The moment I stepped on the bridge of my first ship I knew I was in over my head. At 22 years old I had commissioned as a Naval Officer and was shipped out to Japan to report to the USS COWPENS. I was expected to lead—to show composure in the face of danger and stress as well as have all the answers for those looking to me for guidance. Sound familiar? Little did I know how well being a Surface Warfare Officer would prepare me for parenting.
I quickly learned that in order to be the best leader for my sailors, I had to really know and understand myself. I needed to adapt and improve constantly. Only through temperance, or the act of self-control, could I hope to accomplish every task set before me. As I learned how to accomplish my job better, I realized that the only way to have the temperance required was to know myself. The definition of temperance is “self-restraint in action” which also corresponds to control, prudence, and self-discipline. If you can identify your shortcomings and what needs to be changed, you can implement some self-control to make the change and build good habits. For example, four years of training and five years in the military did not make me a morning person but it did teach me that your morning hours set you up for success, and that translated perfectly when I became a parent. My daughter goes to bed every night between 6:30 and 7pm. By that point, my brain is done. I have ZERO self-control by 7pm, which means there cannot be any candy or wine in my reach and every productive activity has to have already been accomplished.
The Navy taught me about how to approach challenges with personal weaknesses and to figure how to accomplish what was needed despite them. My solution to the crazed maniac mom I can become by 7pm was to get up at 5am. I AM NOT GETTING UP THAT EARLY, you say. But wait, I’ve already mentioned that I am not a morning person, so hear me out. I get up at 5am and make my way to the gym. At this point I am completely unfit for polite society and I can barely eek out a grunt at the gym’s door manager, but they know that so they give me a wide berth as I take out my frustration on the weight rack. By the time I get home and showered I am awake. I have accomplished something for myself. It’s already a good day and it’s not even 6:30am. By now, my husband has gone to work but I am able to tidy up the house, make breakfast, pick out my clothes, and do my makeup for work before my daughter wakes up at 7. Once she is awake I can now devote my FULL time and attention to her without those errant thoughts running around in the back of my head…what am I going to wear today? Did I move the laundry from the washer to the dryer? It is a win-win for both me and my family.
Conversely if I get up at 7am at the same time as my daughter my morning is CHAOS. Nothing gets done properly which means only one of us gets a lunch and it’s not me. I sit in traffic doing my makeup and we are usually late to school, plus no work out. It takes self-control to wake up at 5am but the positive impact it has on my sanity and my family is immeasurable. I know I can’t do any of this after 7pm because I am a puddle on the couch. So I have to use my strengths and weaknesses to my advantage to accomplish the things I need to when I have the self-control to make it happen.
Regardless of how organized you are, each of us have our own struggles. Many of us have sat in the car prior to a parent teacher conference or big meeting intrepidly touching the brown stain on our shirt and eating the snacks out of our diaper bag because we forgot lunch. How does one combine the myriad of tasks to be done with a little sanity and peace of mind? Every mom feels the stress of trying to be perfect for their family and there isn’t enough time in the day. Knowledge of your own shortcomings can lead to greater self-control when you need it most.
No two solutions will work for the same mom. You definitely do not have to go to boot camp to learn temperance. But take a little time to reflect on how you can approach your personal weaknesses and then use self-control to help you master those weaknesses in a manner that works for you and benefits your family. The struggle is real but don’t give up the ship!