Confession of a Missionary Mom

SERENA: I knew what was going to happen, but when I woke up the morning we were to fly to Utah and drop our son off at the curb of the MTC, it felt like I woke up to a nightmare. I felt a twinge of guilt for being so down. Isn’t this the moment all LDS moms wish for their sons?  What kind of mother was I for feeling sadness?

His four younger siblings weren’t making the trip with us, so they had said goodbye before leaving for school.  It didn’t occur to me how hard each sibling would take his departure until my 16 year old son and 13 year old daughter walked arm-in-arm into their school, tears pouring down their faces, after saying difficult goodbyes to him in the parking lot.  My missionary was overwhelmed and fighting back tears.  When he said goodbye to our nine-year-old, she sobbed uncontrollably.  Luckily the three-year-old, my son’s little buddy, was her cheerful self, as she didn’t really understand for how long she was saying goodbye.  But our missionary son understood what it meant–missing two years of incredible changes in his sister, all while wondering if she would remember him at all when he returned.  What a crushing blow to my heart.

The plane ride to Utah was calm and quick.  We took care of some shopping needs and enjoyed a dinner with family, just sitting together in a stifled state. I think everyone was trying to mask the building of intense sadness and the realization that this was literally our last supper together for two years.

After a sleepless night, the dreadful morning arrived.  We got ready, inspected the suitcases, went over all the lists, and then made the drive to Provo.  We followed tradition for what I did before my mission and ate lunch at the Olive Garden, and tried to linger as long as possible, though nobody ate much as our stomachs and nerves wouldn’t cooperate.  All too soon, it was time.

We parked across the street by the Provo Temple.  The lawn was full of missionaries and their families posing, nervously laughing, glancing at watches every few minutes. We took several different photos, and walked around a bit until it was finally time—the scheduled drop off time.  In the temple parking lot across the street from the MTC, we loaded into the car. I placed my son in between me and my husband in the back seat, just in case someone would try and take him away as soon as he got out of the car and before I could give him one last hug.

We entered the MTC, drove into the underground parking lot, and followed the signs and waving missionaries telling us where to go.  Suddenly, an elder motioned to us and started walking briskly beside our car leading us to where we were to stop.  I took a few pictures, got in several hugs, and tried to be strong for my son, but tears were welling in my eyes.  The elder motioned that they needed to go, and we watched our son walk to an elevator door.  My neck ached from keeping my head turned back to see him as long as I possibly could.  My son, drifting into the distance.  My last glimpses of him for two years.  My big, strong boy, heading to the Philippines.  What would he look like when he got home? Healthy? Skin and bones? I replayed over and over in my head the last words he spoke to me, “I love you, Mom.”  When would I hear him speak those words again?

My husband and I stopped at BYU, walked around, tried to cheer each other up, bought some BYU souvenirs, and then headed back to the airport.  I’m okay, I told myself.  As the plane took off, I realized my son was gone and the distance between us was growing by the second. I couldn’t text him or call him anymore. I had to wait until he was allowed to contact us. It felt so unfair.  I thought if the church cares so much about families, why do they have to limit contact between parents?  I was a little angry, thinking how church officials could get a hold of him whenever they wanted to, but I would have to go through “proper channels.”  My son had an email address, but he was only allowed to check it once a week.  I had no phone number to call to reach him. If some emergency happened, how and when would I know?

He has been gone for four months now.  Each week, I eagerly await the emails.  They don’t come at the same time each Sunday, so I find myself putting my entire life on hold so I don’t miss the email—and a chance to go back and forth with him for an hour.  I find myself a little angry at the rules that they only get one hour to correspond.  If we can email, why not allow phone calls each week?  It bothers me that our children are sent off in the service of the Church, yet it feels like they are cut off from home in a sense.  It is so abrupt.  How are we all about family when missionaries are required to put the Church first and everyone is expected to be able to handle the separation the same and celebrate it? I have to trust that a leader who doesn’t know my son, and is presiding over 150-200 missionaries, will be as invested in his well being as I am.

