Kids First?

*Note on the photo which I found interesting: it was impossible to find a 1950s family with just the mother and children in repose.  Our images of family from the 1950s are all represented by the nuclear American family which must include a father.

………………………….

Here’s a statement I have been mulling over in my mind: kids first.

I started this post in May when I met Mr. E, and he talked pretty consistently how he put his kids (and then his family) first.  Always.

Now I’ve met Bennett and he does the same thing.  He stays stagnant because his kids come first.

So, I sit and ponder……

Do your kids come first?

Always?

Forever?

Sometimes?

If it’s sometimes, when are the right times to put them first and the right times to put someone/something else first?

For me, I waited a long time to put myself first. Some may even question if I waited long enough. I stayed married to a man I no longer wanted to be married to until my children were 12 and 15 respectively.  Was 12 or 15 years enough?  Should I have waited another 6 years until my youngest went off to college?  Would that have been enough?

In my opinion, it was enough. The children could grasp and understand the concept of  divorce and navigate the rocky waters. I have hope there is still time they see me with a man who treats me well and have a demonstration of a healthy adult relationship first hand instead of the dysfunctional one they had been  seeing between their unhappily married parents.

However, I listen to men like Bennett talk about how they brought these children into the world and are now fully responsible for caring for them, not matter the cost or sacrifice.  Somehow this makes me feel guilty.

Am I less of a parent because I don’t feel this way?

Does it make me inferior as a person, as a human, that I believe I can balance my self-identity as well as raise perfectly capable and responsible children?

Will my children be any better/worse for the fact that they had a working mother or a come from a divorced family?

I recall, before I made the decision to separate, spending hours and hours and days and weeks researching the impact of divorce on children.  I sought out one therapist after the other to talk to me about the odds of my children coming out the other end of divorce – what kind of people would they be?

And I found, like anything in this life, you can have your answer any way you like it.

Some kids come through divorce unscathed and have no relationship problems as adults.  They mature and having loving, normal, healthy adult  emotional interactions.  Other children get scarred for life.  How the hell are you supposed to know what you are going to do to your children?

Of course one of the thoughts in my head was that my children were living and breathing a dysfunctional relationship and as they grew older, this was their only model.  How could they learn what a healthy adult relationship looked like if they used their father and I as a model!

Was it more important I chose to be an example of a strong, single parent rather than a dysfunctional married couple?

Did I make the right choice for my children?  Did I put their needs before my own?

I could ramble on for days about how I debated with myself to arrive at my conclusion.  And I think I did it slowly, after all, it was 22 years of marriage, no short run.

Why should I feel guilty when Bennett talks about sacrificing his life for his children?  Why do I feel some deep-seated need to be that person who can do that for my children?

Alternatively, I think Bennett is a fool to stay in the situation he is in for the rationale he is giving.  One of his children is off to college and the other is a senior in high school.  Just my opinion.  Perhaps what I am responding to is the ability to stay miserable and blame circumstance.  I know I did it for a very long time, claiming that I “needed to stay for the kids.”  At least, until something irrevocably broke and I couldn’t stay anymore.

Those of us who have come from broken marriages and made the choice to move forward on our own look at the people who can’t do it in confusion, even though we may have all sat in that confused state for any given period of time.  Some stay longer than others.  But all people who exit a marriage by choice (at least, all that I speak to) almost scratch their heads in wonder thinking “why can’t they see how much better life will be when they are out of that emotional misery?’

I don’t regret my decision to divorce.  Not once, not ever,  It’s not a thought that crosses my mind.  I struggled long and hard with my decision and I will never doubt the conclusion arrived in my life at the right time.

But, somehow, I still struggle (as you can see from recent posts) with motherhood and how to be a good mother.  I often worry that I don’t invest enough of myself into my children the way a modern parent does.  I allow them room to breathe on their own, but oftentimes I worry I give them too much freedom.

