I recently read an article by Navy SEAL combat veteran Brent Gleeson on how to manage fear, and I thought of my own time in the home trenches as the commander mom of 6 kids.
How many times have I headed off mutiny, a full-scale nuclear melt down and the zombie apocalypse all at the same time-not in a remote foreign location but in the middle of Target?
Yes, my Navy SEAL brother-in-arms, I may not have risked my life and served my country in the same way you did; but, in many ways, I can feel your pain. The life lessons you share from your days in combat apply very well to managing my own little squadron.
Straight from the real-life battles and victories of life as a Navy SEAL/ mom, here are some tips for combat survival.
1. Acknowledge fear exists
Parenthood is scary in so many ways. Acknowledge the fear. It's scary to be responsible for another human being and to be expected to figure out what to do in situations you've never even had nightmares about. It's terrifying to be in charge of keeping everyone fed (including the ones with food allergies and strong gag reflexes), clothed (even those with a propensity for streaking through the house/neighborhood) and healthy (He stuffed WHAT up his nose?!).
Take a deep breath and remind yourself you're doing amazingly well in a really tough job. When you have a co-commander (aka a spouse), acknowledge your fears to each other and work together to overcome them. When the rest of your squadron kids are in a listening mood, tell them what things are hard about your job and ask for their help. Acknowledging fears helps us work together to overcome them.
2. Be strong for your team
They don't need to you be Superwoman (although, that certainly wouldn't hurt), but they do need you to be the mom. As Gleeson says, "Panic is wildly contagious." So, when possible, plan ahead of time with your co-commander what your policies are on mutiny, managing the zombie apocalypse and containing nuclear meltdowns. These things happen. Preparing ahead of time helps keep panic to a minimum.
Preparations may include self-talk before battle ("I'm not buying Sugar Crunch High breakfast cereal today, no matter how much wailing and gnashing of teeth goes down."); moments of meditation in the bathroom while firmly ignoring the fingers under the door; and regular employment of mercenary babysitters to temporarily relieve you of duty.
As Gleeson says, "Understand your own emotional intelligence and ability to control or redirect your disruptive emotions." Or, in other words, know when you've had enough, and plan breaks to avoid commander meltdowns.
3. Listen and get feedback
Listen to the experts, listen to your co-commander, listen to your troops and, perhaps most importantly, listen to your own heart. The experts are not always right. Motherhood comes with a special endowment of gut instincts that are usually spot on. Listen to them. Trust them. And as you do so, accept feedback from your co-commander and troops on what's working and what's not.
4. Allow the team to influence the process
Put issues that are negotiable on the table and let the team influence the process. Talk about family trips, family rules and family dinners. Once you've received feedback, communicate what the plan is and what each person's role is in executing the plan. Perhaps Mom carries the ammunition diaper bag and supplies, Dad is in charge of maintaining the cavalry car and the troops are in charge of general mayhem. (Good job, troops! General mayhem accomplished!)
5. Over communicate
My mom (a woman I was certain ran a secret intelligence organization bent on uncovering my every move) is fond of saying, "More communication is almost always better." Whatever you are doing, whatever you are feeling, whatever attacks you are under and whatever battles you are waging, talk about it! Share your struggles and frustrations with your co-commander.
Admitting your fears and vulnerabilities to each other will only bring you closer. Talk to your kids about your plans for the day, the week and the month. Help them see the big picture. After the battle is over, sit down and talk about how it went. What went wrong? What went right? What would you like to do next time?
6. Focus on the positive
Battles happen, but so do victories. Celebrate your victories with a little craziness-dancing in the kitchen, hugs and high-fives, whooping and hollering! Let yourself go crazy with the good stuff! Ice cream and root beer for everyone. Celebrating the good parts of life helps focus energy on the positives, ensuring even more positives come your way.
From babyhood to preschool to high school and beyond, parenthood is one of the scariest, craziest, most joyful battles to wage. Make certain you see your co-commander and troops as your team, acknowledge your fears, communicate everything and celebrate your victories. And, when you collapse into bed at night after praying for a few hours of shut-eye and before you pass out from exhaustion, give yourself a pat on the back. You, Commander Mom, are a hero in the greatest sense of the word.