Posts Tagged ‘ parenting ’

Why All Parents Should See the Movie Gravity

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Major spoiler alert: Gravity—the box office hit starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts—isn’t about space at all. I mean, of course all the action takes place in space, and it’s packed with plenty breathtaking shots of our planet as seen from above, but Gravity is about something far more down to earth. Specifically, it’s about what it means to be a parent.

Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, is a scientist on her first venture out into space. Much like a newborn baby, she’s in a brand new place where the very unexpected and dangerous can—and does—happen. (Director Alfonso Cuarón even goes so far with the newborn metaphor as to show us Ryan floating in the fetal position with what looks like an umbilical cord tethering her—watch for it maybe 30 minutes in, really cool shot.) Luckily for Ryan she’s not alone. Matt Kowalski, her far more space-savvy colleague, takes on a very paternal role, coaching her through unfamiliar situations, and straight-up parenting her. But, like with all parent/child relationships, there’s a time that Matt has to literally let go, and Ryan will have to find her own way armed only with the lessons Matt has left her. It’s one of the most direct stories of growing up and finding your legs that I’ve seen in ages. It’s also a beautiful, if painful, lesson in the necessity of setting your progeny free.

But let’s talk more about Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan. She isn’t just any woman trying to grow up and find her way in this unpredictable, often scary universe. We learn early on that she’s a mother—specifically, a mother whose daughter was killed at a very young age in a freak playground accident. Some critics have called Ryan’s backstory “schmaltzy,” but I think it’s vital to the story, in underlining that parents (and people in general) want to think we have control, when in reality so many things in life are terrifyingly beyond our influence. No, it’s not a warm and fuzzy message—but I don’t think parenting is warm and fuzzy all the time. Raising a child, knowing that her well-being and even existence depends on you, can be scary. Nearly as scary at times, some might argue, as floating above the earth, unprotected, with giant hunks of space debris hurtling in your direction.

The lesson Gravity teaches is that parenting (and life in general) can be a harrowing experience. The best thing we can do is to push forward, never give up, and try to cherish the exquisite view along the way.

What’s your parenting style? Find out here.

Image of Gravity star Sandra Bullock courtesy

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Red Tricycle Announces Totally Awesome Awards Winners!

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Red Tricycle announced the winners of its 3rd Annual Totally Awesome Awards, a reader-driven awards program recognizing the best parenting brands, products, neighborhood services and resources for families with children ages 0-10. Urbansitter Team at Bay ARe Discovery Museum

The Totally Awesome Awards included 64 national Baby & Kids Essentials categories and 31 Local categories in 12 U.S. cities.

Parents from across the nation picked their favorite family-friendly businesses throughout a 12-week period. More than 236,777 votes were cast and the results for the Totally Awesome Awards Essentials winners are listed below. The local winners can be found at

Red Tricycle celebrated the winners and Top 10 finalists of the Totally Awesome Awards with 9 parties in 9 U.S. cities (Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.). Sponsored by Zulily, Zevia, Urbansitter and Smartypants, the Totally Awesome Awards parties brought together all the winners, finalists and local influencers in each market.

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The Master Manipulator

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

In the past week, my 6-year-old has lost 4 teeth.  She has trouble eating, and I just can’t help snapping a million pictures of her toothless smile and video taping her talk. I asked her what her classmates think of her new smile and she said “No one in my clath hath teeth.” The poor thing. 1st grade is rough.

The other night, I reached under her pillow to swap a tooth for a dollar and I found a note written on an index card that read: “This stuff is for you the tooth fairy. I love you. Love, Leli.” And, as if it couldn’t get any cuter, she drew an arrow at the bottom and wrote “Write back.” Her tooth was sitting in the middle of a bracelet with a toy flower, a button, and a bead. I melted. I took all of the gifts and wrote on the back of the card in swirly letters, “Thank you, Leli. You are so special and I love you.”

It seemed like the only thing to do, but when she woke up in the morning, ecstatic and dreamy eyed, I felt pretty guilty. She said, “If I knew what size the tooth fairy wore, I’d make her the prettiest little dress,” and I thought, What am I going to do when she finds out the truth?

What am I really doing when I forge a letter from the Tooth Fairy, or wrap the presents from Santa in different wrapping paper? Am I making her childhood magical, or am I setting her up for heartbreak?

