Like many brave parents, my oldest child is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My son is nine time zones away, toiling in the Ukraine Kiev Mission.
Those first eight or nine weeks of his mission, I was like most parents: all bluster and bravado. I was the proud mama gushing over her handsome, suit-clad missionary at the Missionary Training Center and sending cookies and Dear Elder emails galore.
Somewhere around week 10 or 11, as my elder was settling into the field, I changed my mind about this mission thing. Why does the kid we sent six thousand miles away have to be the one who made his bed and smiled at his parents? I wept at the sight of his senior picture and the strains of his favorite songs.
I jokingly told my sisters, “Let’s rethink this. There are over 74,000 missionaries serving right now. They’ve been at it since 1830. I think we’ve hit the ceiling; let’s call it good. Honestly, 21 more months feels like 21 years, and I don’t think I can do this.”
Driving in my car with Alfie Boe tenderly singing “Bring Him Home” from the Les Mis soundtrack only worsened the situation.
Finally, at the eight-month mark, my mushy heart had a jolt. My attitude shifted. My son had asked my husband and I to email him some of our missionary experiences. Digging out my battered missionary journal from my mission in Venezuela, I settled in and read.
I found myself back in South America, reliving the fright of trying to understand rapid-fire Spanish. The taste of those delicious empanadas and arepas. The patience of the LDS Church members. The bouts of head lice — the little darlings. The steady growth of my conviction that I was in the right place. The shenanigans of the elders. My lovely and stalwart Venezuelan companions. The sheer joy in sharing Joseph Smith’s first vision and the miracle of the restoration of Jesus Christ’s church. Helping those around me come to know their Savior, and wearing his name on my tag.
As I read, I wondered why I would even consider depriving my son of similarly marvelous experiences. From the aching homesickness and loneliness to the greatest joy ever felt up to that point of life, a mission is the grandest of experiences. My desire to keep my son to myself was selfish and short-sighted.
And what of the lives he will hopefully touch? Wishing him home would prevent others from knowing him and learning from him. Keeping him to myself could prevent someone from feeling the spirit, opening the Book of Mormon or even joining the true church. If my son wasn’t serving, he would miss out on building enriching relationships with his companions. He couldn’t help strengthen his companions’ testimonies. He couldn’t serve them, try their patience, make them laugh and help them grow. He would miss out on learning from a wise and weary mission president.
I understand now that when my son was called to serve a mission, I was too. My mission is to offer support, send uplifting and positive messages from home and pray for my missionary, his companion and those he is teaching. I can’t be a teary-eyed wimp and risk dragging him down. I need to filter what I send in my emails and letters.
In a blog post on the Mormon Channel that is titled "Self Reliance: Missionary Parents," the writer says, “Be judicious about sharing too many details of home life activities,” such as the exciting details of a family vacation, or mounting bills, or celebrity gossip and the current status of a favorite TV show. Also, “Be grounded and focused on building them spiritually and emotionally, and take the opportunity to grow spiritually yourself.”
I realize that scads of missionary parents have already figured all this out. My new insights as a missionary mom are simple and obvious. But some parents have yet to send out a son or daughter. Until you are wearing those missionary parent pants, you really don’t know how painful and wonderful the journey will be. Just be sure to delete Alfie Boe’s “Bring Him Home” from your playlist.
Megan Gladwell, a freelance writer and sometimes teacher, lives in beautiful Northern California with her husband and four children.