Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Children First

Are you shocked?

Credit image @wikimedia commons

I shouldn’t put my children first?!

Let me explain what I mean in this fourth article of our series on resilience.

All parents want the best for their children. Children should lack nothing:  the latest game console, the latest phone version, the appropriate outfit.

“Putting children first” seems the obvious thing to do.

How can that possibly be a bad thing? Except what happens is that children become spoiled and overprotected.

Ever heard of the “little emperor syndrome“? This is how it’s called in China. But the “little emperor syndrome” is just as prevalent in other countries. Take a look at this bratty teenager angry at her parents for getting her the “wrong” gift! This is an extreme example but even on a much smaller scale, putting “children first” can be very damaging. Children can become:
  • Anxious
  • Selfish
  • Vulnerable

Anxious because they won’t have a clear sense of boundaries. They’re always allowed to do what they want. They never get resistance in the way.

Selfish because they’re not conscious about someone else’s needs. They’ve always been treated as the most important person in the world.

Vulnerable because this is not what life in real world is about!

So what’s the solution? Put Family First, Child Second.

This is what Michael Grose, prominent Australian’s parenting educator, reminds us in his book “Thriving! Raising exceptional children with confidence, character and resilience”. “This child centric nature of modern parenting (…) neglects one of the fundamentals of child-rearing that has served us well over the centuries: (..) building a strong family.”

And let’s face it. Living overseas as a family is a great opportunity to put it into practise:

  • all family members are out of their comfort zone (another house, another job, another culture, another language most often)
  • there is little external support available (no extended family, no friends)

While living in another country is an enriching experience as a whole, it’s not a smooth ride.

In tough times, people grow together or split apart.                    Click to tweet

So, why is it so important to build a strong family?

Because a family is a little society, a real-life laboratory to experience relationships between human beings of different gender, age and occupation. It’s a wonderful place to test behavior and leadership, to instill values and principles, to hone social skills.

“Man is a social animal”   Aristotle              Click to tweet

Yet, in the expat world, you can have families with multiple configurations:

  • the “traditional” family with parents from the same culture living abroad,
  • parents with different cultures living in one of the parents’ country,
  • parents with different cultures living in a third country,
  • separated parents (one still living in the home country while the other is living abroad)

So many cases, shapes and sizes.

Each family is unique but the goal is the same: make the best out of living abroad.

So, how can you build a strong family to help you raise resilient children?

If I had to strip it down to the core, I would only keep those 2 critical steps inspired from Michael Grose’s book “Thriving!” spiced with some of my expat wisdom.

1. Parents: list your values and agree on them

Such an exercise is of great importance for single culture parents in their original country.
But for families dealing in a multicultural environment, it becomes crucial.

Why? Because culture is far from being only what you can see. Culture is more importantly what you can’t see: values, beliefs, thought patterns and myths. This has been beautifully illustrated by Gary Weaver with his iceberg model.

Sharing values with your partner will give you a direction. It will help you navigate through the changes of living in a new environment, while staying the course. It will empower you to make decisions without always having to consult each other. It’ll reduce conflicts and tensions because you’ll work towards the same goal.

What are your core values when it comes down to the word “family”? If you’re struggling to define what they are, you can find a list here. Limit yourself to 5. The essential values, the ones you can’t live without.

What do you want for your children? Do you recognize yourself in the 4 pillars developed here? Are you honoring another set of values?

What about your partner? Do you know what your spouse wants for your children? Are those values identical even if you’re not coming from the same culture?

2. Foster dialogue

At all levels.

a/ Encourage one-to-one discussions

A family is working well when all the members are feeling well.
How do you know it? By having meaningful one-to-one conversations.
Between parent and child, between siblings, in the couple.

Everybody is entitled to be fairly treated and listened to. Speech must flow freely. No taboo, no complacency, just the truth.

When I tried to remember, a few months ago, the last deep and meaningful conversation I had with each of my children, I struggled! Does it mean that we’re living miles apart? Not at all.
I’m the primary parent here. I’m always around: serving meals, helping for homeworks, driving to the activities, liaising with schools.
But I realized that in our daily life, there was no real space for individual interactions:

  • little privacy (with 4 kids, there is always someone around)
  • life is busy (homeworks, activities, chores)
  • time is scarce, attention span is short

So I decided to make time for it. Now I plan individual face-to-face moments… with astonishing results!

Action for you: when was your latest meaningful one-to-one conversation? When is your next one?

b/ Family discussions:

  • share meals

Sitting all together every day around the table is a ritual. It’s more than just satisfying a biological need.
It’s a priviledged moment when we catch up with each other, spot issues and share information.

This advice seems very simple and straightforward but it isn’t.
Depending on the country we lived in, we’ve had various habits!

In France, I was used all my childhood to 3 meals (breakfast, warm lunch at noon and light dinner around 7pm). In Belgium, the biggest culture shock was the sandwich at lunchtime. Needless to say that the kids are starving at 4pm, coming back from school. Indulging them with snacks, chocolate or lollies until 6pm is not a sustainable option. I’ve opted for a dinner just after school. As a consequence, we’re losing this time together as my husband is coming back later from work. We then try to make up for it with a dessert later on, all together. Not ideal but pragmatic.

School and work are organized differently in each country. Difficult in those conditions to keep your own pace!

Action for you: how many meals/week do you share ALL together? Without any other distraction (TV, phone, tablet)?

  • organize regular family meetings

This idea recommended by Michael Grose is great. All family members are gathering on a regular basis, for a short but efficient meeting to discuss common projects or issues.

What are we going to do next week-end? Where are we going to spend the next holidays?
How do we share the chores?
How much pocket money should be given?

Pick an appropriate moment: we’ve chosen Sunday around 6pm. Keep it short and sweet. The goal is to make clear decisions together, reinforcing the sense of belonging.

Action for you: How do you make decisions as a family? Are you making sure everybody had a say before enforcing a particular rule? Are you sure everyone has been properly informed?

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you implemented some of those points? Do you have something to add or to recommend? Speak your mind… in the comments.

N.B. Don’t miss the next and last article of our series on resilience: 5 Highly Effective Tips for Raising Resilient Children Overseas


  1. What a great post, Anne! I’m off to share now!

  2. Ian Ashton says:

    As an ex pat I can only concur!


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