How the Military Prepared Me to Be a Mom

pregnant woman about to hug young son sitting on kitchen counter, military mindset parenting

My time in the Air Force taught me many things. Much of it, like knowing how to square my corners and remembering that “if it’s a corndog on a stick, it must be a [Mi-8] Hip,” hasn’t proved useful in post-service life. What HAS proved valuable, especially as a mom, are aspects of the military mindset.

This mindset, which I apply to my parenting style, is not about the standard military tropes of strict discipline (ha!), early wakeups (HA!), or even how to visually recognize foreign aircraft. Instead, it’s one forged by teamwork and Murphy’s Law, designed to have things run as efficiently and cohesively as possible. Since there’s no bootcamp for parenting, falling back on these military take-aways has proved to be effective for me.

Remember the “7 Ps.”

There are several variations of this military adage, but here’s the one I use (pardon the crude language): Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Proper prior planning means more than just coordinating calendars with my husband, it involves thinking ahead about possible scenarios in an attempt to minimize stress and surprises.

You can apply the 7 Ps on a large or small scale. For example, I store a few plastic bags in my car at all times. It’s not much, but at least I’m prepared when muddy shoes or an out-of-control diaper situation occurs. Similarly, I always keep a Birds Eye Voila! frozen meal on hand. That way, if the day gets away from me, I know that a decent dinner can be ready in under 20 minutes.

Bigger picture, proper prior planning involves things like keeping our family finances in order and making sure long-term plans are in place. These types of things can be harder to do but are the most important to prepare for. In these instances, the idea of proper planning may be overwhelming. Fortunately, just knowing you need to plan can be the beginning of the plan itself.

Flexibility is the key to airpower…and parenting.

Just like being in the military, being a mom means there’s a solid chance that plans could go wrong. No matter how much proper prior planning you do, stuff happens, and you have to flex.

Flexibility is about your approach, both mentally and in execution. So, when schedules change and you have to figure out how to be in two places at once, being flexible means, you get to be creative. And, when creating a teleporter doesn’t work, it also allows you the opportunity to reevaluate your priorities. And if all else fails, it’s about just “going with the flow,” as my mom would say. Some things you can control; most you can’t. Give yourself grace and congratulate yourself on making it work the best you can.

Wearing a uniform simplifies things.

My 20s and early 30s were filled with many challenges. Fortunately, picking out my clothes was never one of them. No matter how uncomfortable ABUs were, knowing exactly what I was wearing every day was definitely a time-saver.

Today, my closet is filled with all the different colors of my two favorite tops (Eloquii’s Notch Collar Blouse and the Notch Collar Tunic), solid-color pants, and a few cardigans. These are the clothes that I feel comfortable and confident in, and I wear them practically every day. In the fashion world, it’s called having staple pieces or a capsule wardrobe. For me, it’s just an updated uniform that allows me not to waste time thinking about what I’m going to wear. No, I’ll never win the prize for “Most Fashionable,” but as a working mom I’ve got things to do, and stressing about my clothes isn’t one of them.

Beware of Scope Creep

Have you ever agreed to something? Maybe said “yes” to bringing cupcakes to a class party?

But then someone backs out of bringing the cheese sticks, and you get asked to bring those. And the napkins too, please. You say “yes” again, because you’re a good person and you’ll be at the store anyway. You drop off the snacks in the classroom, but someone needs help while you’re there, so you stay. Next thing you know, an initial plan to spend $12 and five minutes total, has ballooned into more time and money than expected. You’re now behind schedule for the rest of your day and feeling bitter. You’ve been impacted by scope creep.

“Scope creep” sounds wonky, but it’s true in all aspects of life. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it’s when things are added to a task (i.e., your daily life) without considering your time, money, and/or mental health. Sometimes you bring it upon yourself, sometimes it’s thrust upon you. Avoid scope creep by setting boundaries, being clear about expectations, and saying “no.”

Have Perspective

When you love your kids, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily tasks of child-rearing. What’s fundamentally important to you both as a person and a parent gets lost in the blur of finding shoes and signing folders. When that happens to me and I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I stop and think about the moms I know who have had to leave their kids in service to something bigger. I think about the teammates I worked with and the purpose of it all. In other words, I try to gain perspective. And it’s this sense of perspective that my seven years of active duty gave me that has been the most important thing to keep me grounded as a parent.

It’s a big world out there; some of it’s awesome, some of it’s not. I know I’m fortunate to be where I am in life, and my kids are turning out fine (so far). Nope, I don’t do everything right. Yep, the minutiae can matter. But all things considered, I’m doing just fine as a mom. And it’s that approach to parenting that I think I’ll stick with.

Born in south Louisiana, Caroline is an Air Force veteran who, after living in San Angelo, San Antonio, Abilene, and other places, finally made her way to north Texas in July 2020. Married to her (usually) favorite Aggie since 2006, she gets to be mom to CeCe (6) and Bubba (2), and frequently wonders “what in the world have I gotten myself into?” After spending many years with a global consulting firm, Caroline now works for UT Dallas as a Program Manager in Executive Education. Caroline is an award-winning humor writer, an avid/rabid LSU fan, terrible housekeeper, and a holiday-baking show connoisseur. She is also a certified coach that owns her own business, CKH Coaching, supporting fellow veteran women manage their transition back to the civilian world. You can learn more at CKHCoaching.com

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