Advice Needed: Missionary Momma Support

You may or may not be aware of this, but I write about Mormonism, as LdsNana-AskMormon on Hubpages --  to a general audience who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   In doing so, I've invited readers to ask me (a fairly credible resource if I do say so myself) any questions they may have about our faith.  Often times they are just seeking advice regarding something they don't understand about LDS Church policies, etc...  I do my best to answer just about any sincere question that I receive.  Sometimes I answer the question in the form of a complete article/hub, if appropriate -- but many I answer via email due to the personal nature.


Today I received an email that particularly touched my heart.   It was from a non-member friend of an LDS member.  The reason I was so touched, is because she wants advice about how to support her LDS member friend, who's son is about ready to leave on his mission.

Here is what she wrote...

Upfront, I want you to know, that I am not of the LDS faith.  So, be patient with my question! 
I have a good friend who is a member of the LDS.  For years, our sons have been best friends - and the past few years, we have become close as well.  Her family is amazing - such a close family with so much love and respect for each other.  Her oldest son of 4 children is heading off on his mission trip to Cambodia in a few weeks.  I understand this is part of the religion, but, she is still a momma who is incredibly close to her son!  I really want to be there for her and support her.  What would you suggest that I could do for her? 
Thank you.
How sweet is this?  As a new missionary mom myself, this letter brought tears to my eyes - as you can imagine.  I have no idea what their relationship is like, but it is apparent that there is great love and compassion shared in the friendship between these two women.

I can just picture this non-member friend, sitting in front of her computer, using Google to search "how can I help my LDS friend not be so sad when her son leaves on his Mormon mission"?   How she found me -- I'm not exactly sure.  But I can tell you this...  today when I Googled "support for missionary moms" to try and find some online resources to share with her, the only other post I've ever written about my initial experience of being a missionary mom popped up on the first page of Google results, in the number seven position!  Now that has to tell you all that we have a problem here....

So, I'm going to assume a few things, in general, from personal experience.   When my son left to serve a mission, almost four months ago, I was not prepared for how I would feel when he actually left.  The reality of him leaving for such an extended period of time, and the inability to communicate with him frequently, was something I was not prepared for.  Heck, I didn't even think there was a need to prepare ME for it!  The entire emphasis was about getting him prepared.

It's kind of funny really, but we spend years raising, particularly our boys, to serve a mission for the Church.  This is our culture and not only is it expected, it is celebrated as an indicator of successful parenting within the LDS Church.  And I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing.  Because after all, our kids have their agency, right?  Which has nothing to do with how good a parent you are.  Anyway, for our children that do decide to serve a mission for the LDS Church -- we're supposed to be happy!  And of course we are!

But here's the deal...   at least to my knowledge, there is nothing in the Church that is geared toward helping the parents of prospective missionaries go through the experience and sacrifice (other than financial) required to send off one of their babies on a mission for 18-24 months!

So now that I am having this experience,  I was left to wonder if it was just me?  After all, I have many close friends who had sent numerous missionaries out into the field.  Not once did they express to me, any of the feelings I've experienced recently -- neither when their children left, or while their children were gone.

After my son left, I expressed my sadness to a few close women friends.  To my shock they confirmed that they totally understood!  What?  Then why didn't anyone give ME a heads-up?  Why was I so clueless?  Why are these feelings that missionary moms all supposedly experience, NOT common knowledge amongst mothers?  I'm still scratching my head on this one and trying to figure it out...

Anyway, when I received this email today I couldn't help but wonder if this particular LDS mom didn't have the support that she needed within the Church, either, so instead she reached out to her non-member friend to share her feelings about her son leaving?   I don't know?  I could be totally wrong.

Nonetheless, I'm now going to conclude that sending off an LDS missionary is really hard for every LDS mom.  (and yes, more than most dads - my dh is doing just fine)  I'm totally normal.  Why this is not discussed amongst LDS women (my experience) I can only speculate.  I now have some pretty good ideas, but I'd like to hear what you think?  Because once again, I could be totally off base.

I'd also sincerely appreciate any advice that I could pass on to the sweet sister who sent me this email, and who desperately wants to support her dear friend who is sending off her Mormon missionary in a just a few weeks.  Because as I've confessed here, I am certainly not an expert in the missionary mom department -- regardless of what Google thinks!




tMDg
Kathryn

Note:  Since my son, Alton (pictured above) has left, I've became familiar with a few missionary parent resources.  There seems to be sufficient resources to help you support your missionaries, but I'd like to find more that support the parent during this time.  If you know of any good ones, please post the links in the comments.  Thanks.


