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Our military family: ‘Home’ is wherever your loved ones are

Friday, July 28, 2017

You’ve likely called a dozen different places home. For as long as you’ve been in the military (or part of a military family), home has always been wherever the Army sent you.

Civilians have no doubt marveled at your ability to pick up and go, to change your geography as easily as some folks change out their seasonal clothing.

They don’t know your secret. That the house may be assigned by the military, but “home” is wherever your loved ones are.

If you’re the parent of a college-bound child, this time it’s one of your loved ones that’s packing up and starting over anew.

It’s one thing to be the one saying goodbye, tearful but firm in your knowledge that you are leaving for a mission and purpose. It’s another thing altogether to watch a piece of your heart walk away, even when you know that they too have a mission to complete – a mission you’ve prepped and trained them for from the moment you met them.

It doesn’t matter that you knew this was coming. From the first time you held your pink or blue swaddled bundle of joy, you knew it was your job to work yourself out of a job. You knew that “success” would be launching said bundle into adulthood.

But none of that knowledge can possibly prepare you for so many conflicting feelings.

Excitement at the thought of date nights, quiet, a new crafting or exercise room. Fear about stranger danger, poor choices, nutrition. Worry about whether they’re ready to be out in the world as a “real” adult.

They’re ready.

Ready to look fear in the eye and forge bravely into the unknown.

Ready to accept a new mission.

Ready to thrive in a new environment.

Ready to see challenge as opportunity.

Ready to grow.

You and this military life have already taught your college-bound child everything he or she needs to know to be successful in school.

They’ve learned how to be independent and interdependent. How to play nicely with others. How to lead and follow. How to plan ahead and be spontaneous. How to ask questions and seek answers. How to build a new village to support you and how to call on it when you need help.

And what about you? Are you ready?

Perhaps the best guidance to survive sending a child off to college is not unlike the guidance you’d give (and take) about sending your soldier off on a deployment.

Don’t ruin the time you have pouting about the little time you have left. Spend time together. Enjoy each other’s company.

Don’t get so caught up in the countdown trap that you waste a single precious moment.

Work out a plan to keep in touch. Discuss each other’s expectations for staying connected when your child is at college. Will you call? Text? Video chat? Take advantage of the opportunity to sneak visits when you can? See each other on the holidays?

There are no right answers to these questions, but work them out in advance so that neither of you is disappointed. And then, prepare to revise and adjust expectations over time.

Be a safe place. Make it clear that while your child is embarking on this new journey on his/her own, they are not without support. You are ready and willing to help however you can.

But you are also fully confident in their ability to figure things out on their own too. (And try to sound like you mean it, even if you’ve got to resist the urge to step in and try and “fix” things that seem to be broken.)

Take care of YOU. It’s no small feat to physically and emotionally prepare a young adult for college.

You have likely spent a tremendous amount of time shopping, packing, comparing notes with other parents sending their kids off to school, realizing you forgot to buy things, shopping some more, checking in on your kid’s mental status, and trying to cram every ounce of last minute knowledge you can into your child’s head.

Now breathe. There is very little that if forgotten can’t be said, done, or purchased. Step away from the checklist long enough to check in on your own mental status.

Are you taking care of your own health needs? Talking things out with trusted family and/or friends if you’re having a hard time? Do you really need to hear the “put your oxygen mask on first” lecture one more time?

One of the greatest gifts you can give your kid when he or she is away, is knowing you’re there and okay. So make sure you are, for both of your sakes.

You already know that a thousand goodbyes don’t make goodbyes any easier. But you can do this. Both of you.

Because you also both already know that distance is no obstacle to love.

(Editor’s note: Randi Cairns is a nonprofit expert, organizational and personal growth consultant, and author. She’s been an advocate in the military family space for over two decades. You can find her at Randi Cairns Consulting, www.randicairns.com.)