When fighting terrorists is easier than facing toddlers

Eddie Penney and I were part of the exact same fight.  Because I’m a former U.S. Army Ranger and Eddie is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, you would think there’s little the two of us have in common. However, 20 years of fighting terrorists have forged many common bonds between warriors, and these bonds are even stronger between United States (SOF) special operations forces.

But the common fight Eddie and I shared during our recent conversation had nothing to do with killing terrorists. He and I both faced a challenge on the home front. OK, I’ll admit, it wasn’t as dangerous as being shot at from multiple directions in an Afghanistan valley or assaulting a complex target on a back alley in Baghdad.

I’m referring to the challenges of meeting family demands after returning home from combat.

The feeling of absolute failure is seared in my memory while trying to get our young children ready for church while my wife was away visiting family.  It’s fascinating how pigtails and a teddy bear can defeat a strong, competent, bold warrior.

Bold on the battlefield

The men and women of the US military are exceptionally well-trained in the art of combat. They are tactically prepared for just about any scenario the enemy might present. They are physically and emotionally conditioned to handle the most incredible stress or privations on the battlefield. 

This training and conditioning make warriors bold in the face of great danger on the battlefield, and no one receives better training and conditioning than the SOF warriors of the US military.

Unfortunately, though, this battlefield training doesn’t automatically translate to competence as a parent or spouse.

Feeling like a failure at home

Eddie and I were both bested by a hairbrush and pigtails. I remember the frustration of trying to put pigtails in the hair of my 6-year-old daughter. No matter how hard I tried, her hair kept popping out whenever I thought I had it under control. My wife could do this with her eyes closed and one hand behind her back, I thought as I placed a ball cap on her head, rushing out the door late. 

No one enjoys feeling like a failure… especially warriors.

I would rather slowly bleed out on the battlefield during a successful mission than walk away from a failed military operation without a scratch.  Those pigtails were more difficult than leading vehicles through a hail of enemy fire. 

It was one of those painful reminders that the Global War on Terrorism had caused me to spend far more time in Afghanistan and Iraq than with my children at home. Call it cowardice, but when some warriors feel like a failure at home, they react by placing all of their energy into their career in the military.

Not every warrior neglects their family when they don’t know how to lead in the home.  But for some, unfortunately, this is their only way of dealing with family difficulties for which they’re untrained and unprepared. 

Why family is worth fighting for

There was a powerful moment in my conversation when Eddie reminded readers that the family is worth fighting for. Becoming the kind of spouse or parent your family deserves often requires training and exercise from a warrior who has spent many months or years in battle overseas. 

Before sending warriors home from Afghanistan and Iraq, I gave each of them basic instructions on how to reintegrate into their families well.  This training was essential in strengthening families that have endured the strain of combat.  My goal was to make warriors as well trained at home as they were on the battlefield.

Exercise strengthens muscles. However, some muscles will atrophy when the warrior has spent far more time overseas than at home. Therefore, every parent will need to get stronger at rearing children when they return home from battle.  Every spouse needs to put some sweat into the marriage that has been on a long pause because of a deployment. 

Eddie believed that his family was worth fighting for.  I’m convinced you can have relationships at home that are more cherished than citations for bravery if you’ll do the work.  Put the training and energy into it, and you can have an Unbeatable family, also. 

To listen to my whole conversation with Eddie, go HERE.

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