Dr. Harley A. Rotbart sees life from a unique perspective. As a physician, heart surgery patient, and child of a Holocaust survivor, he understands that life is precious and fleeting. He has written two books aiming to help people stamp out regrets: “No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids,” and his latest, “No Regrets Living: 7 Keys to a Life of Wonder and Contentment.”
After a year that has pressed many of us to review and evaluate our lives—and what is and isn’t important—what better time than now to ask Dr. Rotbart for his ideas on how to live without regrets?
The Epoch Times: What inspired you to write about living without regret, beginning with “No Regrets Parenting,” and now “No Regrets Living”?
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart: Too many people reach the end of their parenting years—and many others, the end of their lives—wishing things had turned out differently. They have regrets for not spending more time with their kids, for not having greater appreciation for the good in their lives.
Both of these “No Regrets” books began as “legacy” books for my own kids: the first one, “No Regrets Parenting,” to give them insights into what my wife and I learned about the preciousness of time with our kids; and the second book, “No Regrets Living,” to give our kids a roadmap for living their adult lives with gratitude and a sense of wonder for all the blessings they have.
When each book was finished, kind reviewers—and our kids—suggested the messages should be shared beyond just the family. Thankfully, the publishers agreed.
The Epoch Times: What are some of the common regrets people tend to hang onto throughout their lives?
Dr. Rotbart: As a young medical student many years ago, I helped care for a patient who told me he had put off too much for the future—a future he would never have because of the terminal diagnosis he faced in his mid-50s. He had so many regrets.
Part of living a “No Regrets” life is a carpe diem approach to life: making the most of each day, appreciating the wonders and blessings all around, and taking advantage of good health to do the things you’ll wish you would have done should health fail you.
But my prescription for “no regrets living” is not just about smelling the roses. It’s also about the way we treat people, the relationships we form, the legacy we hope to leave. If tomorrow was suddenly and unexpectedly the last day of your life, would you die owing apologies? Would there be people you didn’t say I love you to enough? We can’t change what happened in the past, although we can seek self-forgiveness for those things we wish we had handled differently and then learn to move on. But we can change what will happen in the future because it’s available to us right now, if we only know how to see it.
The Epoch Times: How did you zero in on the seven keys detailed in “No Regrets Living”?
Dr. Rotbart: The seven keys began with my “avocation” as a “medical miracle collector.” A few years ago, I published a collection of essays written by esteemed physicians around the world describing unforgettable medical cases they had witnessed. That book, “Miracles We Have Seen,” dealt extensively with issues of science versus faith, medicine versus miracles.
With the success of that book, I wanted to explore the apparent contradictions it revealed. And from that exploration, I came to the first key, and the most important one: belief. It is important for people to believe in something greater than themselves. I would never attempt to tell anyone what to believe, but in the “Believe” chapter of the book, I share what I believe is an example of the connection between belief and “no regrets living.”
From that first key grew the next, discovery of the miracles all around us, and then the third key, the need to heal the world of so many remaining ills, the greatest of which is evil.
The fourth key asks that we appreciate all that we have been given in this life, including our family. Then we are led to the fifth key: acceptance of fate and all that we cannot control in our lives. That acceptance helps us get past many of the regrets about what’s happened in the past.
The sixth key is seeking purpose and self-forgiveness—the former to protect us from having future regrets about not making the most of our days on earth, and the latter for getting past the guilt and regrets of the past.
The final key, growth, asks that we take careful note of the “mile markers” in our past that prove to us how much we’ve matured in our lives. That key also describes how to, as the wonderful Tim McGraw song says, “live like you were dying.”
The Epoch Times: How can parents provide a life for their families they won’t regret?
Dr. Rotbart: It’s all about the time parents spend with their kids—finding enough of it and making the most of it while they are still tucked into their bedrooms, where parents can peek in on them each night before going to sleep.