How do you decide when to put your kids before yourself?

Author: Madeline Harper

My journey through divorce and an emotional and sexual reawakening. Love, laughter, friendships, family and heartbreak included. And there is sex, lots of it, so close your eyes and turn the page if that's not for you! While I started this blog as an endeavor to journal my thoughts and feelings in an attempt to better understand myself, it has become an amazing platform from which I have met some of the most interesting and wonderful people in my life. My path is often crooked, but I hope you will share in the journey with me.

31 thoughts on “Kids First?”

  1. I think that each situation is unique and there’s no simple answer. I do think that parents ought to try to keep things together until the children are old enough (early teens) to understand. Some days the kids come first, some days I come first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. When I have time with my kids, meaning on my custody schedule, I generally put them first.

      But some days, now, I go to the gym and they have to deal with me being gone a few hours and not there to cook or drive them somewhere. When I say being “full-time” I really mean 24 hour availability to them on my parenting days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always wanted to be first, which is why I didn’t want to have children. I wanted my life to belong completely to myself. People have a hard time understanding this.
    I think it’s good to show your kids that parents have feelings and desires and that its okay for u to act on them… One day they might be parents too. They need to see that a person should and could exit an unhappy marriage. That doing so is healthy. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s great you know parenting wasn’t for you. I have a few friends who are exactly the same and very happy. Fortunately these are the friends who also help remind me that I’m a human and individual who should not be defined by my children!

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  3. I was raised to believe that if you got a woman pregnant, you had a dual responsibility to her and the children and it shouldn’t ever be shirked or ignored. Now, as I got older, had more kids (by the same woman I married, by the way) I could see the fallacies in that dual responsibility – women can be pains in the ass and I don’t mean that in a good way but the responsibility to your children remain and, as I was taught, trumps other personal things – you don’t give your all for your children and raise the right, you’re no man at all.

    By the time my wife and I divorced, our children were grown with their own children. Realistically, she and I could have divorced at any time in the 32+ years we were together but we didn’t stay simply for the sake of them – we stayed because we had a responsibility to raise them into adulthood as a unit; we wanted to have those kids and, again, our duty as parents was very clear: it’s a job that you do not quit no matter how bad shit gets between the parents.

    Even when we did some, ah, unconventional things with our relationship, they were done with the children in mind, knowing they wouldn’t be happy about it but they’d understand our vision of a better situation for them. I wound up being a father to five children – my three and two more that joined the fold… and it just worked because [now] the three of us parents made it work. Even though we went unconventional for us, the children didn’t get shoved to the side.

    My parents separated when I was twelve and it devastated the family and had very negative effects on me and my three siblings. I didn’t like it but I was smart enough to understand why it happened and that it had to happen or our lives would have been much worse. But their marital issues taught me the value of hanging in there and doing my duty as a parent. I’ve seen parents going their own way and allowing their children to suffer, which leaves a very negative impression on them going forward and custody/child support battles left even more negative impression on children who were still very impressionable and wound up learning a lot of very bad lessons about having relationships.

    Still, Madeline, we as parents do what we gotta do; we understand, even if our children don’t, that if we cannot take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of them and that in order to take care of ourselves, changes are required – but we should also take care to ensure that while changes might cause our children some difficulties, we have a duty to minimize any negative impacts and, if they’re old enough to understand, explain to them why the change had to happen, even if you tell them that you needed someone to treat you better so that you can continue to treat them better.

    My three didn’t like the change we made… at first. We sat them down and explained it to them even though some say we didn’t have to but because we were able to get them to understand it and how it was going to benefit them as well, they were on board and did, indeed, prosper more, exceeding our expectations in this.

    Yep, it’s a royal pain in the ass to put your own life on hold to make sure your children don’t suffer but it’s for a good and noble cause, I think, to realize that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one, that making sure that our children grow up with that sense of duty and responsibility so that when they eventually become parents, they will not shirk or forsake their duty as parents and in ways that could be perceived as selfish and uncaring.

