April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The first line of defense against child abuse certainly lies with parents – those who are most often the abusers.
Let me make a disclaimer right at the start: I am not an expert on child rearing. But I am a dad. And with the parenting thing almost at an end – my son is almost through college – things seem to have worked out pretty well.
So, on the basis of 21 years of first-hand experience I have a full set of opinions. I’ll put it in terms service members can understand. For me, to be a good parent you have to think and act like an NCO.
Look at the attributes that make a good NCO and you’ll see what I mean.
NCOs are disciplinarians, teachers, coaches, counselors, planners, supporters – whatever the Soldiers and the mission require. The same is true of good parents.
I became a parent when I already had 10 years as an NCO. It was a natural step to apply the lessons I had learned in leading Soldiers to raising my son.
I knew that standards in the Army had to be set high and that violations of rules had to be met with consequences. I found the same to be true as a father.
I also knew as an NCO, that unyielding harshness didn’t work in getting the best from Soldiers. My troops knew that violating the rules would lead to punishment, but that the punishment would be appropriate and fair.
Surprise, surprise, the same thing works with children. When my son committed some transgression, he was told what the punishment would be, and we always carried it out, but with love and compassion.
Being a good NCO, however, is far more about the positive side of things than it is about punishment and limits. It is always better to lead than to drive Soldiers with threats.
The most enjoyable part of being an NCO, for me, was teaching and coaching my Soldiers to get better at their jobs and to see them grow as individuals. To do that, I had to know them, know what their individual strengths and weaknesses were, know what they liked and disliked – know who they were.
Parenting was no different. I needed to listen to my son and observe him as he grew. I helped him when he needed it, but let him try things out on his own, too.
A good NCO has to set the standard himself. There is no “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to the Army. And the same is true of parenting. If you want your children to grow up honest and responsible, you had better not steal office supplies or call in sick when you just want a day off from work.
The most important lesson of all, I think, was that being an NCO was a full-time job. You don’t take off the stripes when you take off your uniform.
The same is true of parenting. Nothing ever gets to take priority over parenting, not if you want to like the outcome.
So that is my tip for how to be a good parent. Being a good mom or dad is just like being a good NCO – only better.
(David W. Kuhns Sr. is a retired sergeant major and editor of the Northwest Guardian, Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s weekly newspaper.)