The LDS Missionary Moms  - Here you will find multiple resources and can sign up for email lists that cater to your son or daughter's specific mission.


They also have a Facebook Page - LDS Missionary Moms


Here is a brand new blog that looks really promising - The Mission of Missionary Moms  I really hope that she is successful, because heaven knows we need her experience!

Here's a great new video that you can share with your friends and families - Mormon Missionaries: An Introduction





20 comments:

  1. It's really difficult to say goodbye for two years, and to know there will be no visits and only a handful of phone calls permitted over that time. I don't understand why such isolation from close family relationships is required on a mission. My brother in-law is currently serving in California, and it's been really difficult for me and my husband's family. Knowing how uncommunicative their family is, I've been saddled with the responsibility of keeping my BIL up to date on what's really going on with the family. And everyone has to wait a week to hear from him, and because he doesn't have much time to access the internet, he doesn't actually "reply" to anybody; he just writes one big form email that usually doesn't have anything to do with what anybody wrote to him. It's like talking to a wall. What makes me really sad is that BIL was always a fun, funny, witty person to talk to, and I feel like nobody has had a real conversation with him in over a year. He'll be back in 4 months, and I feel like we're not even friends anymore.

    Sorry for the rant. It's been really difficult for our family, and it makes me really sad to think of how our friendship might be over like this. But he's the only one who has a right to make choices for his life, and it appears he is glad that he did it. I'm glad if it makes him happy; I just wish it didn't have to mean such very little contact with his friends and loved ones. It doesn't make sense to me.

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  2. @Macha -

    I don't mind your rant at all. It just confirms to me that there needs to be more support offered to those who send missionaries out into the field. Like I said, we make sure and work hard to create resources to support missionaries, but little support is there for those they leave behind.

    I believe that there are many reasons that LDS missionaries are counseled to have so little contact with their families and friends back home. I think we need to keep in mind (as you mentioned) that serving a mission is a choice for every missionary. No missionary makes this sacrifice without knowing the parameters of their service. I would imagine that once missionaries experience the blessing of stepping out of "the world" into a space where they can completely focus on missionary work, they appreciate the guidelines.

    I know that for my own son, and I think that he would agree, the limited connection to his previous life has been critical in allowing him to completely immerse himself in the work. But of course, it is difficult for him, too. But I don't believe that it would be possible for our missionaries to be nearly as effective, if they were juggling two different worlds.

    I truly believe that when an LDS missionary chooses to set aside the things of the world, and sacrifice everything about themselves to the Lord, that they trust upon their return to be able to pick right back up with their personal relationships, interests, schooling, etc… I suppose things might not be exactly the same, because we all change and grow -- but most of the time, it is for the better.

    I imagine that your brother-in-law won't be the same young man that left almost two years ago, upon his return. He will be better! I've seen it over and over again. As the mother of a missionary, I've made the decision to put my trust in the Lord that this is His work and whatever policies that the Church has in place to further His work, is inspired.

    But certainly, this is not easy and I seriously doubt that it is meant to be.

    So, for those of us who are left behind to await a missionary's return, how could we better support one another? What would have helped you over these past few years?

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  3. It really is kind of an unspoken thing in our church, and I don't know why. My son has been out 10 months and I feel like the only mom that has said anything about my missionary in our ward. It's weird.
    I've thought about starting a missionary parents dinner group, where we could get together and visit and talk about our missionaries.
    I think just being a friend and asking her how her son is doing would be helpful. I know when anyone asks me about my son, it really makes me feel good.
    I saw a post on Sugardoodle.net where a mom's friends made her a missionary mom care package: http://tinyurl.com/3klm7t8
    I thought that was so thoughtful!
    As far as the why it's not discussed, I wonder why too. I know I had no clue how hard it would be and really didn't about think how it affected the moms. :( Maybe some moms think they are the only ones that feel sad- you know you see the "sunday smiles" and think everyone else is doing great. All I know is that I will be there to help my friends when they go through this challenge and blessing in their life!

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  4. To Macha – Part of the letter writing experience has to do with the individual missionary. I am sorry you feel so distanced by this process. That can be really difficult. None of our sons have been amazing letter writers so I understand. However I have seen it be very different for some families. I always hoped I would get page after page of amazing and inspiring letters from our sons, but it never happened. LOL But no complaints…

    When they returned they had plenty to say. Keeping close to the Lord will help you to feel closer to your BIL. Pray for him and talk to the Lord about your concerns. You will be comforted by Him. Yes, your BIL will change, but as Kathryn said it will be for the better. He will have grown a lot. I think part of our duty while they are gone is to grow, too. You will both have so much to share with each other. One thing that I have seen in common with all missionaries is that they come home appreciating their family even more. Maybe that is part of the plan, too. ;)

    ~Janis
    Live joyfully, with gratitude

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  5. IMHO the best way to help a missionary mom is to tell her how excited you are about her child going on a mission and to let her talk about it as much as she wants. Ask her how he/she is doing; what he/she has written about. You get two phone calls per year. Be sure to celebrate with her when she gets those phone calls. Ask lots of questions.

