Mom-ing After They Leave the Nest

One of my boys is in the military. Navy to be specific. He left for boot camp just two and a half weeks after turning 19. He entered knowing he’d be pursuing a very specific program. It’s a highly competitive program, and he qualified for it with ease.

That’s not to say the program has been a walk in the park for him, though. It’s tough. It’s considered one of the toughest in the Navy, in fact. It requires a minimum six year enlistment rather than the typical four because of the vast amount of schooling they go through before they even set foot on a ship/submarine. I think it’s probably the first time he’s really been challenged academically. And to say that he feels challenged by this program would be an understatement. Still, it amazes me how smart this kid is.

drill instructor

Having a kid go into the military is kind of like empty nesting on steroids. They go into boot camp, and you barely hear from them for the next eight weeks. You can’t even send a text to let them know you’re thinking of them. You know they’re being yelled at and being pushed to their limits physically and mentally, and you’re just at home sitting with it all.

Sometimes even after boot camp, you barely hear from them.

And, when you live as far away from them as I do, you can’t just drive in to see them for a weekend. Or even meet somewhere in the middle for a day or two.

So my son is nearly a year and a half in and recently graduated from his most recent phase of schooling. I flew from WA to SC for that graduation. From there, he had to move on to upstate NY to finish the last 6-9ish months of training (it’s more self-paced, thus the fluid timeline).

I got home a couple of days ago from spending 10 days with him, and I have thoughts…

In this last phase of training, the sailors must live off base. So, in addition to making the 800+ mile move, he also needed to find an apartment, furniture, etc, none of which he’s ever had to do for himself.

I’ve done big road trips with each of my nuke’s brothers, but he and I have never done a trip just the two of us. Also, I have family in upstate NY (some within 30 minutes of where he will be stationed), so it was a great excuse for me to see family that I haven’t seen in just over 12 years.

questionsWhile I was gone on this adventure, I saw a post on a private Facebook group I’m part of for moms of sailors in the nuclear field. It was from a mom whose son was also moving to NY with this program. She was wondering if she should go to help him find a place and get settled. She lived close enough that it was possible to make the trip but was conflicted as to whether she should. I read the responses with mixed emotions. I was traveling and was so busy and didn’t have time to comment then, but it’s weighed heavy on my mind ever since.

There were, of course, responses from both sides of the aisle. Yes, go! No, not necessary. But the ones that have jangled through my brain are the ones that said something to the effect of “let him grow up”.

Having just spent 10 days with my wholly capable 20 year old, I will say that, in many ways, he is more grown than his 25 year old brother. In others, many others, he is a typical 20 year old kid. Yes, kid. Because, honestly, that’s what humans that age still are in so many ways, right? He’s a kid who has…

– never had to drive 800+ miles by himself

– never had to find an apt on the fly after the first 5 he had earmarked didn’t pan out (so much for them being told not to put a deposit on anything before they get there because that’s how he lost out on those he had previously identified)

– never had to figure out how to find affordable furniture or how to get it to his new apt even though he owns a boat of a car

– never had to change the registration of his vehicle from one state to another that is 3,000 miles away

– never had to set up utilities before

– never had to think about the fact that a vegetable peeler or aluminum foil or a shower curtain wouldn’t just be there when he needed it

…and on and on and on. Because, how do you know what you don’t know?

I couldn’t help but remember when I went to college for the first time. Or when I got my first apartment. Could I have done it all myself. Probably. Did I appreciate having my mom there to help me move my stuff, shop for things I hadn’t thought of, guide me through the next level of adulthood I was entering, etc. You bet I did.

And I wonder if the response would have been the same if this mom was asking if she should help her NON-military child move 800+ miles away to a town he’d never been to and to a place where he didn’t even know for sure where he would sleep when he kid swimmingarrived. And I wonder if it would have been the same if her child was a girl.

We all have our ways of parenting and that’s ok. Some of us throw our kids in the deep end and let them sink or swim. Some of us send our kids to swimming lessons. Some of us get in the pool and teach them ourselves. I’m grateful for the lessons the Navy has given my son but I’m a combo of the latter two. There will be plenty of occasions to come where he will “swallow water” and figure it out on his own. Until then, I’m the mom that will remind him to kick his feet when he has forgotten to.

So, if you’re a mom like me and whether your kid is in the military or not, don’t hold back. If you feel compelled to help, don’t ask if you can. They will invariably say no because that’s what young people do. Instead, ask if they mind if you do ______ for them. The answer will probably be different. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with your kid. Let them know that your mom heart needs to know that you’re still needed in some ways.

In the 10 days I was with my son – a son who kept me at arm’s length until he was in boot camp; a son who stands nearly a foot taller than me – I lost count of the number of times my boy said, “Thanks, mom; I’m so glad you’re here to help me with this.” I’m his mom. And until he says “no thanks; I’ve got this” when I ask if he minds if I help, I will help in the ways that I can.

And as for growing up, I hope he never does. I hope he learns to “adult” when he needs to and asks for advice along the way, but I hope that he never grows up. I hope that a coffee table book of dinosaurs stills makes him giddy inside. I hope he finds delight in a blanket and pillow that feels just right. I hope he is filled with wonder when drives down a highway he’s never been down before. I hope he remembers to play and to indulge in things that make him smile. I hope he falls asleep at least once every few months with his guitar still in his hands.

The Navy may have him for now. But I had him first. And I’ll have him after, too.


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