I’m not here. Dallas and I are on our long-awaited honeymoon. I promise I’m not thinking of this blog for even one second. Lucky for you guys I did think about you before I left and planned an all-star guest line up with some of my bloggy friends. I hope you enjoy their posts and show them some love. I’ll check up on you when I get back.
Tricia and I have something very important in common. The Army. While I am an Army wife, mom, and blogger she is a former Army officer, mom, and blogger. If you are part of a military family you understand how deep that connection is, if not-you’re missing out. She blogs at Critters And Crayons. She crafts, but I like her anyway. This post is extremely special to me and I truly can’t thank Tricia enough for sharing it here at Twinisms.
What My Kids Taught Me About Leading
There are times that I look around my home and really think about the things that I have hanging on my walls or in my closet that offer brief reminders of the stranger I used to be. Tonight, I look at the framed Guide-On from my Company Command days. (For non-military types, the Guide-On is the flag that marches with your unit under your leadership and is a symbol of completion of your leadership time with that unit.)
I wouldn’t say that I’ve changed as much as I’d say I’ve evolved as a person.
Regardless, life is vastly different from what it was before we had children.
I spent almost 10 years in the Army and left over five years ago to pursue our goal of starting a family and to further my education. These were two elusive goals during the near decade I had served. There are many who managed to do both of those things simultaneously despite deployments and other hardships. I had not. I knew I needed to make the decision and sign the paperwork before I hit that 10-year half-way mark or made Major.
It would have become hard to leave once I hit those career milestones, so I left with 9.5 years in. I worked as a civilian. I started my family. I got some graduate degrees. I had kids. I quit my civilian job, too. I care for my family now. I blog.
I know. Cover your ears to quell the crescendo of achievement at the end. (I’m talking about the blog, by the way. I actually consider being a mom to be the single greatest achievement of my life.)
With great angst and trepidation, I chose to become a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) a couple of years ago. I love it. This surprises me. This surprises my family. It surprises my former co-workers. I’m pretty sure it surprises the absolute Hell out of the Soldiers who used to be in my units.
Now, I am a nurturer. I write a mom-blog. I craft cutesie little things with my kids. (Stop puking, Bridget.) I am sympathetic. I am compassionate. I listen. I cook food. I say again. I cook food.
I was none of these things before I had kids. I was the opposite of these things.
I certainly cannot speak for all women in the Army, and I would never presume to do that. I speak for myself when I say that I operated those years in the Army extremely guarded that any act of compassion or sympathy would be distorted as some proof of weakness of leadership.
I will not conceal that I believed that a man in Company Command could be perceived as sympathetic and compassionate with more ease than a woman could. On rare occasions, I’d see a fellow Officer, show intense empathetic emotion to a Soldier and think that he was fortunate that he could afford to do that.
My husband says that statement could be perceived as an insecurity. I don’t know about that. I think it’s a fact that most women need to walk a fine line, otherwise there wouldn’t be best-selling books written about why women don’t get the corner office.
I operated under the assumption that my job should be to make sure the mission happened and I would fight for it to be accomplished as quickly as possible and as well as possible. That was my job.
My First Sergeant (for non-military folks, the highly respected command advisor, confidante, and voice of the troops in the unit) would help temper that mission-focused zeal by campaigning for the wants and needs of the people and families in the unit. That was his job.
Somewhere in the middle, in our offices late at night or via our never-ending blackberry leashes, our wills would bend and our minds would meet so that our unit would accomplish the mission to as high a standard as possible with the Soldiers being taken care of to the greatest degree possible.
At least, that was the theory and the hopeful outcome.
Maybe that’s a little clinical for some folks. It might even be a little screwed up to some folks. It might be a lot screwed to a lot of folks.
That’s the thing about leadership theory and practice.
Everyone’s a critic and few of us ever will be like Patton.
So, the background I’m trying to establish is that I was not a particularly nice Commander. I wasn’t always sympathetic or compassionate. I might have been a little confrontational. A little. Okay, a lot. I might have been right about some things but probably wrong about many. There was a lot of good learning going on.
I’m not sure what kind of a Soldier or Commander or Staff Officer I would have made after I had my kids because so much about who I thought I was changed when I had them.