    Circumstances vary so some missionary moms might enjoy a lunch date or visit just to talk about the experience. Basically it comes down to being a friend. Be there, listen, do things together like you have always done. Be happy for her, be positive and upbeat.

    We have sent five sons on missions. Yes, I worried, and yes, there were times that I was sad and shed tears; but I did not DWELL on it. One advantage today is many missions have emails. When our oldest son went it was snail mail ONLY, and he was not a letter writer. I really tried hard not to be a hysterical mother. It was important for me to (1) have faith, (2) remember that there is no other place I would have had him be than serving the Lord at this time in his life; (3) remember that he is in the Lord's hands; (4) know that there is a system in place and if there were anything seriously wrong we would be informed by his Mission President. I have to admit, though, there was a point when we hadn't heard from him in three months that we did finally call his Mission President. LOL
    I guess part of the reason I don't "warn" future missionary moms that it is difficult is that I try not to focus on the difficult part, rather on the joy; and I try to be positive and upbeat. It is an exciting time in a young man's life. How many returned missionaries have you heard talk about it being the best two years of their life? Even if it wasn't the BEST two years, any missionary that has put his heart into serving has been richly blessed and so has his family. Why wouldn't I want that for my friends and their family?

    IMHO (again ;)) if you focus on the difficulties you miss the blessings. So much depends on your attitude. I try very hard to always focus on having gratitude (counting my blessings), being positive and upbeat, and spreading joy. Seriously, a mission is a joyful experience, if you let it be,--both for your missionary (son or daughter) and for your family. “… men [and women, too ;)] are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) Every minute you focus on feeling the pain you miss the joy.

    That was also something we focused on with the rest of our family so they could feel the joy and blessings of having a sibling on a mission.

    Just as a way to put it into perspective, I have three friends right now who have grandchildren who are battling cancer. They may not even make it to the age of accountability (8 years old) let alone 19/21. I would much rather be a missionary mom. Yes, it isn't always easy, but it beats any alternative I can think of. When your child chooses to serve a mission he is choosing to serve the Lord. How great is that?

    "I have no GREATER JOY than to hear that my children walk in truth." [3 John 4] (Emphasis added.)

    ~Janis
    Live joyfully, with gratitude
    PS Sorry it is so long – my 2 cents plus ;)

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  6. I have 4 sons so I have been through this 4 times. It did get easier with each one but I think that is only because I learned how wonderful the blessings would be. I came to expect them, for our missionary son, for our family. The growth was incredible for all of us.

    And you know what else I learned? I was so worried when my first one was leaving...thinking we would be so disconnected for 2 years. That was not so at all. We became closer through his letters...that's a unique and special communication.

    I also wondered why there was not more preparation for us missionary moms. Then I learned it is all around us. All we need to do is reach out to other moms.

    I also learned the great power of the Lord concerning his missionaries. I still cannot be in the presence of many and not tear up.

    Having said all that, the greatest blessings in life always come with sacrifice and pain of some kind. That 2 year goodbye is heart wrenching.

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  7. @Jennifer -

    Thanks for helping me to know that I'm not alone in my assessment here. Wow, 10 months? That's awesome! Where is he serving?

    If you have a number of missionaries out in your ward, I think organizing a missionary parents group is a great idea.

    I agree, just knowing that people realize you have a son or daughter serving a mission -- and acknowledging it, is very helpful.

    The Missionary Mom's Basket is a very clever idea! Thank you for sharing the link. You could give it all in one big basket or you could make little deliveries each month, using a different item. Very thoughtful idea.

    About those "Sunday smiles" you mentioned, I think you're onto something. Sending a missionary out is one of the greatest reasons for celebration in the Church. And yet, I doubt that anyone wants to discuss the true sacrifice that it is for parents or our children -- because that would send a negative message in some way.

    Perhaps there is an underlying fear that if we were to bring it more out into the open, some of our children would not go? However, I found it very important to let my son know fully how much of a sacrifice I knew that this was for him -- and me! We were both just shaking out heads together about the whole thing as I took him to drop him off. Perhaps that made it more difficult with us both acknowledging just how hard this all is. Nonetheless, I'm grateful for the honesty that we shared. I'm glad that he knows how much I think of him and his willingness to serve the Lord.

