What does it mean to “Put the Children First?”

I always wonder what people mean when they say that.

Do we put the children first when we bring them into this world or our homes? When we cuddle them as babies, or when we let them cry it out to learn to soothe themselves?  Is it when we buy them healthy food or when we buy them junk food as a “treat”? Or is it when we buy them luxury items that we didn’t have as a child…or as an adult? Is it when we register them for school? Or when we choose to home school them?

What does it mean to you to put your child first?

I think we will be hard pressed to find a parent who does not “put their child first” in their own mind, but the way they define it may not be the way everyone defines it, which doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it their definition.

For me, putting my children first means allowing them to help wash and put their own laundry away, so they know how to take care of their belongings…and so they know where their clothes are.  It also means giving them the responsibility of packing their own lunches so they know what goes into them and how to make healthy, but satisfying choices…and so they can’t blame me if they don’t like their lunch.  Putting them first to me means teaching them how to look someone in the eye when speaking to them, how to hold a respectful conversation and how to use humor to lighten up their mistakes, while taking ownership for them at the same time…key life skills to real communication that are invaluable.

Putting my children first also means taking care of myself and my own physical and emotional needs. When I’m unhappy, unsettled or frustrated, no one’s getting the best of me.  And no one wants to be around me, not even me.  So when I’m in a crappy place, I give myself permission to take care of myself, whatever that means to me at the time, and everyone else around me benefits.

Another of my top definitions of putting my children first means having a healthy relationship with their dad.  Our children learn what respectful relationships look like from watching our every move and ingesting them as their rule book for life.  No pressure… And since our family unit has been separated into two homes, it’s even more of a challenge to make sure this happens, but equally important. Marital separation has been one of the hardest  and most painful events  I’ve ever experienced, but it’s also taught me the value of a strong, working relationship with the person who is invested in my children as much as me.  The more our children watch us respect each other, help each other out and show appreciation, the more comfortable they are with our situation and understand what the framework of a beneficial relationship looks like.  (I should also add that we have worked EXTREMELY hard to hash out 20 years worth of differences in the past 8 months and at the end of the day, my parenting partner is by far one of my favorite people of all time…so that helps)

No matter what our life situation or circumstance may be, isn’t our goal for our children always the same? To keep them safe, healthy and feeling loved, in whatever way we choose and are able to show them that.  As parents, we put our children first by allowing them to see life as it really is.  Sometimes that means allowing them to experience pain and discomfort when they make decisions that don’t work for them and remind them of their other options.  And other times it means intervening when you see unnecessary disaster looming. How each of us defines this will be different but our intentions will always be the same.

So the next time you hear someone say, “Put the children first” ask them to define it and enjoy the differences that keep us all who we are.