    It’s the lesson I learned and the one I taught to my children – and they are teaching that lesson to my grandchildren.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t disagree that it’s a good and noble cause, but I do feel I cannot put my life on hold. Nowadays kids live home through their 20s and I’m not willing to wait for that. But this is the core of my struggle – I made this choice to bring them into the world (with their Dad) but feel that ALL the responsibility is on my shoulders (while Dad has always been untethered so the same level of responsibility). So, partially because of his selfish choices I feel unable to have any of my own. This is exacerbated by parents who dedicated very free moment of their entire lives to their children and I know I am not that person.

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      1. There is that; every parent I know, including myself, has said, “I’ll be glad when they get older and I can get my life back!” It’s just a question of at what point in the lives of our children we need to retake control of our lives but also one of if doing so will have a negative impact on children who do, in fact, learn much from observing us.

        When the last of my children turned 18, I celebrated like I’d just gotten out of prison after a really long and arduous sentence and this is something that those without children cannot understand and also why some folks refuse to have children because (at least legally), the next 18 years of your life will be spent dealing with them and putting many things you wanna do on the shelf. Now, many do say, “Fuck that – I’m gonna live my life despite having kids!” which usually doesn’t go well for the parent(s) who said this or their children.

        We accept the moral obligation of raising them to the best of our ability until they become legal adults; that doesn’t end our job as parents – it just removes a lot of weight from us; I still get phone calls and emails from my adult children wanting to know what to do about this or that their children are making them insane, proof that the curse, “I hope you grow up and have children who act just like you!” is very real.

        It’s a judgment call, my dear Madeline, and all you can do – all anyone can do who decides to take their lives back a little early – is hope that by doing so, they haven’t screwed the pooch.

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  4. I think we all go through those thoughts many times. I myself researched and researched when I took the decision that my marriage was over. My kids were almost 5 at the time. And just the thought of waiting another few years to divorce drove me crazy. But in my situation it was a bit easier because they were used to not having their dad around for long periods of time. So it wasn’t like a major shift or change. Infact the major shift came when I filed for divorce and the dad decided to spend more time with the kids…but in hindsight, I don’t think my decision was selfish. Like you, I think it’s best for kids to have better role models for a happier family life. There’s no point in staying and letting the kids be witnesses to all the anger. As for the after divorce, I for one, put my kids first in everything I do. Hence the fact I don’t go looking for other relationships even though I haven’t been with their dad for almost 2 yrs. and now that I’m officially divorced, I still don’t think it’s the right time. My kids are way too young and still need my full undivided attention. But in your case, they’re older, and I’m sure they’d understand. It definitely doesn’t make you a bad mother. That’s just bullocks. It makes you human…

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    1. I did the same at the end of my marriage. Research and research and more research. You can find an article to support any view you would like to take and I eventually gave up and went with my own knowledge that I “knew” my marriage was bad and needed to be left behind to create a better life for my children and I.

      I don’t look as my divorce as not putting the kids first which I know seems unusual. It’s more not giving myself up and over to the kids fully now that I am divorced – maybe as a way to compensate for being divorced. And it usually happens when I compare myself to others who are unhappily married or who give up every single free moment to their kids.

      I agree that age is a huge determining factor as well as kids dispositions (my 13 yo is like an old soul! Lol).

      I guess it’s self imposed peer pressure in a way.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My kids have come first, every second of every day, since I gave birth to them. But that caused major problems for my personal wellbeing and part of my affair, was an escape from that grind of motherhood. My time with CEO, taught me that I could walk out the door- leave the kids for the day- and return home still to happy children. It wasn’t until I ‘practiced’ that, for lack of a better description, that I really understood this concept and could buy into it. Previously, I felt too much guilt to ever put any need of mine above theirs.

    But that’s changed.