I remember when I was in 2nd grade and my teacher told a boy in my class to stop telling the truth about Santa, because some kids still believe. I went home to my parents and said, “I don’t know why my teacher made it seem like he’s not real.” That’s when they broke the news, and that’s the first time I experienced the feeling of betrayal.

Not to get all dramatic, but  7-year-old me couldn’t believe that my parents (who I thought loved me) would lie to my face and make me look like an idiot. That’s really how I felt. So why am I doing this to my child?

Honestly, part of it is because I want to make the most of her innocence before it’s gone. I can be Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Mama, and best friend, until she’s around 12 when I’ll become Mom, and my only super power will be the ability to suppress and annoy her. But another part of it is that losing your teeth without the Tooth Fairy would be the pits. And wrapping gifts at midnight while she sleeps without the cookies for Santa would be unfair (whoops, that’s me again).

I’ve come to terms with the fact that one day, she’ll peek behind the curtain and find me — the master manipulator; but I’m determined to rack up as many smiles as I can before that day comes. Hopefully love will magically make her forgive me.

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One and Done

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Last week, when the winds of the back-to-school  storm were just dying down — the 2-page list of supplies were purchased, new clothes and shoes and accessories had their way with my wallet, afterschool plans were set and paid for, the pediatrician saw us, and any sneaky lice were evicted from my 6-year-old’s head — my sister asked me, “When are you going to have another one?”

I kindly asked her to zip it.

She’s not the only person concerned with the contents of my uterus. Since my daughter’s first day home, I don’t think that I’ve gone a full week without someone asking when I plan on giving her a friend.

“She has plenty of friends,” I reply. “Friends that I don’t have to pay for.”

But everyone from my grandmother to strangers on the subway tells me that I am doing my daughter a disservice by “forcing her to go through life alone.”

At this point I wish I had a big buzzer like the ones that go off on game shows when a contestant gets an answer wrong, because according to studies (and me—Mother knows best) my only child is going to be just fine.

In a study titled, “Good for Nothing: Number of Siblings and Friendship Nominations Among Adolescents,” researchers found that the very modest social deficit sometimes seen in kindergarten evaporated when only children reached middle school. A large number of children (13,500) in grades seven through twelve at 100 different schools were asked to name ten friends. The only children were just as popular as their peers with siblings. Furthermore, the authors noted, “These results contribute to the view that there is little risk to growing up without siblings-or alternatively, that siblings really may be ‘good for nothing,’” reports Psychology Today.

So there you have it. She won’t be lonely. But what about the self-centered only child stereotype?

Confession: When I was in middle school, people always said, “You’re so bratty. You must be an only child.” And then they would find out that I’m the youngest, and that fit too — it’s always something.

In a study titled Behavioral Characteristics of the Only Child vs First-Born and Children with Siblings, researchers found that the status of being an only child is not associated with a poor outcome in several areas of the development.

“Simply, we tend to succeed at significantly higher rates than people raised with siblings, whether it’s at school or in our professional endeavors. Solitary pursuits like reading train our focus and curiosity and the verbally rich environment of life among adults accelerates our learning,” Lauren Sandler writes in her book One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.

I suppose I cannot say for certain that the future doesn’t hold another child for our family; we haven’t done anything to make it technically impossible. But it is reassuring to know that, while I’m comfortably balancing my career, marriage, and one child, my daughter is not lacking in a single thing.

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Introducing Harley Rotbart’s Developmental Milestones of Parenting

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Stones and pebbles in feet shapeEditor’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.

Volumes have been written about kids’ developmental progress—when they first roll from front to back, sit, walk, utter their first words, and countless other baby benchmarks. But often lost in the glow of babies’ accomplishments are the parallel milestones parents achieve after their kids are born. Similarly to how the age of a child’s first steps and first words can be roughly predicted, I’ve identified 14 reliable markers you can anticipate along your developmental path as a parent. So, published here for the first time are Harley Rotbart’s Developmental Milestones of Parenting.

The Womb: Nurture, Nest, and Nausea

The parenting adventure hasn’t even started yet, but there are great expectations mixed with apprehension and mystery. How is it possible that each edition of Heidi Murkoff’s wonderful What to Expect When You’re Expecting gets thicker and more intense than the previous edition? How can there be so much to learn and prepare? What did expectant parents do before books?

