Being a parent is one of the greatest sources of human joy, but it is also the single greatest cause of guilt. Beginning with your baby’s first diaper rash, you’ll assume it’s your fault for not changing her frequently enough. Not only do we feel guilty about the things we’ve done or not done for our kids since the time they were born, but we may even feel guilty about the genes we’ve burdened them with before they were born. I remember that whenever my grandmother saw a newborn, she’d say in her gentle European accent, “From this they have to make a person?”
So there it is. But as a pediatrician, infectious disease expert, and now grandfather, I hereby completely absolve you of one form of guilt. Not for the diaper rash. You are absolved of any guilt you might feel about not spending enough time with your kids. On one condition: You’ll be conscious of the fleeting years of childhood and make every effort to be with your kids in meaningful ways whenever you can. The only guilt you should ever feel is for not trying, and if you’re reading this website, I am absolutely certain you are trying.
Parenting is about opportunities, many realized, but some missed. Find as many minutes to be with your kids as you possibly can and you will have captured precious moments that would otherwise have been lost. But some moments will inevitably be lost to the realities of life. You have adult responsibilities and schedules that must be tended to. Tend to them, without the guilt, and then come home and reconnect with your kids. Do that, and when the long days with your young kids are over, the years will not have seemed quite so short.
And there’s another reason not to feel guilty about the time you can’t spend with your kids: They need to grow their independence. Whenever you start to feel badly about leaving them with the babysitter, or dropping them at a friend’s house where the friend’s parent supervises the playdate, or putting them in front of the TV while you pull the house together, lose the guilt! You’re not neglecting your kids or failing as a parent because you’re not with them 24/7. Rather, you’re providing balance between the time they spend with you and the time they need away from you to develop independence. And kids need to know they don’t have a claim on all of your time—the goal of parenting should be appreciative kids and fulfilled parents, not spoiled kids and guilt-ridden parents.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is a Parents advisor and the author of books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting, 940 Saturdays, and Miracles We Have Seen - America's Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can't Forget. Visit his website and blog at harleyrotbart.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.