When we think about the families of U.S. Service members, those who typically come to mind are their spouses and children. However, parents of Service members are a huge support system for both Service members and their families. Military REACH connected with several parents of U.S. Service members to ask questions about the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in their role, as well as what advice they would give to other parents whose children are joining the Armed Forces. Common themes arose, such as worrying about their child and the dangers they may face, finding physical separation to be difficult, and feeling pride knowing they raised a Service member.
1. What is the most challenging part of being the parent of a U.S. Service member?
“Knowing that potentially at any moment my daughter could be called upon to serve in an active war situation.” – Rene’, Hawaii, Air Force
“Worrying about their well-being.” – Donna, Hawaii, Army National Guard
“By far, it is not being able to visit them in person and hug and play with the grandbabies. Fortunately, our son’s position does not typically put him in harm’s way. If it did, his safety would be top on the list as well. ” – Jeff, Virginia, Air Force
“The most challenging part for me is the distance and missing big and little moments in their lives. Our son’s first duty station was in Guam and our first grandchild was born there, so I don’t think you could get any further away than that!” – Dianna, Virginia, Air Force
“For our family, the most challenging part has been the amount of time he has been away and the great distance. Another challenge is worrying when he may be called away from home again in a deployment. There is the ever burning question, “How long this time will he be gone?” He was stationed at a hospital for his residency that was a ten-hour flight from us. We were not able to be there for the birth of two of our grandsons, and we had to meet them a few months after they were born . In the five years the family was gone, we were able to make three trips to see them. The time zone difference made it hard for us to stay in touch at times. We would try to FaceTime them on Sunday afternoons, but if we missed them, often it would be two weeks before we could reconnect. Holidays and birthdays were especially hard. This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas with them in five years. ” – Greg and Cathy, Georgia, Army
“The fact that I don’t get to see my son as much as I would like. There are other challenges, of course, such as worry or concern about where he might be and what he might be doing, and whether he might be in any danger. However, I miss having my son at least within driving distance. With technology it is possible to see him and communicate with him via FaceTime, but it is not the same as having him home to sit next to or even just hug him. He is currently in California and we are in Florida, so if I see him in person once or twice a year I consider myself lucky. ” – Angela, Florida, Marine Corps
2. What is the most rewarding part of being the parent of a U.S. Service member?
“I am very grateful for the opportunity my daughter was provided to receive a college ROTC scholarship, which not only helped to provide for her educational costs, but gave her so much more than either of us anticipated. I am immensely proud of the woman and officer that she has become with outstanding confidence and leadership skills that I don’t believe she would have attained anywhere else. In addition, I’m so proud that she has learned to serve her country and not merely herself, whereas many young adults of her generation continue to focus on their attentions and goals. The dedication to traditions and country that are fostered in military service are valuable characteristics that I pray will endure for future generations.” – Rene’, Hawaii, Air Force
“Their accomplishments and each time they get promoted. I know they are learning and growing.” – Donna, Hawaii, Army National Guard
“Knowing that our son is doing very well and that he and his family are able to travel the world and experience so many adventures. I am also very proud knowing he is serving his country.” – Jeff, Virginia, Air Force
“I am honored, grateful, and proud to see my son follow in his grandfather’s footsteps by serving our country. More importantly, seeing him grow as a man, as a husband, and as a father. I am not just proud of him though, I am also proud of my daughter-in-law, who is the perfect military wife. I love the way they support each other, and I believe the challenges they have faced together, so far from family, have made their marriage and family unit stronger.” – Dianna, Virginia, Air Force
“Like many Americans we have always been supportive of our troops and have always appreciated their service. We never really knew how much of a sacrifice the families of the troops also give. Our fine men and women who are on the front lines help protect our freedom and every day they are laying their lives on the line so each of us in the USA can have the freedom we enjoy in this country. My son’s skills as a doctor will help him protect and heal these men and women who sacrifice so much for us. Because we do have a son in the Army, when we see our flag, we think about the Soldiers, but also their families. As a family, we stand united and proud that our child is making a difference not only in this country, but around the world. The greater Army Family has many children doing this same thing every day.” – Greg and Cathy, Georgia, Army
“The most rewarding part about being a USMC mom is the overwhelming pride I have in my son and his decision to serve his country. The saddest day of my life was dropping him off to begin his journey to boot camp back in 2013. However, 13 weeks later we were present to watch him graduate with his platoon and wear the uniform of “the few and the proud.” He had transformed from high school graduate to United States Marine, and I was filled with immense pride as a parent watching him stand a little taller and becoming a part of something greater than himself. He wasn’t ready for college right out of high school, and I was at peace with that and his decision to enlist. He is now about halfway through his degree and attends classes in the evenings and on weekends.” – Angela, Florida, Marine Corps
3. What advice would you give to another parent who has a child joining the military?
“Be encouraged that a child who enters an ROTC program with the U.S. Air Force joins a time-tested institution that brings out the best in them. They will be challenged, mentored, grow leaps and bounds, and become a leader and a positive role model to those around them. They will be groomed for success and develop life-long friendships through camaraderie with their fellow colleagues. I highly recommend military service if your child expresses a personal desire and commitment to serve and gain all they can from the opportunity.” – Rene’, Hawaii, Air Force
“Be there for them every step of the way. Be open to when they bring home friends because they become like brothers and sisters and may not have a family like yours.” – Donna, Hawaii, Army National Guard
“First, remain calm, support them 100%, and let them know that you are proud of them. As with any parent with a child ready to fly, have confidence that you have given them the tools they will need to be a good and decent person.” – Jeff, Virginia, Air Force
“You spend their whole life teaching them to not “need” you. When that day comes, smile through the tears and let them go. When they come back, it will be a whole new relationship. Be flexible and supportive. Video chat capability is your new best friend!” – Dianne, Virginia, Air Force
“Even if you are scared with the way the world is now, be proud of your child! Honor and respect their decision and support them however you can. Serving your country takes courage and selflessness. The Army teaches discipline to help them weather the storms in life that come their way. Above all else, love your child and celebrate them whenever you can. This extends to the family members that are left behind while your child is away. They need their extended family more than ever!” – Greg and Cathy, Georgia, Army
“I think because my son grew up in a military family (my husband served for 31 years in USMC), I wasn’t completely shocked when he decided to enlist. However, that did not make letting him go any easier! I have always maintained that having a husband serve is WAY different than having a child serve, but being supportive of my son’s desire to serve his country was paramount to any selfish desire I might have had to keep him close by and force him to attend college. He is a better young man for being in the Marine Corps for the last seven years and has learned good order and discipline along the way. So, be supportive if your child decides to join any of the military branches. The sadness only lasts a short time, but the pride you will have in them will last forever.” – Angela, Florida, Marine Corps