    I'm with you... now that I better understand this whole process, I plan on extending my compassion toward other parents of missionaries.

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  8. @Janis -

    Such beautiful words of counsel for @Macha. Thank you for taking the time to reach out.

    I'm glad that you mentioned just how different individual missionaries communicate. I couldn't agree more. I've had quite a few nephews serve missions and each one writes very different. I mentioned just recently, that just reading my sons letters, give me more of a feeling about how he's actually doing, than what he actually says. I feel like this is a gift of the spirt. I'm so grateful to understand this process, this early on. It's been very helpful when the words, at times, were not what I had hoped they would be.

    And thank you so much for sharing your insights and wisdom about how to support an LDS missionary mom, or parent. I don't mean to leave dads out of this, but truly this seems to be more of an issue for mothers.

    Your advice is so important. As I think back to when some of my closest friends, or family members, had sons out on missions -- I was not good about inquiring much. Yes, for the small talk, but certainly I didn't have an understanding of exactly what this all entailed. Perhaps for me, it was because I wasn't raised in the Church and have zero experience with sending out any prior missionary. Nonetheless, I need to be much better now.

    Okay, so you now "confess" (lol) that you have knowingly withheld information, in the form of a "warning" to unsuspecting prospective missionary moms, like myself! I knew it!

    You do know, that experienced mothers also withhold the difficulties, challenges and heartache that comes with motherhood, too! But we have good reason for this. If we did so, we would never have grandchildren! So perhaps I'm on to something when I suggest that we don't talk about the difficulties of being a missionary or the parent of one, because of fear? Just a thought;)

    I do love your counsel, and thus far have found it to be true -- that we need to best focus on the joy of missionary service, and not the difficult parts. Heaven forbid we should miss out on even one of the blessings that Heavenly Father has sent, for those who love Him, and willingly sacrifice in His service!

    Thank you for sharing. You're gentle perspective has brought tears to my eyes, once again.

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  9. I'm about to send my 5th missionary out. Number 1 was my stepson. I was not active in the church at the time. When he was set apart for his mission, the stake president told his 3 parents sitting in the room that we were to write no letters to him giving him bad news, that it would wait until his return. I was horrified! I later took my stepson aside and assured him that we would not lie to him. We would tell him the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'm so glad I did that, because his stepfather died of cancer while he was gone. I can't imagine how he would have felt had we waited for that bit of information on his return!

    On the other side, I've noticed that missionary letters seem to be all about the "good work" they are doing, when you know they have good days and bad days. I've told my kids that they can write EVERYTHING home. Sometimes they need to vent! I'd rather they vent to me than to try to keep it all in for 18 to 24 months. I've also gotten really good at reading between the lines.

    You are absolutely right that parents are not told how hard it will be, and they are given no support. I think it is a cultural thing in some ways. Moms (and Dads--but especially Moms) are just supposed to buck up. I received more support from those outside our faith than inside. Actually, that wasn't a bad thing. It has given me missionary experiences too.

    Two employers literally held me together a couple of times. When my oldest daughter left on her mission, I went directly to work after taking her to the airport. I walked in the office door and broke down. My boss put me back together. Several years later, I was working somewhere else when my son was on his mission. My son e-mailed me a picture showing he was skinny as a rail. I stood up from my desk with the intention of going to get some air and my knees buckled. My boss literally caught me and put me back together.

    Maybe the thing to tell this wonderful woman not of our faith is that she will have a big impact on her friend just by listening.

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  10. @Grandma Honey -

    So much experience here! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    We too, are already experiencing the blessings of having a missionary out in the field. When we shared this with our son, he confirmed that he prays on our behalf, daily. I truly believe that when such sacrifice is given unto the Lord, that it is impossible for Him to refuse such petitions. I also believe that He is thrilled with this process, as I 'm sure that blessing His children is His favorite part of the job!

    And you're right. There is help all around us, if we simply seek it out. Problem is, that for many LDS women, being strong is important -- or so we think. Heaven forbid we come across in any way weak. We need to be better in this way -- all around.

    I too, just beam when I come in contact with my own local missionaries. I now have a new love for these young people -- that by simply their presence, I am deeply moved.

    Thank you for acknowledging just how "heart wrenching" that initial goodbye is. It really caught me off guard! For me, I am in the process of understanding this sacrifice for both those who leave and those who love them, and remain behind. This really is a sacrifice -- and a big deal.

    I really hope these comments are of comfort to other missionary moms, who have or are experiencing similar feelings.

