Memorial Day has me thinking about my own military service in the U.S. Navy. And the same time, my wife and I are being flooded with really strange parenting advice from other parents who seem to have done a really crappy job or have just plain given up.
Just for fun, I decided to compare their advice with the values I learned from the United States Navy.
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Advice: “Don’t let him play with his tricycle. He’ll hate it. My kid does.”
My response: This is not your child. My kid loved it – the tricycle itself, just not so much the actual riding of the tricycle. He’s not quite old enough to master the pedals. He loved pushing it, though, steering it around, rolling it, talking into the handlebars like microphones.
Let your kid try things. He might surprise you.
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Advice: “You’ll learn at some point, they’re just going to do what they want to do. You just have to give up.”
My response: No. Your oldest is always stoned, dropped out of school, hangs out in grandma’s basement selling dope to other 17-year-olds because of your inability to discipline him. Saying, “Hey, you know better,” and then throwing your hands up is not discipline. You can’t force him to drop and give you fifty, but you can do something.
If he’s out of line, you send him to marching party, you send him to Captain’s Mast and you drop his rank and paycheck. There is no excuse. You get your kid out of that basement, back in school or you come up with options acceptable to you. He is the child, you are the parent. Act like it. The consequences for both of you are too dire. The consequences for us as a nation are even worse.
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Value: MASTER THE BASICS FIRST
Advice: “Your kid is smart. He needs to be in school now, or he’ll lose all of that.”
My response: He’s 2. He’s smart because he is curious and this is the exact age for him to be exploring and learning from the world, not a book. He doesn’t need to be able to read Kierkegaard. Basics. Small steps. Then expand! (I promise the two of us will break out my dusty copy of Virgil and be translating the Latin soon enough.)
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Value: ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Advice: “He outside already? It’s too early. My kid is still asleep. He refused to go to bed last night. I just let him sleep. Kids need their sleep you know?”
My response: It’s 11 a.m. Your child may still be asleep because you keep him out while you partied. He’s running the hallway at midnight. Yes, he does need sleep. Maybe you could set up a routine. Story, Bath, Brush, Kiss Daddy, PJs, Sleepy Sleepy is a routine that works for us. It’s nightly. We pay attention to the details of each element of the routine and therefore he pays attention to the details. Does he stay awake sometimes? Like now, as he’s trying to climb into my lap to see what I’m typing? Yes, he does. (But it’s only 7:30 p.m.) Does the attention to detail pay off? Absolutely. How do I know? My kid was asleep at a decent hour and, to steal a line from the Army, did more by 10 A.M. than your kid did all day.
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Value: BE SQUARED AWAY
Advice: “He looks sunburned!” “Is he eating enough?” “Oh, he drinks milk? Not chocolate milk? You should give him chocolate milk … or a juicy drink. Or maybe a Gatorade. It’ll keep him hydrated.”
My response: I interpret this one as simply knowing more than a toddler. A toddler wouldn’t think about sunscreen and a hat. I do. A toddler wouldn’t pay attention to what or how much he ate. I do. A toddler wouldn’t think twice about drinking liquid candy or some noxious neon colored sugar water. I do. I know better. Because I’m squared away like that.
My advice to these nosy parents is this: Teach your younger kids these things now or shove your 18-year-old into a recruiter’s office and sign him up. I’m a big fan of the reserves or national guard if you can’t make the commitment. No, I’m not a war monger, nor am I an advocate for violence or armed conflict. I am an advocate for the lessons the military can teach a young man or woman who has not been exposed to them by age 20. I had excellent parents and most of these lessons I already knew, but in my need for college funds I joined the Navy Reserve and I found that I was lacking in the way I integrated those lessons into my life. I think EVERY child, should be required to go through boot camp. I think EVERY child should then give two years in service, be it in the military or peace corps or whatever.
Which brings me to my last lesson.
Advice: “You make Turtle clean up?” “You make Turtle share?” (note judgmental tone)
My response: You’re damn straight I do. But most of the time, I don’t have to. Why? My child sees us picking up random bits on the playground and keeping it clean for everyone, so he is in the habit of doing the same, doing his share. This simple little lesson permeates everything he does: he helps clean in his little group class; he shares; he helps around the house, trying his best to sort laundry – even the stuff that’s already been folded; he wants to be involved in the most mundane chores, often pulling his stool to the kitchen sink because dishes look like fun – and the sooner they’re finished, the sooner we all can enjoy story time.
He will become an adult who believes in the simple power of service.
That’s advice everyone should take this Memorial Day.
About the author
Christopher T. VanDijk is an actor, writer and dad in the NYC enclave of Astoria as well as a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy. He can be found in the local parks picking up random bits of debris, grumbling to himself about pride, respect, and service nearly every day.