If our son and daughter had never enlisted in the Air Force, my husband, Dick, and I would have never known the humorous confusion of ordering off a Japanese picture menu or the thrilling challenge of navigating British roundabouts during a family vacation.

And I had no idea cotton blew along the edges of the roads in really exotic places like Alabama.  When I saw it the first time, I thought someone had lost the stuffing from a mattress.

Their military careers turned me in a traveling mom. But it wasn’t always reasonable to travel to see them. Sometimes they weren’t allowed visitors—during boot camp, for example. Other times, it wasn’t feasible for some other reason.

When it was OK to visit, we did. Nothing helps renew a relationship better than a few relaxing days during a family reunion.  Yes, the travel can be costly and time-consuming—but oh, so worth it!  And some branches of the military even offer on-base lodging where parents and friends can stay for a nominal fee.

When a son or daughter joins the military, parents often feel bereft.  Admittedly, during the initial eight to 13 weeks of basic training, also known as boot camp, contact will be sparse and unpredictable.

But after basic training, there are ways to keep the lines of communication open with our fledgling offspring even when you don’t have the time or money for a family vacation.  A few simple tips helped our family maintain good relationships when our children enlisted in the Air Force.

Exchange Schedules 

Are your days as crowded as the D.C. Metro during rush hour?  Like you, your son or daughter has a ton of “stuff” to do—work, study, rest, recreation, etc.  Jot down their schedule so you can better calculate a good time to reach them and avoid those moments when they would probably not appreciate a call from Mom.

With our kids, I soon learned that at times it was best just to call back later.  Long pauses and staccato responses consisting entirely of “nope,” “yep” and “dunno” indicated Seth was absorbed in a marathon network game with his buddies or Erin was engrossed in a movie with hers.

Equally important was letting our kids know when and where we were going to be.  When Dad is a minister, evenings as well as days are filled with meetings, practices, conferences and services.  Neither of our kids wanted to talk to the answering machine or voice mail or, worse yet, unknowingly interrupt a Bible study.

Call Frequently

Day to day happenings shape our attitudes and affect our actions.  Talking things over with family members can give us better perspective and more objectivity.  We all need it–parents and grown children alike.

When our kids were stationed state-side, we designated a specific time each week for phone calls.  We usually called them Sundays and they called us Wednesdays.  Seth invited us to join his cell phone plan with shared minutes.  This presented an affordable option for all of us.

With international prepaid calling cards and cell phones available through the Internet, anyone can talk–no matter what continent they are on.  Many phone companies offer good discounts for military personnel and their families.  When Erin received orders to Japan we checked with our long distance provider and found that for just a few dollars a month extra we could call her for seven cents a minute.

Write

In this age of text messages and email, letters are a physical keepsake that lasts.  People still enjoy discovering a personal letter in the mailbox and often save them for years to come. Sometimes cards can so eloquently express to our loved ones what is in our hearts.  Other times just keeping one another informed about the everyday things in life can bond us together—the neighbor’s cat had five kittens, the pizza shop downtown has a new name (again), or a high school friend’s engagement was in the paper today.

The military recommends writing every day during basic training.  Mail call is often the highlight of a trainee’s day. Caution:  Ask for and follow the rules and restrictions for letters and packages exactly during basic training.  To do otherwise can create publicly humiliating hassles for your son or daughter.  

Military Links for Parents
 
Each branch of the military has suggestions for keeping in touch with sons and daughters.  No passwords or logons are required.
U.S. Air Force
U.S. Army
U.S. Navy
U.S. Marines

Communicate Electronically

For short messages and quick answers, nothing beats the electronic communications environment.  When Seth was stationed in England, email was our lifeline to him, allowing us to bridge that distance with just the click of a mouse.  He could easily request the recipe for his favorite chocolate “Wacky” cake or find out which over-the-counter allergy meds we recommended.

Several branches of the military have set up friends and family instant messaging services and all offer email.  Just remember, to help ensure armed forces security, do not share any information that is pertinent to your loved ones military unit via the Internet.

Connect Spiritually

Pray for your son or daughter daily.  Ask them for any prayer requests they might have and share yours with them.  Erin often called when she or one of her friends needed prayer—for sickness, a rocky relationship, upcoming tests, etc.

When the kids were at home, our family always shared a reading and prayer from our denomination’s devotional booklet at breakfast.  After they enlisted, we continued the tradition by picking up a couple of extras and mailing them off to our son and daughter.  Though many days the booklets went unopened, Seth and Erin appreciated the connection with home they felt when they read them.