If you know me personally, subscribe to this blog, or we are Facebook friends, you know that my oldest son is a Marine. He’s been a Marine now for over a year.
Being the parent of a soldier is an experience that I don’t know you can really prepare for and it comes with many interesting and challenging experiences.
There’s one thing that started happening to me almost as soon he enlisted and it continues today as he embarks on deployment. When I tell people that my son is a Marine or if they hear he’s being deployed overseas, it’s not long before this question comes:
“How do you feel about that?”
On the surface, this seems like an empathetic question probing into if I am doing okay. And sometimes that’s exactly what it means. Being a parent to a soldier is hard and it does generate a wide range of emotions.
But, more often, I feel as though it’s less about me and more about the person asking the question. They are processing how they think they would feel about having a Marine as a child. They are curious about what I’m going to say about this to see if aligns with how they would feel about this situation. I often feel like they are expecting me to espouse some judgment about my son’s choice to join the military or how I feel about the way our military is being used around the global.
Too often, this question feels like judgment. And I’m sure that most people who ask this question don’t intend the question to feel that way.
For those that are wondering, I say that I am proud of him. That he’s doing things that are more important at 19 that I’ve done my entire life. And that as a Marine, I know that he’s had the best training on the planet to do what he does and stay safe.
What I’ve learned through this experience is to be more attentive to how I engage others about circumstances that I don’t understand. If I want to know how someone is feeling, I am careful about how I ask the question and I try to ensure that they know that I am asking out of care and concern for them.
But, generally, I try to defer to voicing support and encouragement. That seems to be a good default setting. I don’t need to know if you are hurting or not, struggling or not, to provide you with some words of support and encouragement. Even when you aren’t struggling, words of encouragement have a positive effect.
The best thing that someone can say to me when I tell them that my son is a Marine? “You must be incredibly proud.” It makes me feel good every time someone says that.
I’m trying to learn from this experience and apply it in other areas of my life.
More support. More encouragement. Less judgment.
Haven’t found a situation yet where this isn’t a better approach.