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Who Do You Put First?

balanceIt is a challenge everyday to keep balance at home. It seems like every moment, someone is clamoring for my attention, or needing something RIGHT NOW. Or crying, or fighting, or making a mess, or asking an endless litany of questions…welcome to motherhood!

I know I am not the only one facing this battle. We are all trying to keep it together, to give each person in our family enough attention. Trying too keep people as happy as we can without completely losing our own minds. Along the way, I’ve read conflicting evidence about how I will achieve better balance in my family by putting one person or one relationship first: myself, my husband, my marriage, my children. Each argument seems to promise a shortcut, or an easier way to focus my attention that will domino into happiness for everyone.

Eventually, I’ve come to realize that none of that advice works for me. It seems like consistently putting one person over the others in my family throws everything else out of whack. Here are some of the reasons that each approach fails to achieve the balance I’m trying so hard to maintain.

Put Yourself First

“You will be a better mom, and a better person, if you learn to put your needs first.”

We’ve all heard this one in many forms – that in order to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself first. But here’s the thing…I had a lot of time in my teens and 20’s to put myself first, and I was pretty miserable. When I only had to worry about myself, I was paralyzed by the seemingly endless list of opportunities on where to live, what career to have, and what to do in my spare time.

However, it didn’t take long into my role as a mother to realize that I just wasn’t going to get the opportunity to put myself first too often. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel like I wanted or needed to that often either. Not that I was a martyr, but it just seemed like many of the things I used to spend time doing didn’t seem as interesting or important any more. Putting my baby first DID feel like putting myself first – it wasn’t a mutually exclusive decision.

As my children have gotten older, I’ve found ways to keep the old “me” in the picture. I’ve found that it’s definitely important to take breaks and recharge. But I don’t feel the burning need to figure out what I need all of the time.

Put Your Husband (Or Marriage) First

“You have to put your husband and your marriage first. A strong marriage helps you raise healthier, more confident children.”

I think this advice is pushed on me the most. I totally agree that it is important to have a strong, connected, loving relationship with your partner. But does that mean my husband is “first” in my life? I read an article where the writer actually asserted that she loved her husband more than her kids. Frankly, that kind of thinking doesn’t sit right with me. I love my husband in a different way from the way I love my children, but does that mean I love him more and them less?

Part of the challenge of marriage is finding time for each other beyond the day-to-day logistics of raising kids and keeping a home. It is important to be reminded to focus on your husband and your marriage, but it just doesn’t seem realistic to put his or our needs above our children’s all the time.

Put Your Children First

“When your children are [insert age], they will demand all your attention. Give them the full attention they need now, and you will be thankful down the road.”

Of all the people in our family, it is definitely the children yelling the loudest for attention. It also feels (especially now when they are young) that their needs are the most pressing because they really can’t take care of themselves. Most of the day, their needs do come first. However, it isn’t possible, or even helpful to them in the long run, to put them first all the time.

So, How Do You Decide?

It all makes me wonder: why do we always have to put things in order of importance? As if you could (or should) ever really pick one person, and choose him or her as the most important for the rest of your life. My inability to choose one person over the others reminds me of when someone asks my daughter, “What’s your favorite color?” and she responds: “Bluish-green AND hot pink.” Or when someone asks my son what his favorite dinosaur is and he says “Alllllll the dinosaurs.”

When I think about who I put first in my life, it really is “Alllll the people” in my family. While thinking about how to balance everyone’s needs, I realize that I haven’t gotten the right answer because I haven’t been asking the right question.

It’s not “Who should I put first?,” but “What should I put first?” I’ve learned that I have to think bigger than one person or one relationship. You can call it God, love, or understanding, or patience. But when I put on this filter, I get the answer I need.

If I choose to put love first, then I have the patience to answer a million questions. I can step back, stop what I’m doing, and help my child or husband find what they’re looking for. A fight can be stopped without resorting to screaming myself. I can make time to go on a date with my husband. I can take a break and recharge my own batteries without feeling guilty for it.

Balancing it all is the toughest job we’ve been given. But now I think about putting love first, rather than one specific person or relationship. I’ve felt more grounded, more patient, and less guilty about meeting everyone’s needs. There is no quick fix. No shortcuts. There’s just the realization that it’s ok to keep shifting my focus to whoever needs my attention and my love the most at a given time.

What are your thoughts? Comment below!

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