A mother’s love reaches to unimaginable depths, constantly expanding in breadth. Our deepest desire is for our children is to be happy, healthy and, most importantly, safe. We go to great lengths to ensure their safety and well-being, and when that safety is compromised, the internal conflict and worry can be immense.
I met my daughter when she was 9 years old when her father and I were first dating. Even then, she was adventurous, curious, and strong-willed. When she eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army I felt both a sense of honor and helplessness. I’d spent 11 years helping her grow into a gifted young woman who is full of life and absolute in her convictions, but how do I mother a soldier? Who will be there for her as she navigates this unknown territory? How could I keep her safe?
At the time, I was not fully aware of the differences between my civilian experience and the military world and culture she was entering. From not being able to talk to her regularly during basic training to Advanced Individual Training, where I would need to help her choose a path for her military career, being a military mom was new and somewhat unnerving. Fear, unanswered questions, and uncertainty left me the most uncomfortable. Yet, I needed to help bolster her mental and emotional strength and champion her despite my concerns. How would I do this?
My worldview had to change. Drawing on my expertise as a behavioral health professional, I’ve learned how to accept this “new normal.” For parents of military service members, especially new military moms, the following outlines tips for managing the anxieties and stress that come along with mothering a child in a potentially dangerous profession, which served me well in my own experience.
1. Accept what is and isn’t within your control: Shift your focus from hypothetical worries which you cannot control, such as deployments, and instead focus on what you can control and plan for. This can include planning for quality time when you’re able to speak with or see them, knowing what questions to ask, or becoming well-versed in their branch of service.
2. Talk it out: Identify supportive friends, mentors, family members, and others whom you can trust with sharing your feelings — from pride in your child’s service to concern about their safety, and everything in-between. You can also join a support group of mothers and/or parents of service members to connect with the military community.
3. Self-care is key: Take care of your body by eating healthy; exercising; getting good sleep; seeking medical care; and engaging in activities that provide rest and peace, excitement, accomplishment, and fun. Feed your mind — read, listen to music or podcasts, learn new things, or educate yourself about the military. Lift your spirit through enriching religious or spiritual practices, spending time in nature and with loved ones, traveling, learning new hobbies, or supporting a cause that brings a sense of meaning and purpose.
If you have difficulty coping or your worries begin to interfere with your ability to function in day-to-day activities, seek a licensed therapist who specializes in evidence-based treatment. You can also seek mental health support at specialized clinics, such as the Cohen Clinic at Penn, which offers free services for military family members — including parents of service members — and veterans.
4. Monitor your mind: Check in with yourself and your thoughts. Is your thinking accurate? Are you defaulting to the worse-case scenario? Is your thinking based on facts, fears or opinion? Is your thinking helping you support or hinder your child? Does your thinking help you to be productive and happy? If your answer is “no,” consider adopting a more balanced perspective: engage in positive self-talk, refrain from jumping to conclusions, and focus on facts not fears.
5. Trust the process: Trust what you have instilled in your child. They are being taught how to best care for themselves and keep themselves safe, try to find comfort in that. Know your boundaries and bandwidth — in other words, be there as much as you can for your child — love, support, and encouraging them, but know what you can and cannot manage. Seek support for yourself whenever you need it!
As Mother’s Day approaches, you may be feeling uneasy or fearful about your child who is a military service member. Your child has entered a new phase in their life and there may be challenges. Know that it may take time to adjust, but believe that you will find your “new normal.” Remember to trust the process, monitor your thinking, focus on what you can control, take care of yourself, find a supportive community, and seek professional support if you need a little extra help. This is the best way to keep you and your child serving in the military safe, strong, and well-supported.
Elaine Augustine, PsyD, is a licensed professional counselor and post-doctoral fellow at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. Call 844-573-3146 to learn more or to schedule an appointment.
Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.