Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action.
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
No young man or woman makes the decision to enlist in the military lightly. It’s a big step, and one that families sometimes have difficulty sharing with others. As much as we support our children, we also have some fears of what the future in the military can bring.
I remember so well when our son decided to join the Marine Corps straight out of high school, postponing college. His father and I were so proud, but we were also terrified of what his decision might cost him.
Sharing the news of his decision turned out to be a little bit terrifying as well.
We reached out to our friends, looking for support and encouragement as well as a safe place to process the new paradigm in our family. We’d assumed that those around us–family, friends, and community–would join us in supporting him and honoring the sacrifice he was willing to make. The great majority of those we told did react this way, rallying around us with encouragement and prayer.
But there was a surprisingly vocal minority as well. When I shared the news, I also heard comments like: "I’m so sorry. You must be bitterly disappointed in him," "What a waste" and "Couldn’t you have done something to change his mind?"
The hardest one came from the mother of our son’s high school buddies. Their family went to church with ours. She pulled me aside after the morning service one day and asked if she could talk to me for a moment.
"I hope you understand, but I’ve forbidden my son to have anything to do with yours," she said. "I just can’t risk that Simon (not his real name) would see the decision your son made as a viable option for his life."
These reactions were devastating to me, and I did my best to shield my son from them. But one night he shared that he had also heard similar comments. I asked him how he felt about that.
He shook his head and looked down before he faced me with his answer. “I knew that not everyone would get what I’m doing and why. But this is something I feel like God wants me to do. As long as He’s pleased, I’m not going to dwell on it.”
I knew then that he had made the decision for the right reasons.
The reason I’m sharing this today isn’t to garner your sympathy but to share tips on how to react to this this kind of announcement with the encouragement and support the family needs:
It may not seem like much, but those friends who rejoiced with us in Jimmy’s decision gave us a precious gift. In them, we had a safe place to share our struggles without fear of condemnation.
What about you? Share some of the reactions you got when you shared your child’s decision to enlist in the military.
Edie Melson is a leading professional in the publishing industry. She also knows what it’s like to send a loved one off to war. Her oldest son went from high school graduation, to Marine Corp boot camp, to Iraq; where he served two tours fighting on the front lines as an infantry Marine. Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle, is Edie’s first book for those with a loved one who serves. Look for her newest book for military families debuting summer of 2015: While My Soldier Serves: Prayers for Those with a Loved One in the Military. You can also connect with Edie on Twitter and Facebook.