Birth to 1 month: Fear, Shock, and Awe

Everything about your first newborn is, well, new! You can’t even begin to know how much you don’t know, but you’re sure there’s a lot. How did your parents ever do this? How did the neighbors? Add to that sense of ignorance a creeping sense of panic, and a sense of responsibility like nothing you’ve ever felt before—not with a new car, a new house, or a new job. Nothing puts more weight on your shoulders than an 8-pound baby.

1 month to 3 months: Warmth and Wide-Eyed Wonder

Now we’re finally getting somewhere. Eye contact, babbling, and smiling all reassure you that there may be a little person hidden in this bundle of blankets and diapers. This is the developmental phase, when intense bonding takes place because the interactions with your baby are now more consistently two-way. If he’s smiling, you must be doing something right.

3 months to 7 months: Vaudeville and Variety Show Performer

Parents now go through what appears to the rest of the world to be a developmental regression: speaking baby talk, making goofy noises and silly faces, dancing daffy dances, singing senseless songs, and peek-a-boo-ing endlessly. Doing whatever it takes for your baby to give you one of those belly laughs that turns your insides to goo.

7 months to 12 months: Biographer and Curator

Although your baby’s first smile and laugh are unforgettable events during the earlier stages of parenthood, the “firsts” now come fast and furiously. The first time your baby sits, pulls to a stand, cruises, takes steps, and utters a word are the firsts you’ll remember most, the ones that you’ll write down and film for posterity. More photographs are taken per minute during this phase of parenting than any other.

1 year to 2 years: Secret Service Agent

Parents are now in full bodyguard and gatekeeper mode, from the time their toddler wakes up until the time he’s asleep for the night (if you’re lucky enough that he’s asleep for the night!). Your tot’s mobility and curiosity are soaring, and the dangers surrounding him are becoming your constant obsession. You feel as though you always have to be one step ahead of your little adventurer.

2 years to 3 years: Designated Bad Guy (stage 1)

This is the stage when parents teach boundaries and rules to their kids, and in so doing they learn to live with being the bad guy. Parents of toddlers say “no” more than any other word, which is excellent practice for having teenagers (when you enter Designated Bad Guy stage 2). Although experts extol the virtues of setting limits and structure for kids, that doesn’t help with the guilt you feel as the constant naysayer.

3 years to 5 years: Best Friend

This is the age when your kids are beginning to form their lifelong memories—and just in time because they’re now able to do so many more memorable activities. Your child is now a tricycler, climber, artist, and actor. Now is also when all their questions start: Whyyyy, Mommy? Howwww, Daddy? Better get your answers ready, because this is the parenting stage when you should become your kids’ best friend forever. This is when they learn to come to you not only with constant questions but also with problems you may see as exaggerated, but your kids see as front-page news. If you handle this bonding time right, they’ll keep sharing issues with you when they’re older and their problems are bigger.

5 years to 7 years: Separation (stage 1)

Some parents are jubilant about their child’s first day of kindergarten; others, not so much. In describing grief, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross noted five distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Just sayin’.

7 years to 10 years: Chauffeur, Choreographer, and Cruise Director

Your kids’ calendar is now filled up, and the tires on your car are worn down. Juggling your kids’ schedules with your own commitments could be a full-time job for a party planner or White House Chief of Staff. But since you can’t afford to hire either, this is when you had better master parental organization.

10 years to 12 years: Life Coach

The so-called tween years of your kids’ lives are also tween years in yours. You’re now transitioning from a period of reasonable control over your kids’ lives (7 to 10 years) to the next phase (12 to 15 years), when you lack all sense of control over anything. Your crisis and stress management skills will be tested in a gentler and kinder way now than they will be in few years, so this is the time to establish healthy parental coping patterns in preparation for what’s to come. This is also when you become your kids’ life coach—anticipating the challenges they will have as teens, you may now feel an uncontrollable urge to tell them everything they’ll ever need to know in their whole lives. That’s okay, but check periodically to see whether they’re still listening or if they’ve put their ear buds back in.

