Tough love – Parenting lessons from the Marines
Have you heard the expression that the Marines offer the toughest job you’ll ever love? I think that was their slogan at one point, perhaps a while ago. Not having ever been a Marine, but related to two (sister and bro-in-law), and married to a former Marine, I feel a strong affinity for this military branch. Enough to join? Nah, but definitely enough to admire. In many ways, the lessons offered through being a Marine can easily be related to parenting, which is also one of the toughest jobs (unpaid at that) that you'll ever love. Running herd on one (or more!) little people can feel very much like herding a bunch of young corporals. So… on this, their 243rd birthday, I feel as though it is an apropos time to applaud all that the Marines embrace, and reflect on how those valuable lessons might apply to parenting.
So, then, 8 lessons, from Marines to parents.
1. Much like parents, Marines aren’t a group that sit around. They are trained to react with rapid (yet sound) decisions, quickly weighing pros and cons to minimize risk and maximize benefit. When in doubt, rely on intuition, experience and expertise. Tell me this: do you ever have all of the information when dealing with kids? When they are sick, and you’ve googled their symptoms and get every possible disease from bubonic plague to meningitis to a common flu, what is your best parenting reaction? It’s always better to make a decision and execute even with partial information than it is to wait and make a “perfect” decision too late. Call the doctor, ASAP, and then bite your tongue during the ‘next time, get the flu shot!’ lecture. (You know you should have gotten it; prevention is the best medicine. )
2. The best person makes the decision. When you are parenting, you are on the front lines, facing possible all-out rebellion, and you are undoubtedly in the best place to make the best decision. Not your spouse (calling you from work) or the principal of the school who yelled at your kid already today, but you. Pushing the decision down to the closest level of authority nearest to the front line will net you the most informed reaction. The Marines believe that creating a culture where front line folks are empowered to make decisions without approval produces flexibility, creativity, adaptability, and success. Even if that is the highest in command, or the lowest ranking, the one on-site has the most info. Use that position of authority to get things done.
3. Crisis? What crisis? Oh, I KNOW we parents know a thing or three about crises. Marines say ‘Leaders are made and broken during a crisis.’ In every situation, but especially when things seem a little ... angsty, trust that your children look to you, read your reaction, and then amplify what they see in your face and in your response. As they say, it is not that you will never be afraid; rather it is understanding that fear and uncertainty will never go away. Those you are charged (read: your children) with will benefit from your calm and sound reactions and decisions. Your kids? Know this: They will get hurt. There will be emergencies. There will be horrible and horrifying situations. There will likely be blood, at one point or another (especially if you have boys). But you? You can’t stand by and let chaos reign. Roll up your sleeves and get in there and fix it, to the best of your ability. And then take a deep breath and move on.
4. We all know it’s true: once you’ve had a child, you very rapidly reevaluate your existing opinion of what is and is not important. It is no longer about you; it is about your child, their well-being, and their growth and development. Everything you do after birth is done in order to take care of your new generation. Just like Marine officers, you eat last, you give up your gear first, your seat always and your comfort every time in order to give what is needed to your child(ren). Your focus becomes providing cover and removing big obstacles so those you are in charge of can be successful. It is no longer about you; it is about your kids. And yes, even Grandma agrees with that statement.
5. You will never get all of the supplies and support you need or want. And, more importantly, you have to keep going, and do the best job you can with what you have been given, right? In order to parent successfully in such an atmosphere, you must learn to improvise, adapt and overcome. You don’t really have a choice in the matter; just because you’re short peanut butter, you still have to pack lunches. And just because you forgot to buy groceries, you still have to take something to donate to the bake sale. Every situation has a solution, even if it is not necessarily the perfect Martha Stewart-esque version. Do the best you can with what you have; your kids will see that you are trying your best, and appreciate you that much more for it. Really, they will.
6. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming… Parenting is not easy. It will never be a clear-cut, worry-free situation. When it’s too quiet, you worry. When it’s too loud, you worry. When they are late, you worry. When it is dark, you worry. When they aren’t responding, you worry. Still, in the middle of all that angst, there is such joy and happiness, such awesome love that it IS worth it. Somehow, through your endurance and tenacity, you and your kids blossom and flourish and grow. You all change and develop and go places. Sometimes together, sometimes with one supporting the other, but generally in forward direction. Progress, no matter the battle, no matter the affront.
7. Remember that worry? Remember that uncertainty? That is normal. That is your new normal, actually, just as soon as you slip on the parenting suit. Feels uncomfortable? Well, get used to it, because you will never completely eliminate fear and uncertainty in your new parenting situation. Remember this: Fear is a motivator. Working to overcome it, you help yourself and your child develop grit. Feeling discomfort helps us to strive to do better, try harder, and to do more only to fall into a new (and potentially uncomfortable situation). And within each situation, regardless of the discomfort, there is good and change and beauty. So it really is worthwhile. Grit is, after all, one of the secrets to success – the more adversities and challenges one can overcome, the more that person believes in themselves, owns their own successes, develops coping mechanisms, and believes themselves capable of accomplishing goals. Facing down adversity? That’s pretty freaking awesome, especially when you do it using your own smarts, your own skills, and your own savoir faire.
8. And finally, as is the way of the Marines, Semper Fi. Always faithful, always loyal. Just like parents, just like families. Always there, always those we count on when times are good and when times are tough.
Happy birthday, Marines. Thank you for the valuable lessons. Semper Fi.