When Your Child Leaves for Basic Training or Bootcamp

What to Expect

Mother and son embracing while sitting in garden
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From the moment your child signed his or her enlistment contract and took the oath, you've known departure day would come. As it draws closer, memories of skinned knees and milk mustaches play through your mind, making you wonder where the years went. As your anxiety increases, so does your list of questions. Desperate for answers, you turn your child's impending departure into a mystery-solving quest.

Take heart, you're not alone. Experiencing a host of emotions during this time is common. Immense pride, anxiety, and fear of the unknown are universal feelings mothers and fathers of servicemembers experience. Understanding what to expect when your child leaves for boot camp will, hopefully, alleviate some of your fear and soothe your anxiety.

Limited Communication

One of the first questions to cross a parent's mind is, "Will I be able to talk to my child during basic training?" The decision regarding communication is entirely up to the drill instructors or training instructors. In most cases, hearing from your son or daughter at least once is fairly standard. For added peace of mind, have your child pack a phone card.

Mood Changes

Don't be surprised if you detect mood changes in your son or daughter when he or she writes or calls. For example, your once upbeat, happy-go-lucky kid may sound sad, stressed, or more subdued than normal.

Bouts of homesickness are common among service members going through basic training, especially if this is the first time they've been away from home.

A parent's natural reaction to a distressed child is to swoop in and save the day. After all, this has been your modus operandi since the first moment you held him or her in your arms.

Unfortunately, this isn't an option—at least not in the physical sense.

What you can do is offer a sympathetic ear; express your support and pride; and assure your child that basic training won't last forever. Soon, your child will graduate and embark upon his or her advanced individual training which is the last phase of training and where they become certified in their MOS (military occupational specialty--the job they'll be doing). Often, simply stating your belief in your son or daughter, combined with gentle reminders of the future, will refocus their attention on the destination instead of the arduous journey.

Sending Letters

Remember the thrill you get when someone takes the time to write and mail you a letter instead of shooting off a quick e-mail? Servicemembers in basic training are no different. Letters from home are welcomed and appreciated. For added variety, many parents include an assortment of items. Common choices are stamps, cash, phone cards, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

On occasion, parents discover the drill instructor or training instructor ordered their child to do extra push-ups or chores in order to receive their mail. Perceiving the act as punishment, parents question whether they should stop sending letters.

When asked, the majority of basic trainees agree the letters are worth the extra physical activity. Unless your child states otherwise, keep those letters coming.

Sending Care Packages

Rules and regulations regarding receipt of care packages during boot camp are different than receiving postal mail. The determining factor depends on the branch of service and installation. The Army, for example, has strict guidelines governing care package contents.

Servicemembers know what they can and can't receive. If your child requests a particular item, go ahead and send it.

Visits

Many parents wonder if they'll get an opportunity to see their child during basic training. Again, the answer largely depends on the branch of service and the installation. However, if your child's basic training falls during a major holiday, such as Christmas, he or she may get a pass for a short visit home.

New Beginnings

Your child made the choice to join the military and serve his or her country. Yes, this may be a temporary end to your daily talks or hearing him or her yell each night, "Hey, what's for dinner?"

Just like your child, you'll get through the difficulties and overcome the challenges. Take comfort in knowing all endings lead to new beginnings. As your son or daughter embarks on this major life change, your role has changed and expanded too. You're now the parent of a U.S. servicemember.

Updated by Armin Brott