If you’re like me, the things you do for your little one are never enough. You don’t read to him enough, talk to him enough, play with him enough, cuddle him enough, etc.

Yet when I reflect upon my own childhood, my parents play secondary roles more often than I realized. Sure, there were family car rides, weekly trips to the library with my mom, and chats with my dad while he cooked dinner.

a throwback to my childhood

Equally important, however, were the countless hours I spent outdoors with friends, or in my room playing pretend or reading. In each and every one of these defining moments, moments I enjoyed with every fiber of my little-kid being, my parents were in the periphery. Perhaps they peeked through a crack in the door to see what I was up to, or glanced out the window to keep an eye on me, but it was my time. My friends and I were in our own little world.

Even when I reflect on the holidays growing up, I recall playing with a new toy on Christmas morning or eating a home-cooked birthday dinner. My parents were there, but I don’t recall them hovering next to me the entire time; they would fade in and out for defining moments, underscoring the tempo of the day.

Theirs was a strong, silent presence that helped define the tone and cadence of my childhood. They chose the neighborhood we lived in, and therefore played a role in choosing the setting of my childhood games and, by association, some of the key players. They worked and shopped and cooked and cleaned – they kept the household running so I would have all those basics we sometimes take for granted: food, shelter, and a safe place to learn and grow.

No family is perfect, and mine had its troubles like anyone else’s, but when I reflect back on all those moments of make-believe, I realize how lucky I was to be part of my family.

Nursery

That realization gives me a fresh perspective with which to view my role as a parent. When I start down the dark path of inadequacy, I ask myself, “Would I be happy in this family today?” It’s not easy, but when I can stop and ask this question – and honestly answer it – things look a lot less grim.

For instance, we had people over this weekend, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen prepping food. When everyone left, I felt bad because I “neglected” my son while I tended to our guests. I “wasted” one of our precious weekend days together. Then I stepped back and reflected on the day through my new lens. While I was busy in the kitchen, Little Dude read books with his uncle, and kept begging snacks from his grandma, and was the center of attention while he pushed his little car around the living room. He was literally surrounded by people who loved and adored him, and who indulged him when he wanted to show them every little thing that fascinated him. And I didn’t really miss out; I could hear the sounds of laughter and storybooks and musical toys from where I stood in the kitchen. I brought together a house full of love for my son. I didn’t fail him at all.

The same question works on busy weekdays too. We have to shuffle out the door early to get to daycare and work, but we all have breakfast together and watch the news and drink our coffee and milk. Sometimes we get home late, and there’s just enough time for bath and snuggles and bed. But no matter what we do, there’s support and love and laughs enough to make us feel ready to take on the world.

Both kids and adults had fun at the park party.

The next time you worry about all that time you’re not being and doing everything for your little one, remember: It’s not about how much you personally do for him – that matters very little on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour scale. What matters more is that feeling your little one gets from being part of the whole – the living, breathing soul of what we call a family, a neighborhood, or a community.

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