12 years to 15 years: Designated Bad Guy (stage 2)

This is when you catch yourself sounding like your own parents, something you promised you’d never do. The word no returns to your vocabulary with a vengeance.  The early teen years force you to answer the question “Am I my kids’ parent or their best friend?” And the answer that most helps you get through the challenges of these parenting years should be “yes.” Kids need law and order now more than ever, but they also need your friendship and love more than ever—a tricky balancing act.

15 years to 18 years: Separation (stage 2)

Now is the time for parents to develop nerves of steel; nothing else will get you through your child’s getting a driver’s license. Driving is your child’s first launch into independence. Although their most dramatic declaration of independence will occur as you say goodbye at their dorm room a few years from now, driving is nature’s way of easing parents into the idea of their kids leaving home. No longer needed to chauffeur or accompany, you now face the challenge of adjusting to the new reality of having near-grown kids. You’ll go to bed before they do, so remember to ask them to wake you when they’re home for the night.

18 years and Beyond: Long Distance

For many parents, college means empty bedrooms at home. Parenting isn’t over, it’s just more remote. Read my blog post 8 Tips for Keeping Adult Children Close for some tips.

As you notice your children’s growth and development, be conscious of yours as well. Enjoy each stage of parenting for what it is: another leg in the unique journey of your life.

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: Two traces of feet made of pebble stones via Shutterstock.

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Rosie to the Rescue: The Gift of You

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Rosie PopeCheck out blog posts by multitalented mompreneur Rosie Pope every week at!

As parents, we try to be the very best that we can be. And it’s easy to fall into making comparisons: What is everyone else doing with their kids? What gear do they have? What parenting techniques are they practicing? The list of questions goes on and on.

With all this looking outward for answers, we have the tendency to turn these thoughts inward in an anxious, “I’m not doing enough” kind of way: Am I playing with my kids as much as I should? Do I encourage creativity? Do I make time for my partner? Just think of the many questions we ask ourselves in, I suppose, some desire to be perfect. Quite frankly, its exhausting! And it’s no wonder that by the end of the day we don’t feel good enough about ourselves and our contributions to our families. Instead we feel overwhelmed, irritated, and ready to dive into a random box of cookies! Your day’s good intentions are shot. Forget going to the gym—it’s just not worth it since I won’t be running as fast or as long as that person on the treadmill next to me. After satisfactorily feeding our frustrations, we then vow to make tomorrow a new day! As much as you hate to admit it, you’ve probably gone through this same roller coaster of emotions at one point or another… maybe even last night.

Well, my lovelies, I have decided that being perfect is no fun and the endless journey to achieve it certainly isn’t either! If everything’s perfect, what can we laugh at? Perfect hair and perfect pancakes in a perfect house simply isn’t that amusing! And laughing, after all, is one of the greatest joys we can share with each other and especially our children.

I’m starting to learn that owning up to imperfections and letting our children see us embracing and dealing with them is what can teach them more than anything else. If they see us being happy and confident in the face of imperfection, focusing on our strengths and not swamped by our weaknesses, they, too, will do the same. Being perfect after all (or at least trying to be) doesn’t really teach them a great deal—other than sending the message that you are totally distracted, not relatable, ridiculously unapproachable, and absorbed in reaching some standard. Our kids don’t need us to be perfect; they need us to teach them how to deal with real life.

When we are constantly trying to be the best moms we can be, so many of us ignore perhaps our greatest gift to our children—ourselves, faults and all. However, I see it every day with the moms I meet: the insecurity. They have nothing to feel inferior about; they are doing a fantastic job, but somehow they are not able to see themselves as the great mothers they are. If you feel insecure about yourself and your contributions to your family, your anxiety will take hold. You won’t be able to be yourself and that is when things can go wrong as a parent. I am convinced that if you can let go of all the self-criticism and comparisons, you will find the confidence to just be the real, no-walls-up you. And that is one of the greatest gifts you can give your little ones as a parent.

So maybe I drank some wine on a Monday night, and maybe I slept in this morning and didn’t go running, but you know what I did do? I played a darn good game of “Mommy is a horsey,” and I’m feeling pretty fab about it!

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Finding a Family Legacy in the National Parks

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Arches National Park, UtahEditor’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.