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  11. @LaurieBee -

    Wow, you too -- FIVE! You women are amazing! I'm feeling like such a wimp right now! LOL

    But seriously, one of the things that has struck me in this whole sending out my first missionary process, is the element of honesty. It's probably because my son is my youngest, born seven years after my fourth child. All his life he has insisted on being treated like an adult -- even when he did not act like one.

    My point is this… we may feel that these young men and women that we send off into the mission field are children, but in reality, they are not. These are adults. We owe them complete honesty at every level of this experience. To treat them like children who need to be protected, in my opinion, is disrespectful.

    I understand that your Church leader had the very best of intentions in giving you such counsel, but I'm glad that you acted on your own parental "keys" and did what the spirit inspired you to do-- concerning your own son. I believe that most leaders would respect your ultimate decision.

    When we consider the many diverse circumstances that our missionaries often teach those who are interested in learning more about the Church -- we must acknowledge their abilities to handle the real world with all of its challenges. In only just a few months, my son has encountered issues such a suicide, alcoholism, murder, just to name a few. In each situation, he has had to respond as an adult -- and from what I know, he has done a good job.

    I'm starting to believe that for some, it is easier to share the challenges of being a missionary mom with those outside of the Church, rather than reaching out to other members. Perhaps it is because they readily understand the separation issue of having a child leave for such a lengthy period. Supposedly we as members readily and easily accept all of this. When a non-member finds out what we will go through, they most likely immediately reach out to us because of the uniqueness of the situation. In other words, they have no basis to accept that this is "normal".

    You advice and honesty are so appreciated. Thank you!

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  12. Kathryn,
    My son is serving in the Mexico Torreon mission. It has gone by so much faster than I expected. I think the longest part was the first week, waiting for the first email.
    I found that LDS Missionary moms email list so helpful, they were able to answer many of my questions. I would have felt lost without it.
    BTW, I love your blog!

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  13. @Jennifer -

    Thank you!

    That's wonderful about your son. Mexico? Wow. That's a pretty volatile area, isn't it? Good to know he's in the Lord' Hands:)

    I've heard from other moms, too, that the time really does fly by. I sure hope so! LOL But for now, I'll just keep focusing on all the blessings of having a missionary in the field.

    I agree... LDS Missionary Moms has been very helpful. The women are very responsive and being able to communicate with others who know what we're going through is a real blessing. I'm grateful I found that resource.

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  14. http://ldsmissionarymoms.com/helptopics/ is a great resource, too.

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  15. @Karl -

    Thank you for another great resource!

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  16. It is common for mothers to miss their missionaries. Don't forget sending missionaries letters and gifts makes them happy. There are some great gift ideas at: http://www.latterdaymissiontshirts.com/

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  17. This is a very old post, so I'm not sure if I will get a response or not. I hope so. I could really relate to this article. I'm trying to support my neighbor in the same way. I understand how to support her as a friend and a mom. However, what I still don't know is what to give her daughter, at her send off party? Do I give her a congrats card with money in it? If so, how much? Is it ok to send a card, if I am unable to attend the party?

    Thanks,

    Lisa

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lisa,

      What a lovely thought that you would go out on the Internet, as one not of our faith, to see how you could support your dear friend whose daughter is leaving on a mission. What a wonderful, kind and loving friend! And yes, a card with money is always appropriate and very much appreciated, as there are many things that a newly called missionary will have need of either in preparing to leave, or upon arriving in the mission field.

      I'm sure your friend has explained to you that just recently many more LDS girls are going out into the mission field because recently the Church lowered the age limit for young women to 19. If you look on the sidebar of this blog, to the right, you will probably see a blog post titled: Newly Called Sister Missionaries Unite and Create EPIC Video , if not, you can search for it. It tells a bit more about that. It's a pretty exciting time in the Church.

      Thanks for being so supportive of your friend. The first few weeks after her daughter leaves will be both exciting and lonely. We miss our kids, while at the same time we are so grateful for the experience they are having and for their desire to serve.

      So glad you found my blog!

      Best,
      Kathryn

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  18. In my experience, the mothers I know have talked about their feelings in sending off a missionary. Perhaps that's because I asked them, though. The responses have been varied but honest. So, maybe it's not that people are hiding feelings but that no one is asking how they feel?

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  19. This is now a very old feed, but I am reaching out as I googled help with what I am struggling with.

    My daughter has been out in the mission field only ten days now! I am dropping tears like Niagara Falls. When is it going to stop? I am so grateful to at lease find some people here that talking about it. I know she is where we want her to be serving the Lord, but my heart just breaks with her absence!

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