Do you put your children first? Are they an integral part of your life or do they intrude on your freedom? Did you marry only for love or to build a family with the person you love? When you come home, do you have eyes only for your spouse or are your children part of your picture?
Having children is not the only reason to get married, but it is the other side of the marriage coin. We don’t get married only because we love our spouse. We get married because we want to build a family with our spouse. This mindset spells a huge difference down the line. When you enter marriage to build a family, you view the entire family, children and parents, as a single unit. When you get married for selfish reasons, the children become intruders on your time alone with your spouse.
There is no question that parents must reserve ‘special alone time’ to nurture their relationship. Children should know that this ‘alone time’ is special to Mommy and Daddy. It’s not a break from the children. It builds a foundation for the children. Parenting is time and labor intensive, without a proactive effort to find ‘alone time’, the family’s bedrock can deteriorate.
We make time for each other, but we don’t make time for our children. Every available family moment, except for the specific hours sectioned off for parents to be alone, belongs to the family - parents and children together. There are parents that view their children as a burden. They really want time with each other and the children intrude on that. These parents got married prematurely. They should have waited till they were ready and understood the meaning of family.
When Jacob traveled, he would place his children in the saddle after his wives were already saddled. Yet, when he departed Haran to return to Israel, he secured his children in the saddle first. Why did he put his children first in this instance and why did his children come second in every other instance?
Let me ask you a question. When your family travels, do you open the car door for your wife? If you do, do you make sure your children notice? Let me ask you another question, when you all enter the car, do you instruct your children to wait for their mother to enter first? When you sit down to dinner, are your children instructed to wait for their parents to initiate the meal?
If the answer to the above is yes, does it mean that your children don’t come first?
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No. Your children are your priority and part of that priority is to show them how highly mom and dad regard each other. If we want our children to respect us, we must respect each other in front of them. When children see dad open the car door for mom and fetch the groceries from her arms, they learn to respect their parents. Teaching them to respect their parents is part of putting children first.
Teaching our children to respect us, doesn’t mean putting them second. They always come first. When they want to talk, we listen. When they have questions, we answer. When they have needs, we provide. We make sure they know that they are our priority. Just the same, when it comes to entering the car, they wait for dad to open mom’s door before they tumble in.
Children are taught to respect their parents. Parents are trained to put their children first.
This is why Jacob routinely placed his wives in the saddle ahead of his children, but when he left Haran, he broke with routine and saddled his children’s mounts first.
Our sages taught that Esau always placed his wives in the saddle first because his wives were his highest priority. Esau didn’t take much interest in his children. He agreed to have children only so that his wives would marry him. He didn’t marry to build a family, he built a family to get married. And his children felt it too. When Esau secured his children’s saddle, his gaze would linger on his wives. He provided for his children too, but they could sense that they were his second priority. They were a chore to get through to get at what he really wanted.
Ordinarily, Jacob also placed his wives in the saddle first. But he did it to teach the children the proper ethic and etiquette of honoring parents. Even as he saddled his wives’ mounts, the children could sense that they were part of the family. The mothers saddled up first only to teach the children a lesson.
When Jacob departed Haran, he expected to meet up with his brother Esau and sought to illustrate the distinction between them. He wanted to demonstrate the perversion of Esau’s mindset.
He secured his children’s saddles first to broadcast that in this home, parents and children are a single unit. Children aren’t outsiders that intrude on the parents’ freedom, independence and love life. They are an essential part of the family unit. They come first. In Esau’s home, the children come last. Esau doesn’t provide for his wives first to teach his children to respect their mother. He provides for his wives first because in his mind, children should come last.
Very few people are at the extreme polls of this issue. Few parents view their children as frustrating intrusions and few parents never grow frustrated with their children. This is not an everything or nothing proposition. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. The question is, where do you stand on a scale from one to ten and can you improve?
I believe we can all improve. Even those among us who are completely frustrated by their children’s incessant barrage of needs, complaints and demands, can slowly become better parents. All it takes is a little reflection. Think about your love for your children, think about their love for you and think about their vulnerability and dependence. Think about how much they worship you when you are there for them and how much their grateful smile lifts you up. This alone will put you in a better head space.
For the majority of parents, this is not a typical issue. Most of us love our children and are patient with them. But we all have our difficult moments. The message of this essay is to say that all is not lost. Tomorrow is not only another day, it has every chance of being a better day – if you heed the lessons of today.
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