Back when Great Sand Dunes National Park was still just a national monument, and our graduate student daughter was still just in kindergarten, the National Parks system became our partner in parenting. Our family “collected” national parks. We spent spring breaks, summer vacations, and fall breaks photographing our three kids standing astride the welcome signs outside dozens of national parks and monuments, from Arches to Zion, Badlands to Yellowstone, Capitol Reef to Yosemite.

It was in the parks that our kids learned about fragile cryptobiotic soil and the tundra, the desert and Death Valley, petrified forests and ancient redwoods. They heard rangers talk about fossils, geodes, and glaciers; they watched bison, wolves, bear, elk, moose, ptarmigans, and caribou in their natural habitats. They saw an owl capture and eat a mouse, salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and eagles fishing for those same salmon in the same stream. Along the way, they heard stories about Native Americans and the mysterious Ancestral Puebloans, about dinosaurs and wooly mammoths. But the lessons our Junior Rangers learned far exceeded those the park rangers could teach them: They learned about life.

It’s become a cliché to talk about life lessons gained through childhood experiences, but the ones our kids learned in the national parks were anything but cliché. They were only 3, 5, and 7 years old on our first visit to the Sand Dunes in southwestern Colorado, the home of the highest dunes in North America. The base of the dunes rests at 7,500 feet above sea level, and the climb from the base to the top of the highest peak is another 750 feet. On hot sand with unsure footing, boots and sandals are usually abandoned for stocking feet. The climbing is tough even for fit adults, but our 7-year-old son was determined to make it to the top with Mom, the parent with good knees. His sister, the 5-year-old, wasn’t as sure, so we encouraged her to stay behind with her little brother and me to play in Medano Creek at the base of the dunes. The creek “runs” in a wide splay that resembles a wading pool more than a flowing body of water, the perfect milieu for building sand castles. She had to choose: Climb the hot sand on a hot day to a faraway peak few young children ever reach, or wade and splash in the cool stream.

Our daughter had always been a little fearful about trying new things. Sleepovers at friends’ houses, tennis classes in our neighborhood park, overnight class trips, and even the monkey bars on the school playground all started out scary. So we were more than a bit surprised when, a little tearfully, she opted for the climb. She seemed determined not to let her big brother outdo her or claim bragging rights alone this time. I trained my binoculars on the threesome as they started the climb, zigzagging along switchbacks that changed with each windstorm of the year. There were lots of pauses along the way for snacks and water, but in just over four hours they made it to the summit, where the weathered guest book waited for triumphant climbers’ autographs. I couldn’t make out the kids’ facial expressions through the binoculars as they stood at the peak with their arms raised, but there was no question about their jubilation as they rolled, surfed, and pranced down the steep sandy slopes on the way back.

That night, while the boys played nearby, we sat at the campfire with our daughter, cold packs around her mildly blistered feet, and talked about what her climb meant in the big picture of her young life. Her sense of accomplishment and the pride she felt for conquering her familiar little fear demon showed her that nothing could stop her if she put her mind to it. No obstacle, no challenge, no barrier, no self-inflicted ceiling should stand between her and her dreams. That was the Sand Dunes lesson she learned and never forgot. In the 18 years since, she has had many, many small Sand Dunes moments, and a few really big ones, where the achievements of that day on the dunes sustained her.

It was also in the national parks that our oldest became a role model and nurtured his leadership skills and ability to inspire. He developed a sixth sense about how his sister and brother were feeling about our wilderness exploits, when it should be their turn to lead, and when they had had enough for the day. In doing so, he learned to consider, respect, and advocate for the needs of others. He also discovered his fear of snakes and his propensity to see bears while everyone else saw big rocks. Our youngest didn’t play in the creek forever, either. After more than enough years watching his siblings undertake adventures he was too little for, his turn finally came. Delicate Arch at Arches National Park will be known forever in our home as “Sammy’s Arch” because at age 7, he led the rest of us on the very challenging (and somewhat treacherous) hike. He did this with a mixture of pride, fear, and (ultimately) profound relief at shaking off the “baby” burden from his shoulders.

The national parks have become a lasting legacy for our family. Our now-adult kids still tease us about the legendary 11-hour bus ride in Denali, laugh about the mama bear who charged the obnoxious tourist, and sing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” whenever we’re in the car together. If you’re looking for your own family legacy, or just ready to plan your summer vacation, visiting is a great place to start.

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: A photo collage of Arches National Park in Utah via Shutterstock.

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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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