When kids are young, parents’ focus shouldn’t be all about protecting their adult priorities or nurturing their relationship with their spouse or partner. Rather, with young kids, parents must prioritize their kids’ needs within their adult schedules. And if parents are able to manage those juggling acts, they’ll discover something remarkable: They will be more successful in protecting adult time for themselves, and they’ll feel less guilty doing it. And they will improve their relationship with their spouse or partner.
Most importantly, parents will be able to look back and take pride in knowing they squeezed every moment and memory out of their kids’ childhoods and that their kids’ memories of their parents are vivid and loving. Parents can’t do it over again—at least with the same kids—so it’s important to do it right the first time, and prevent the regrets that will come when walking past their kids’ pictures in the hallway from earlier days and wishing they had made more of those times.
The Epoch Times: How can parents teach their children to live a life of no regrets?
Dr. Rotbart: It all goes back to nature and nurture. First, parents need to teach their kids to accept and be grateful for the gifts nature has given them. Every child is born with a genetic “bundle” over which he or she has no choice. One of our most poignant moments with our daughter was a teary one, sitting with her on the edge of her bed when she was 6 years old, discussing “bundles”: “Sure, sweetheart, there might be things you would change about yourself if you could. There are the things Mommy and Daddy were born with that they like a lot, and there are the things Mommy and Daddy got in their ‘bundles’ that they don’t like as much—or even hate, sometimes. And your best friend who you really wish you could look more like? When you look at her whole ‘bundle,’ are you sure you really want to be her? Look at all the wonderful things you got in your ‘bundle’ that you would never, ever change. Aren’t you glad you’re you?”
Secondly, parents must provide nurture. Be the type of person they want their children to become, and then spend plenty of time with them so their kids can learn from their parents’ role modeling. After kids are born, the world around them takes over, nurturing and determining the kind of people they will be. Parents are the most important nurturers in their kids’ worlds, and the most influential in shaping their future selves. Children are sponges, soaking up conscious and unconscious lessons parents teach them. Teach them well by being who you want them to become, and they won’t have regrets about what should have, could have, and might have been.
The Epoch Times: We’re all navigating challenging times. What positive lessons can be taken from the past year?
Dr. Rotbart: The most important lesson for society, I believe, is recognizing the disproportionate impact any crisis can have on specific demographic groups—children, the elderly, those with underlying diseases, the underprivileged, and the impoverished and homeless.
Take the impact on kids as an example. With tens of millions of kids forced out of school due to closures, parents had to find new and creative ways to provide at-home care, education, and entertainment. For those parents lucky enough to be able to work from home, juggling work time with play time was their biggest challenge. For many parents who had to leave home for work, identifying safe care for their kids—in all the usual ways, as well as from infection—became an even more difficult challenge. Although kids themselves generally didn’t develop severe infection with the coronavirus, the fear that they would become infected and transmit the germ to their parents or grandparents was very real.
Time with young kids is priceless and finite, so despite the hassles and hardships of parenting during the pandemic, I doubt parents will ever regret the bonus time they had with their kids. However, the lasting impact of the pandemic on children remains to be seen, and the resulting challenges for parents have yet to be fully realized.
In the months and years following the pandemic, parents will have to deal with the emotional and psychological repercussions on their toddlers and school-age kids of wearing masks and repeatedly hearing the fearful terms “coronavirus,” “COVID,” and “pandemic” as explanations for the denial of hugs and kisses from friends and loved ones. Parents will be confronted with the long-term effects on school-age kids and tweens of being deprived of socialization in school, camps, and sports activities. And parents will also be tasked with helping their adolescents—already a demographic with good reasons for, and high incidence of, anxiety—recover from the pandemic’s threats to their way of living and to their very lives.
The Epoch Times: Do you have any final thoughts about “no regrets living”?
Dr. Rotbart: There is a universal truth for people of all faiths and for people of no faith: Contentment in life comes from reverence for the “miracles” in the world around us and from the humility to acknowledge that we will never fully understand the source or substance of those miracles.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.