There’s a split among experts about whether the kids or the relationship should come first. Frankly, I think putting your relationship first is putting your kids first. Why? Because if you want your children to grow up and have healthy, well-balanced relationships, a fulfilling sex-life, and a good sense of self, it starts with you setting the example.
It’s a parent’s #1 obligation to teach their children how to be happy, well-balanced, confident adults and very little else matters. I now have a grown child but I remember telling her, as she was growing up, that it was her job to move evolution in a forward direction, that she was to emulate my good points and ignore the rest. But I also knew that my words were secondary to my actions.
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For example, I’m not a cook and have no interest in culinary arts. It occurred to me when my daughter was a young adult that I had never taught her so much as how to boil water, let alone whip up a souffe. Because my mother had taught me how to cook, I felt that I should have done the same. So I bought her a cookbook and wrote the following inscription: “Dear Lisa, I thought it was time I taught you how to cook. Read this. Love, Mom.” I don’t think she ever did. Like her mom, she may not be a whiz in the kitchen but, guess what? She’s happy. She’s self-confident. She’s self-sufficient and independent. She may not be able to fry an egg, but I did my job.
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I was chronologically young when my daughter was born—just barely 22—and emotionally much younger. My growing-up legacy was one of self-doubt, poor self-esteem, lack of confidence, and a belief that I wasn’t worthy of the good things in life. I married the first guy dumb enough to ask me and, of course, that marriage didn’t last beyond Lisa’s second birthday. But I believed then that it was my job as Lisa’s mother to be the healthy, happy person I am today. That journey was long and arduous but my daughter watched and learned. You see, it doesn’t matter that I was a mess when she was born. What matters is that I morphed from mess to healthy. It doesn’t matter that it took me many years and that I’m still working on it. What matters is that I did it openly and within her view, teaching her one of life’s most valuable lessons. I’m proud of that.
You love your kids. You want more than anything for them to grow up to be happy, healthy, self-assured adults capable of forming happy, healthy, fulfilling relationships. Love them enough to teach by example. Even if you’re a mess, even if your relationship is on the rocks, even if you’ve spent years giving your kids the wrong message, even if you think there’s little to no hope of turning things around, give it your best shot. Your kids, no matter what their age, will be watching and learning.