    I give to them so much, but not to the extent that my own sanity breaks. It’s way more beneficial to all parties if I live a more balanced life. I take time for myself, on a daily basis, and return to the children a better version of myself. When I am home, I strive to always give them my full attention. But I need my own time in order to re-set the batteries so to speak.

    I say you will find many answers to this question. Every parent has their own filter with which they make these types of decisions. Family dynamics, age of children, amount of quality face to face time they get, each carries a considerable amount of weight when deciding just how much of ‘you’ gets filled that day. Some days, the kids get everything from me. Other days, not so much. It’s all about balance and not shirking your parental duties, no matter what the age of your children.

    I always say…follow your gut 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You do always say that! 😘. And I have often found this is some of the most sound advice I have received. I generally know what feels right and wrong for me and my family and find myself most “guilty” when I compare myself to others and their situations.

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  6. I am really selfish, M, so honestly I’m not sure this will be much help. I love my kids to the moon and stars and back, but their dad and I split when they were 2, 3 and 5, so I had to work when they were growing up. And I do not ever feel even a twinge of guilt about the divorce or being a working mother because I am not cut out for full-time, hands-on motherhood. They had fantastic caretakers between grandparents and the daycare I chose for them, and that allowed me to sleep at night.

    But while I would do just about anything for them, I knew if and when I found another someone special that relationship would be my highest priority, so I chose carefully. I married a man who prioritized my kids when we were hands-on parents, so there was no conflict about that between us. Now that they are young adults, we are loving our empty nest lives and seeing the kids as much as we do. We are a close family, and since they both seem to have healthy, happy relationships now, I do not feel like they missed out terribly on a nuclear family.

    My parenting skills were imperfect just like everyone else. I did better than many, and I had pretty easy kids to raise. What drives me insane now is the mommy/parents that judge others so harshly for different choices. Not everyone has the opportunity to be an overly involved SAHM, and not all of us have the temperament for it even if we did have that opportunity. There are all kinds of mothers and parents, and your choices and decisions about raising your children are going to be unique to you and your family. Bennett, Mr. E are making different choices, and in a lot of ways I also view them as terribly misguided. Then again, I think people who make their children the epicenter of their whole world will have a much harder time and are headed for a serious existential crisis figuring out who they are when they are no longer needed to parent 24/7.

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    1. I can’t see you as a selfish person, Janelle! 😘

      I agree that much of the pressure I feel comes from being around others with a strong opinion about the “right” way to raise children. Most of these people are also very unhappy with their lives and don’t see that their “sacrifice” is what’s making them miserable. Me time is important.

      I don’t have the temperament to be selfless in any case. Every time it comes to this for me I struggle with my choices and guilt. I admit to being imperfect as well. I agree these other parents are misguided especially in this generation. Parents have become helicopters and created a very entitled generation. It’s now like we have taken any peer pressure off our Kids and placed it on ourselves!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the decision to stay together or break apart is extremely subjective. If two people are simply unhappy and unfilled and can’t get enough counseling to make it better, and they decide to divorce, I imagine it might be more difficult for them to “justify” the separation. However, in my case, I can say that divorce was the ONLY option. My ex was abusive and controlling, and he refused to go to counseling with me, and I saw my then 6yo and 10yo bearing witness to screaming fights and him destroying my things and calling me ugly names I won’t repeat here (not to mention the physical acts against my person). That was more than enough for me to KNOW that my kids needed to be away from this, and I was seriously scared my son would grow up to be his father, and my daughter would believe this is how all women are treated. I put my kids first when I got the divorce, but make no mistake – it was also about putting ME first too (and in many ways, these two things were not exclusive).
    Still, I too struggle with thinking I’m not doing enough for them, or I’m not listening to them enough, or spending enough time with them, …. that’s the inner voice of doubt that my ex planted in me so many years ago. Usually it’s retroflective – I want my time for me and to do what makes ME happy, and then afterward I feel guilty that I’m letting them down somehow. And this is another reason why I’m in counseling. I think as mothers – in general – we are hardwired to feel guilty about our kids. So, I’m learning to accept this and also work on focused time with each of them. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question you posed. I think the answers lie within individuals and how we handle them with respect to the children. The only thing I know for sure – my children NEED to see their mom take care of herself AS WELL AS them, and they NEED to experience what a healthy romantic love looks like. (You inspired me to maybe post my own about this subject… maybe in response to yours?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree that the abuse is the worst of it for kids to see. We had some screaming fights towards the end and it’s ultimately what propelled me forward int what confidence I didn’t want to be fighting and crazed every day of my life!

