Sleep deprivation is a part of a soldier’s job. The same goes if you’re a Dad.
As a Dad, you are already multi-talented, a jack of all trades and have a fledgling career in children’s entertainment. But are you truly firing on all cylinders. Are there more unusual places you can learn your parenting trade from?
Take an Army – a massive organisation with so many different parts, made up of men and women with varying skills and abilities. Can you really learn anything from the military about parenting? I think so, and to prove it, here are my top 5 things the Army can teach you about being a Dad.
1. Sleep is a Privilege, not a Right
You’re cold, wet and haven’t eaten a hot meal in more than 12 hours. You’ve been sleeping under a hedge for the past five nights which has granted you a paltry ten hours of sleep. Total.
But right now you need to focus on organising your equipment and getting ready for a night attack. Hopefully you enjoyed your ten hours because you’re getting zero tonight.
This is one of the biggest shocks a new parent can face. Those twelve-hour weekend sleep-a-thons are a thing of the past. If you get eight hours in the first eight years, you’re doing well.
Some nights you’ll get four.
Some nights you’ll get none.
But that’s the job. There’s no use complaining or being short with your partner because you have an over-ripe sense of sleep entitlement. That ship sailed around the time your little swimmers went for a, well, swim.
Instead, be grateful for the nights when you get a good sleep. Power through the difficult nights and subsequent days.
Trust me: No-one wants to know how sleep deprived you are.
Deal with it and get on with life.
2. Who Prepares, Wins
The Army teaches you to be ready to go at a minutes notice. Nothing is left to chance and all your equipment is packed and ready the night before – after all you might not have time to ‘do it later’.
This carries over to being a Dad. If you need to be somewhere in the morning, pack what you need the night before.
If you’ve got young children, make sure the nappy bag is restocked and ready to at all times. Finding out that you didn’t replenish the spare clothes at the most crucial time is not going to be much fun.
I’ve started packing my gym bag the night before work. Then I know that I just need to grab it on my way out the door at 7.00am. If you travel for business, do the same.
If you come in from a long day trip out with the kids, help them unpack their bags and put away their clothes – then you’ll know where everything is for the next time.
Get homework done early in the evening, before the T.V. goes on. And make sure it’s packed in school bags for the morning.
If you need to remember to take something to work like that left-over chocolate cake, leave it by the front door before you go to bed. You’re much less likely to forget it.
And much less likely to end up eating it yourself.
3. Concurrent Activity is King
A common challenge for the Dads I speak to is time management. How do you balance priorities like work, family, the gym? One of the best things the Army can teach you about time management is Concurrent Activity.
This is a fancy term that basically means doing two things at once. In the Army, this can mean cleaning your rifle, while your food is cooking.
Or taking it in turns with your buddy to wash, shave and change your socks while he keeps a lookout.
Don’t confuse this with multi-tasking – no one can truly multi-task. But if you’re waiting around for the kettle to boil, could you be using that time better than checking your Facebook updates? Or if you’re taking your kids to their sports club bring a book so you can educate yourself while they tire themselves out.
You can’t make or buy more time, but you can make better use of the time you have. Concurrent Activity is one of the ways to do this.
4. Restriction of Privileges a Powerful tool for Discipline
Being ‘gated’ is one of the worst punishments given out by the Army. This means that no-one can leave the camp over a weekend, sometimes even longer. No loved ones, no bars, no shops. Just sitting around contemplating how much fun everyone else is having.
Its much worse than any physical punishment. Even the worst extra-curricular physical training is over within a couple of hours. Being gated can last for days.
Do not underestimate the power of restricting privileges when you need your kids to obey your will. Once they know you’re serious, it can become a real deterrent.
Temporary confiscation of a favourite toy or a ‘screen time’ embargo can bring a lot of influence. Remember to emphasise why the restriction is in place and to lift it at the right time.
What is important is that if you move to restrict a privilege, you go through with it. If your kids think you’re soft, they’ll pay no attention to what they see as weak threats.
5. Strong Leadership is Essential
Any Army depends on strong leadership. Leaders make the tough calls and decisions when it really matters. As a man and as a Dad, that’s one of your main jobs. To lead your family and make decisions.
If you neglect this responsibility, you deserve demotion and to be stripped of rank.
Decision-making is tough. I get it. And sometimes you’ll make the wrong ones. If you do, admit your short-comings and resolve to learn from them. That’s what true leaders do.
I also believe that indecision is worse than hastiness. Better to occasionally make the wrong call than never decide on anything.
Leaders also know when to exert their authority and when to let things slide. This is learned from experience and from honing your judgement.
Good leaders know when to defer to their subordinates. It’s important for children to learn decision making and the consequences of those decisions (within safe parameters of course). Be ready to delegate responsibility to your kids when the time comes.
Like the military parenting metaphors? Then check out the Commando Dad website and books, the second of which (Commando Dad: Raw Recruits: From pregnancy to birth) I was a contributor for. Neil Sinclair is an ex-marine and expert Dad and knows his stuff when it comes to many aspects of fatherhood. If you have any other ideas, tweet me or leave a comment below.