I am a faithful member of the church.  I served a mission.  I am grateful for my service.  I am happy my son chose to go on a mission.  I believe he will also be very grateful for his choice and experience.   I can also say that as a mother, this is one of the cruelest things that the church can do to a family.  Relationships that were built over the course of his entire life feel severed—for two years they will feel that way.  And since he is severed from his support from home, will my son be loved, supported and protected out there?  I can only hope.

~Serena~

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5 Replies to “Confession of a Missionary Mom”

  1. I have sent three sons and a daughter out … each one was different and stressful for different reasons. The first because he missed his plane to Utah because he lagged in cleaning out his bedroom and packing … and Dad was in charge of it. The second, the plane sat on the tarmac before leaving for two extra hours so he missed his check-in time … oldest brother had returned and was picking him up in Utah, so they went out for pizza before reporting in late since he was late anyway. The third, my consummate planner child, got to his airplane on time, took a shuttle to the MTC … but because they couldn’t take a cell phone with, we pulled strings to get confirmation that he arrived safely. It came via a picture with the MTC president at the time. The daughter we dropped off in person as we did a cross-country move, so we were signing house papers the morning of. She is #2 in the lineup but went out older, more ready in a lot of ways. She was comforting us … as she was headed to Mongolia.

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  2. 100% agree with you. My son has been out 8 months, and his absence is felt immensely.

    It stings when the woman who raised him to become who he is, is told she would only be a “distraction” to the work if she called or texted her missionary. Except, he and his companion have times during the day where there is no work to be found, and not from lack of trying. I read through the lines of his email, he’s trying so hard to be positive, until one day out of the blue- his mission president calls and says my son is basically so depressed that he’s non-functional and has been for months, recommends medication and lds social services and counseling. (It turns out that he didn’t need any of that, just a change of companion.) But as a mother, this is unacceptable. Why do we allow this? What is so inherently bad about talking to your family members on the phone?

    He’s never once been depressed in his life, but I can’t help but wonder if this couldn’t have been alleviated by more family contact? My daughter wants to go on a mission in a few years, but we are very close. She feels inadequate, unworthy, and a little ashamed because she doesn’t think she could go that long without talking to me when she needed me.

    It’s so hard to be told, “Now you know what Heavenly Father must feel like, sending us down here to earth. Doesn’t it give you more appreciation for him?” It looses its novelty when I actually could talk to my son.

    It’s even harder to be perceived as a legitimate religion to my non-member friends who see this as a control method from the church rather than an honorable sacrifice. This is what frustrates me—why aren’t we doing everything we can to be appealing to the world, so they would want to join?

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    1. Wow, Anne. I’m so sorry for what your son had to endure. It is stories like yours that raise my anxiety. I am glad your son is doing better with a companionship change. It is so hard for me to trust that the mission president will care for my son the way my husband and I do. I think he has a good mission president, and my son says he really loves him, but we feel so cut off and it just plain sucks. I actually had a great mission president who really cared more about the well being of each missionary than he did about all the rules and exact obedience, and it made a difference. But not all mission presidents are that way. I think that parents should not be so cut off from their children. I get that we want missionaries to focus on the work, but I don’t know that the extreme rules about communication with family is necessary. And for non-member families or less active families, it is just one more way for them to feel resentment for the church.

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  3. I just sent out my oldest son and am having a really hard time with this exact thing. It helps to hear that I am not the only one who feels this way. Something I feel people don’t realize is usually once the first kid leaves it is the end of an era. It is usually the end of the nuclear family living at home as one unit. As much as we want our kids to leave the nest, to do it in such an extreme way makes it harder than it needs to be on everyone. To make it worse while we feel this way, others walk around telling you about how wonderful it will be. I don’t doubt it will be and I hope he has a wonderful experience but would it be such a bad thing to even weekly have a check in with someone who knows them and can tell when something off. Good luck mom’s who are going through this too…

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