      What does your counselor say about this guilt thing – I agree it’s very common and many of us struggle with it.

      I would love for my kids to experience a good, healthy, romantic relationship first hand.

      I can’t wait to read your post!

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  8. My children came first with me until they were grown and probably after that. They NEVER came first with the Loser puppet…nor did I. I always kind of hoped that after I spent my entire young and middle aged life with them, they would reciprocate by caring about me. Ha. Boy! Did i have another think coming. Oh, well.
    There’s a fine line between being “invested” enough and smothering them. I let my children fight their own battles until it became apparent that they couldn’t (when they were younger.)’
    You’re strong and you know what you want. I think you are being too hard on yourself. If you asked your children if you were/are a good mother, I’ll bet they would say yes.

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    1. Some days I wish the kids understood enough to prioritize me but they are selfish creatures (as am I) by nature. I am proud they are good kids and hope that I am raising better humans and one day, better husbands!

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      1. That’s a start right there that neither of of us had. And perhaps our children are better suited for finding mates when they see poor relationships and know not to look for those things.

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  9. Each situation and each person is different and people will make choices based on what they think is best at the time. I thought my parents should split up from the age of about 10 because they didn’t make each other happy and that made me sad. I told my dad that as I felt they could both be happier alone or with other people. The response was he agreed but they would stay together until I left school, then until I left home – I spent my teenage years feeling like it was my fault they stayed in a marriage that made them both miserable. Not a good feeling for me or a good example to set re relationships. But that’s just my experience.

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    1. I wonder if my kids acknowledge we should have split up but I don’t think they do because they didn’t ever see anything horrible. I think that as they grow older and get into their own relationships they may understand what was so dysfunctional about ours.

      I do wish they see a functional relationship while they still live with me at home. But maybe not. Either way they do see a happy, healthy mommy.

      It must have been tough to know at such a young age your parents should split. Especially since you felt like it was your fault. I’m sorry for that as it couldn’t have been good for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your boys seeing healthy, happy mum is great for them 🙂 and great for you.
        I luckily never saw anything horrible just two people who never reached their full potential or happiness and that made me sad for them. I tried to take the learning from that in terms of my relationships as an adult, sometimes more successfully than other times. I just feel like they wasted two lives, and I don’t want that for me as we only get one shot!

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  10. I’m with Janelle. Motherhood doesn’t define me. Much like Fatherhood doesn’t define many men. It’s a double standard social construct that holds women back. Are they alive? Check. Are they loved and fell secure? Check. *brushes hands* my work here is done.

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  11. I can only talk about my own experience. I was devastated at first when my parents divorced (I was 11). In the long run I am so happy my mother left. It wasn’t easy, but it was better than the no-love and arguing. I also had so much freedom from my mother and I turned out okay 😉 I don’t think you can change a personality, so if they’ve been doing good, I think they’ll continue so. And from what I’ve read about your kids, they appreciate your parenting!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. All of my friends were limited in their choices actually. I was the only one that was allowed pretty much everything and funnily enough, I’m also one of the very few that never fell into drugs, alcohol or other such behaviour. But I think it also depends on the mondset of the kid and its friends… in the end you can’t really change what they want to do. They’ll find their way.

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