This month on the Mormon Channel, we’re talking about becoming more self reliant when it comes to entering adulthood. During the summer, so many young adults are leaving home for college, jobs, marriage, or missions among other things. Ruth Haynie has sent her 4 children off on full-time LDS missions and shares her tips with us about how to have healthy communication with your missionary child while they are gone.
Writing to your missionary daughter or son for 18 or 24 months can be a daunting task. What can you say that will help and encourage them? How much information should you include, and what should you not share? How can you help them stay connected with home but not lose their missionary focus? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but as a mother of three daughters who have served missions and one who is presently serving, I have written hundreds of letters and have learned a few things in the process.
1. Encourage, encourage, encourage! Be their best cheerleader. Missionary work is hard, sometimes discouraging, and often disappointing. Missionaries need to know that you are with them, cheering them on, and acknowledging their trials but trusting in the strength that they, with the Lord’s help, have to do hard things.
2. Allow your missionary to be totally honest with you about his or her feelings. Tell your son or daughter that you want to hear about their struggles in a safe, private environment. This is not something to post on either your blog or theirs; rather, these are the raw details that they may need to share with you in confidence. Try to react with calmness and faith, being careful not to overreact, and encourage them to talk to their companion, zone leader, or mission president when appropriate.
3. Make sure your own faith and testimony is evident in your letters. This doesn’t mean that you have to formally bear your testimony, but you could let your child know how the Spirit has prompted you lately or talk about a meaningful scriptural passage you’ve read lately or a special temple experience that has brought you peace and hope.
4. Be judicious about sharing too many details of home life activities—it may not be the most helpful to a missionary’s focus to hear all about the double-fudge layer cake you made for a younger sibling’s birthday or all of the details of the fabulous trip you plan to take. Missionaries should of course stay connected with family while they serve, but aim for a balance in your communication so they don’t get overly distracted. Take special care not to share too many details of negative happenings: broken cars, mounting bills, and failed romances may cause unnecessary worry for your young missionary. Along with this, refrain from passing along celebrity gossip or details from a favorite movie or TV show—do all you can to help your son or daughter stay focused on priorities in the sacred work of being a missionary.
5. Try to focus on the present—their present experiences as well as your own. Mentioning that “in only 14 more months you will be home” or “I’m redecorating your room so it’s all ready for you in three months” encourages them to project themselves back home and also does you the great disservice of distracting you from fully enjoying your missionary’s service. Be grounded and focused on building them spiritually and emotionally, and take the opportunity to grow spiritually yourself. If their mission has a goal to read the Book of Mormon in 100 days, try accepting the challenge yourself or as a family to show support and to increase your own spirituality.
Enjoy your son or daughter’s mission. It is a precious time for both you and your missionary to experience God’s love and watchful care in a very special way.