Advice

Carolyn Hax: Parents learn to accept child’s decision to enlist

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On being the parent your kids need you to be: When our daughter, a student/athlete and honor graduate, began to explore enlisting in the Army, it came as a total surprise, and not just to us. But it was also something that she had done completely on her own — exploring the alternative to “sitting four more years.” Were we happy? No; she had scholarships and excellent college options. But we tried to choose our words carefully, and keep them few by listening to her talk about how and why she was considering this change in direction.

Her father and I selected a mix of friends to work through our concerns, fears, and also have our view challenged. This helped our conversations with our daughter be more open-minded. Yes, we asked her questions to understand how she had thought this through, and with her consent met with her recruiter. We didn’t do this right every time, and it was a journey of fits and starts. But, when it became clear that she was serious; her father and I realized that the only things we could choose were our attitudes and response. After all, we had raised this young adult who independently had opened doors to other horizons, and so we embraced her and honored her decision.

Yes, our military personnel are in harm’s way more often than we would like, but bubble wrap is for packing boxes; not for living life. I would rather have an adult daughter who knew her mind, made the right decision for herself and set out to live a life well-lived, risks included, than one who bowed to pressure and fear from family. Is it easy having your child deployed? No it is not, but bad things can happen anywhere in the world, and to think anything else is to fool yourself.

Damn Proud Army Mom

I was a divorced father of three sons and a single father caring for them during years when my ex-wife was living abroad. They each got the same allowance, had different household tasks in rotation, and took turns riding shotgun in the car.

But my most important strategy was to carve out time to spend with them individually – important to me as well as to them because that gave me an understanding of how special each was and how different from his brothers. I don’t know where the wisdom came from to pursue this strategy, but now that I see how they interact with their own children, I realize that I was teaching them as well as enjoying them.

Veteran Dad/Granddad

On (not) choosing sides in a divorce: My wife and I had friends several years ago who had a nasty breakup, with the guy being the publicly culpable party. We took on the role of wife-comforter and supporter.

However, I also reached out as a friend to the guy. I expressed my disappointment with his actions but left the door open to friendship and listening.

As time has passed, we all moved on. They established new worlds for themselves. We are in touch but no longer needed for support. But we were there when both needed a friend.

Miscommunication and bad behaviors are shared in a relationship. The sense of failure and loss is also shared. Two good people can have a good relationship that deteriorates into a bad situation over time. There are two sides to every breakup. Both need friends who listen rather than judge. They need reassurance that they will survive and have a new life.

S.T.

On regretting your part long ago in the mistreatment of a classmate who was “different”: Young people with disabilities need to go to lunch, dinner, movies with someone other than Mom and Dad. There are opportunities to help people with disabilities become engaged in community — and all of them are underfunded and understaffed. Your local school district could point you in directions that would allow meaningful opportunity to engage with people in your community.

If you’re serious about wanting to make amends, volunteer to help parents of people with disabilities now. Special Olympics needs coaches, helpers at their state events, and adults to support their work on a onetime or regular basis. Schools need parents to support the Best Buddies program. Make sure a high school kid with disabilities gets a ride to the basketball game, and a ride home — and a seat in the front row of the student section when at the game.

As a parent of a disabled child, I promise we tend not to forget kindness and we are grateful when we don’t have to lead the charge for supporting our children becoming engaged in the community. Sometimes, being allowed to take a back seat to someone else’s passion is a great gift, especially if that passion improves the quality of life for your child and your family.

K.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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