phobias. Yes, she was afraid of failure.  Yes, she was afraid of embarrassment.  Yes, she was sure everyone else was better at monkey bars. Yes, she would never, ever, ever have friends, in her whole life, if she couldn’t conquer the monkey bars. Ok, enough psychology – there were fewer than 48 hours before Monday’s recess. A miraculous cure was in order, and it had to be immediate.


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What I Learned from Raising a Child with Down Syndrome

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

October is also National Down Syndrome Awareness Month (in addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month).  The CDC estimates that 1 in 691 babies are born with Down syndrome each year, in which a baby is born with an extra chromosome (47 instead of 46), an occurrence that results in mental and physical challenges.

This guest post was written by Amy Julia Becker, a mother who lives in Lawrenceville, NJ with her husband and three children (one boy and two girls).  The oldest of her two daughters, Penny, was born with Down syndrome, and Becker shares her parenting experiences below.  Becker’s most recent book is A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny. She blogs at Thin Places, and you can visit her website at 


When our daughter Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome two hours after she was born, I immediately worried about her future, her health, our ability to take good care of her, and our community’s willingness to accept her. I thought my world would shrink into a closed room with four walls labeled disability, special needs, developmental delays, and early intervention. But by the time she was one year old, I wanted to introduce her to strangers on the street so that they could share in her infectious smile and ready wave. I’m only five years into parenting a child with Down syndrome, but I’ve learned a few things that have helped me become a better mother to Penny (and to her younger brother and sister, who have developed typically).

Learn to Give and Receive

Before Penny was born, I treated life as if it were an equation. Hard work plus a happy childhood equaled a productive and satisfied adult. Penny helped me to understand that human beings aren’t products on an assembly line. We all have different needs and different abilities. Penny’s needs are more obvious than mine, and her body is more vulnerable. And yet her classification as “disabled” has served to show me my own weaknesses—my impatience, my tendency to judge people based upon surface impressions, my stubborn independence. I remember a time when a young woman with Down syndrome came to our house. She didn’t speak very clearly, and she needed assistance with some simple household tasks. But she sat on the floor with our son, William, who was being fussy, and her gentle, soothing presence brought him great peace. This event is one example of what I have learned–to see life as a web of relationships based upon giving, receiving, and mutual care. Penny has taught me not only to receive her as a gift, but to view every person in my life as a unique being with something to offer.

Stay Focused on One Thing at a Time

Early on, I learned that I couldn’t predict when Penny would reach developmental milestones. The half-dozen baby books on my shelf wouldn’t help me if I wondered when she “should” roll over or clap or eat with a spoon. For a while I thought I needed to let go of goals for her altogether because I didn’t want to equate her value as a human being with her ability to walk or talk. But eventually I realized that Penny would learn and grow, even if she did so at her own pace. My husband and I started to focus on helping Penny learn the next thing, whatever that might be. Now that she’s in kindergarten, we ask: What’s the next thing she needs to learn about reading? About numbers? About friendship?  It’s easy for all parents to spend too much time worrying about the distant future; trying to focus on one thing at a time has provided me emotional freedom.

Concentrate on Character Instead of Comparisons

When Penny was a baby, I often found myself analyzing other children her age and wondering how she measured up. If I discovered that she could do something another kid couldn’t, I felt self-satisfied and superior. On the other hand, when other kids her age could run across the room and Penny still hadn’t begun to crawl, I felt panic rattling inside my chest. I finally realized that whenever I met another child, I asked, “What can she do?” and the comparison would push me away from that child and parent. If I changed my question to “Who is she?” it allowed me to focus upon the child’s character. Every child became valuable and interesting once I stopped comparing them.

Now, with a happy, healthy child who has just started kindergarten, I wonder sometimes why I felt so scared. Having a child with Down syndrome has expanded my world, and my heart.

More About Down Syndrome on

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Questions for Parents of Kids 2 or Younger

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

100sq_BPH027Our friends at Chicago’s Erikson Institute, a graduate school devoted to improving the health and education of children up to age 8, have launched a new survey and they want to hear from parents of children age 2 and younger. The goal of the survey is to study, essentially, how well a parent feels about his or her parenting skills.

Lead researcher Tracy Moran, Ph.D., assistant professor at Erikson, explains why she’s hoping you’ll participate: “Your input will help illustrate the peaks and valleys of parenting in those first two years. The benefits will be far-reaching, to generations of future parents and their children.” Through survey results, Dr. Moran will:

  • identify specific tasks that are especially difficult for most parents
  • gain knowledge that will aid physicians, nurses, and other professionals in supporting parents
  • help professionals identify parents at risk for postpartum adjustment, depression, and anxiety

You can fill out the survey here. Please note that the first page says that the survey can take between 30 to 40 minutes to complete, but having taken it myself, I can say that it’ll probably only require half that time.

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