How I Dealt with My Emotions When My Son Said ‘I’m Enlisting’

I’ve always thought of myself as a cool-headed mom.

You know, the kind of mom every teenager wants to have: chill, spontaneous, with the willingness to have fun.

“Oh, you and your friends want to cliff jump? Sure!”

“You’re gonna go to school in shorts in freezing temperatures? Alright!”

“Wait, you’re asking for a Mohawk? Let’s do it!”

But when my baby, my seventeen-year-old son Caleb, came to me with these words, “Mom, I’m enlisting,” you could hear the proverbial record scratch so loudly even Uncle Sam would’ve winced and covered his ears.

I always knew my son would want to enlist in the military. (Photo credit: Heather Spiva)

I knew my son would want to enlist someday

It’s not that I didn’t know this was coming. I did know. We called my son “Camo Caleb” from the time he was three because that’s all he wanted to wear from preschool to now. He’s seventeen as I write this.

But, enlist? As in the military? This isn’t what I envisioned. I thought his future would mean four years of college, a part-time job on the side, and a chance for him to even live at home if he decided to go to our local college and university. It was a Hallmark movie scene, all played out in my mind. Surely, this is what he wanted, too.

But it wasn’t. Not even remotely. 

“I want to enlist in the Marine Corps,” he said one glorious fall day last year.

I felt as if my heart tumbled out of my body

I felt like my heart and soul tumbled out of my body and to this day, I’m still looking for them. It’s not that I don’t want him in the military. Some of our best men and women are in the military, doing their jobs, risking their lives, and for all of us. I love our military. They are indispensable; they are our reason for freedom.

But, if I’m being truthful, I always assumed it would be someone else’s son to take this position; it was someone else’s daughter who would sign up to serve her country. It wouldn’t be my son. Not because he was too good, but because I couldn’t bear to let him go; to risk his life for the rest of America.

I didn’t want him to sign up to die.

Yes, this is histrionics in its ultimate form. And yet, he very well does have the chance to be in harm’s way for the entire time he’s enlisted. But, let’s be realistic here: everyone has the chance to be in harm’s way no matter where they are, or what they’re doing.

We live in a crazy world, with crazy people. Our EMS personnel, who work on the frontlines of every community in America risk their lives too. My husband is a fire captain. I know his risk all too well.

So, why would I want my son to enlist? Why would I want him to throw himself into danger? And was I supposed to be happy with this situation I found myself in?

I had to come to terms with my son’s decision to enlist

While my boy is still not old enough to enlist, (he will be very soon) I’ve been thinking, praying, and generally going a little nutty over his current potential endeavor. But, through this anxiety-ridden thought process, I’ve also come to terms with it all. 

It’s going to be okay. And here’s why.

1. It is his passion

When he talks about the Marines, when he explains boot camp and all the things he’ll have to go through, it makes my insides shake. But as I watch him tell me about his future potential job description, his face glows like he’s on fire with a purpose. His passion for this career is everything to him.

He’s talked to Marines, he’s researched his options; he knows what he’s getting into – things that I would never want to do – and he still wants to do it! As he’s said to me, “This makes me feel alive.” Enlisting in the Marines is his passion, and he’s not even there yet.

2. It is his decision 

Ultimately, I don’t want to squelch his deep longings. Being a Marine is all he’s ever wanted to do and if this is something he loves and wants to pursue, then who am I to stop him? The alternative is me saying no and him resenting me for the rest of his life. The other alternative is him enlisting regardless of what I say and me resenting him. That’s not an option. And I don’t want that for either of us.

It’s my job to raise him to the best of my ability until he’s an adult, and then the rest of the choices are on him. Letting him go as a functioning, strong, good adult is my job. But letting him make decisions (I’m unsure about) as an adult is still his. 

3. It is an honorable choice 

My cousin is in the Navy. He is one of the smartest and most hard-working people I know. My uncle was also in the Navy, and I have friends who are and were in the Army, Air Force, and National Guard. And guess what? All of them are amazing.

They are heroes; they have chosen a higher calling; they are willing to sacrifice their lives, to give up their safety to instead labor grueling, thankless jobs all within the military. I don’t know anything more honorable than this. 

4. It isn’t about me 

I’ve had to repeat this phrase to myself every single day since my world collapsed (okay, it didn’t, but you know what I mean). “It isn’t about me, it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me.”When I was seventeen, I made decisions without my parents’ approval or disapproval, and I’m doing alright. I’m doing better than alright.

So, I need to let him do the same. This is his future, his career, and his choice. It’s not about what I want, or what I envisioned, but about him pursuing both happiness and a career at the same time. Even if it’s not what I initially desired for him, I do want him to do what he longs to do.

I’ve had a year to adjust and I’ve come to terms with my son’s wishes

I’ve had a year to adjust to his desire to enlist. I haven’t changed my position: I don’t want him to enlist, but I know why he wants to. I get it. And my son hasn’t changed his position either. He could change his mind, and that’s fine. I’d be more than okay with it. But, I doubt that will happen. He’s going to enlist, and he’s going to potentially be in harm’s way.

But he’s also going to live a fulfilling life and career that he longs to pursue – and will continue to pursue – because it’s what’s captured his heart.

At the end of the day, that’s all I want for him, even if I’m still an emotional basket case over his decision. I want him to pursue his passion, and love what he does. If he finds a way to do that, in whatever he chooses, then I couldn’t be more proud of him. I’m going to be okay.

And maybe that will make me the cool-headed mom I’ve always hoped to be.

More Great Reading:

My Son’s in the Military and May Soon be in Harm’s Way

About Heather Spiva

Heather Spiva, a freelance writer from Northern California, loves her two sons to pieces, and is conveniently married to her best friend.

Read more posts by Heather

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