Why Taking Time for Yourself Is Important for You and Your Kids — And How to Do It Guilt-Free

by Jane Scott, M.D., with Stephanie Land

Photo credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Blend Images/Getty Images

One of the universal challenges of parenting is having little to no time to yourself. When parents of young children are fortunate enough to get some precious alone time, it can be difficult to overcome the guilt they feel at leaving their child in someone else’s care. In this excerpt from The Confident Parent: A Pediatrician’s Guide to Caring for Your Little One – Without Losing Your Joy, Your Mind, or Yourself, Dr. Jane Scott and Stephanie Land explain some of the much-needed benefits of taking time away from your kid — for work, fun, and everything in between — and share some tips for easing your parental guilt when you do.

Feelings Are Contagious

Most people intuitively know that depression can severely affect the way parents interact with their children, but many assume that our stress and guilt is merely our own cross to bear, a consequence of modern-day parenting that may not be great for parents’ mental or physical health but is tolerable so long as it doesn’t affect our kids. Except it does. All that stress, fatigue, or guilt you might be carrying bleeds into your interactions with your children. A mother who is tired of being “on” is not going to be as attentive, patient, or even as much fun as one who regularly gets time to herself to rest, exercise, pursue her own interests or have an adults-only lunch with friends. If you resent work as a necessary evil separating you from your child, your children will eventually feel that way about work too, and once they are old enough they will do everything they can to keep you away from it for as long as possible. Anyone who has ever started the day off trying to wrench his or her leg from a screaming child’s grip knows what I’m talking about. Children can sense when Mom and Dad feel bad about the choices they are making. Working and nonworking moms who fret every time they leave their child in someone else’s care are sending a subliminal message to their children that they really aren’t safe unless their mothers are right by their side.

It would be more useful to teach children from the beginning that work is a natural part of adult life, and something that in the best of cases is to be enjoyed, not dreaded or resented. Ideally, all working mothers would have the same attitude as Kate in Australia, who works as an EMT: “Working makes me a better parent. I make a lot more of the time I do get with [my daughter] and make sure we do a lot of fun things together. I think the time apart is good for us.”1 How empowering to give your child the confidence to know that she can have a good time without you, and that you will always come back for her. Infants who learn these lessons early become toddlers who aren’t plagued with fear and worry whenever their parents aren’t around.

So having a life beyond your kids is good for you, and it’s good for kids. It’s also good for your relationship with your partner. You have to take the time to focus exclusively on each other, and not just occasionally, or you risk forgetting what it was that drew you together in the first place before kids. Just as children respond negatively when stress and anxiety pervade a home, they react positively when it’s filled with happiness and harmony. A home that’s run by parents who are still in love, who enjoy being together whether alone or with their children, is a great incubator for happy kids. And it’s a great incubator for parents, too, preparing them for the time when once again it’ll be just the two of them. For it’s not just our parenting standards that have risen; our expectations for what we should expect and achieve in all chapters of our lives has increased.

In a New York Times article on why couples over the age of 50 are divorcing at higher rates than at any other time in our country’s history, author and director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families Stephanie Coontz said, “We expect to find equality, intimacy, friendship, fun, and even passion right into what people used to see as the ‘twilight years.’”2 But meeting those expectations takes effort. “It’s not something you can put on the back burner while you raise your kids, for example, and think it won’t scorch somewhere along the way.”3 Whether you’re spending time alone or with your partner, think of the moments you take for yourself as preventative medicine for a happy marriage that wards off the harmful effects of empty nest syndrome.

How to Ease Your Stress and Guilt

1. Acknowledge What You Do, and Don’t Knock Yourself for What You Don’t
Instead of berating yourself when you feel like you’re not living up to society’s image of the ideal parent, make a list of all the wonderful things you do for your children. Singing lullabies, playing Itsy Bitsy Spider, turning up the music and dancing around with your child in your arms … these activities are all free, they take very little time, and they all have a huge positive influence on your child.

2. Pursue Your Own Needs and Interests
Be a good role model and show your kids that it’s possible to be a wonderful, loving parent and still work or be active in your community. You want your children to grow up seeing you as a whole individual, not just a parent whose entire life revolves around them. Children often experience a lot of pressure when they feel like they are their parent’s reason for being. It’s okay to think about yourself. Indeed, put yourself first every now and then. And do it soon. The earlier you teach your children that they are safe and capable of having fun without you, the better chance you have of sparing your child from developing separation anxiety. Eliminate or avoid separation anxiety altogether, and you also eliminate or avoid one of the most guilt-inducing stressors in a parent’s life.

3. Prevent Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is caused by a fear of the unknown. It can start quite early. The most common cases I see are in infants who have been exclusively breastfed and had the majority of their care provided by one parent, usually the mother. I hear about this situation all too often: A mothers tries to leave the child with his dad just for an hour or two so she can go out, get her hair cut, run an errand, or attend a dental appointment, and the infant screams hysterically the whole time she is gone. The father, equally distressed at being unable to comfort his child, is usually reluctant to try the experiment again.


Excerpted from The Confident Parent: A Pediatrician’s Guide to Caring for Your Little One – Without Losing Your Joy, Your Mind, or Yourself by Jane Scott, MD, with Stephanie Land. © 2016 by Dr. Jane Scott. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


Dr. Jane Scott is a trained pediatrician and neonatologist now working in the private sector developing medical devices to help infants and children around the world. Before training at Duke University, Dr. Scott lived in England and Ireland, as well as the Australian outback and the South African desert. She has four children of her own, born on three continents, and now is a doting grandparent.

Stephanie Land is a writer, book editor, and mother of two who has collaborated on several New York Times bestsellers and ghostwritten for many entrepreneurs, entertainers, and television personalities.


1. “Working makes me a better parent”: Kate G., personal interview, February 2015
2. In a New York Times article: Sam Roberts, “Divorce after 50 Grows More Common,” New York Times, September 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/fashion/weddings/divorce-after-50-grows-more-common.html.
3. “It’s not something you can put on the back burner”: Ibid.