I am the stereotypical example of a formerly child-averse, objectively svelte, cold and judgmental woman who received the karmic retribution of two adorable, kissable kids. With them came a love for All Things Child, a bigger heart, a mom-body, and an enduring love of mini-vans. (Stop wretching, Bridget.)
If there is any doubt to my surgical approach to life and my previous ambivalence about having children at all, I invite you to look at the Decision Matrix I made, (kind of in jest, but not really) as we considered whether we might even have kids years ago. This is an end product after all definition of screening criteria, evaluation criteria and measurable benchmarks were created. Yes. Seriously.
I valued empiricism and objectivity. I still do.
It is a great and rational way to approach life.
Kids do muddy that up, though.
And, no I can’t quantify how much they muddy things. Those little deal-changers really force a subjective approach to life, whether you like it or not.
I think (well, I know) I would have struggled immensely in the Army with the trials of nursing my babies amidst a punishing operational tempo, the challenges of managing a Family Care Plan when baby-sitters and caretakers fall through the cracks, changing schedules, fevers, multiple deployments, chronic ear infections, imposing deadlines, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, recurring training requirements, lice, and other ankle-biting minutiae.
It was hard to be on time to work and not become frazzled working a much less demanding civilian job with a deployed husband and kids. I didn’t have to worry about urinalysis at dawn, physical training at 6 AM, or lengthy field problems apart from the people who mattered most to me in the world.
Oh, maybe I’ll pen a story one day about what it was like to be one-half of the the Dual-Income No Kids Married Soldier Couple, and then the geographically single working mom of two kids with a deployed husband the next.
I became the woman whose hardships were invisible to my former self.
So many kudos need to go to the women in uniform who have kids. I don’t know if people realize what they do, what they go through, or how hard it is for them. And even if you ask, I doubt they’ll even tell you. There’s that weakness thing I was talking about earlier.
And while we’re lauding, so many praises must also go to the family members who are left behind to keep their homes in repair, kids fed, bills paid, shopping done, emergency room runs made, night-time bloody noses cleaned, bums wiped and their own personal tears restrained.
I am a woman.
I wore the uniform.
I had no freaking idea.
I mean that. You can call me socially inept. Callous. Selfish.
Name-calling doesn’t change the reality that ignorance of the hardships of these women and families was very, painfully real.
I recognize their struggles now that I have kids, years after I was in a position where it would have mattered for me to understand their mother-struggles.
Don’t get me wrong, please, with all this self-deprecating banter.
I don’t have many regrets about my time as a Company Commander. I feel it was a successful command, mostly because I had an outstanding command team and some ridiculously awesome Soldiers. Even the mistakes I know I made were great learning points. The mistakes, especially, have been the greatest learning points.
But, I do wish I could go back and show a little more sympathy to young Soldiers with families and their family members with more knowledge and understanding. Even if the answers were still “NO”, I think a little human compassion might have gone a long way to soften the blow of denial.
In many ways, the Army was a great platform for me to learn skills that would help in life and in motherhood (which I’ll explore another day). Conversely, I think being a mother has taught me a lot about how I can be a better leader and manager when I make my way back into the work force.
The qualities that many might associate with weakness (those of sympathy compassion, caring and listening) actually take quite a bit of strength to show and act on in leadership positions.
I dare say it takes a certain bravery to be a leader who is willing to genuinely show these traits and not be afraid of a potential distortion and perception of weakness.
I’m looking forward to going back to work one day with this Executive Mom-Experience under my belt.
Between Army training and this running-a-family thing I’ve got going, I might actually have a clue when it matters.
I’m kind of counting on it.
The “Don’t Take Offense” Disclaimer:
Before I start getting hate mail from leaders and members of the work-force who do not have children for any number of reasons, please note that I am in NO way implying that you or anyone else needs to have children to be a good leader. I am only saying that I estimate that MY experience of having children has made ME more aware and that it will make ME a better leader. You might actually get some of the stuff that people are going through without experiencing it firsthand. I didn’t.
Please be advised that any hate-mail will be maintained by me to be published at a later date where I make fun of you in my own blog at www.crittersandcrayons.com. And, if you want to see what I write about YOU, well, you should probably just subscribe to my blog. Have a great day and a great life. At this stage of my life, post-kids, I actually mean that. That is all.