Getting Help

Part 9 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series.

For many parents, family and friends it is all they can do to assist the missionary to find their place in the world when they return. Not always, but sometimes, it requires the help of others to make that transition.

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From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Getting help. Sometimes missionaries face more than temporary adjustments to returning home. Some struggle to make sense out of disappointments or negative experiences as missionaries. Others stop being active in the Church, or still seem lost many weeks after returning home. Some assume that since they completed an honorable mission, God should take care of them better than He seems to be doing. Parents, bishops, other missionaries, siblings, former advisors, teachers, and professional counselors may help such missionaries to make peace with their mission, sort out problems, and get back on track.

Conclusion. Transitions take time. The first year home from a mission seems to be especially vulnerable, and if other family or life transitions are thrown in at the same time this can dramatically multiply the stress your missionary feels. Model tolerance for ambiguity, humor, baby steps, decision-making and problem-solving skills, self-forgiveness, adult spirituality, and loving connections and acceptance. And enjoy the ride!

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What do I think?

Fortunately I never had to seek professional help on my return. But I have to say there were times when I considered it. It certainly was not an easy journey for me. I did find help from family and friends. However, I was sure to choose those people I trusted the most.

But the thing to remember is to be patient and don’t over-react. These things take time, love and understanding. In many cases it is just as challenging an experience as the mission itself. That’s ok, because it is a time of learning and growing. There are a lot of people out there who can assist, not just professionals. Friends, family, and ecclesiastical leaders can often assist the missionary in finding the perspective they need. The important thing is for the missionary to keep connected, and not to cut themselves off from everyone around them.

Questions:

1. If your missionary does seem to be distancing themselves from everyone around you, can you identify two or three people you could call on that your missionary would trust the most?

2. What are some other ways you think would help a missionary to find help?

**Before I finish this series, next time, I am going to add another source of information on this topic. From a recently returned mission president, I will share some information that they offered to their returning missionaries on ways to assist in their transition.

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Friends and Dating

Part 6 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

As we all take a deep breath, and calm our excitement over the recent announcement by the First Presidency, it’s a good time now to settle back and maintain focus again. It seems fitting to be talking now about what it means for a returned missionary in terms of their social well being. The LDS dating scene is about to get turned on its head as our returning missionaries will soon find a different kind of dating pool on their return over the next 2 years.

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Friends and dating.

From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

President Hinckley has said that in order to remain active and become integrated in the church, new converts need a friend, a meaningful assignment, and to be nurtured in the good word of God. Now, instead of providing those things for others, your missionary needs to get them for himself or herself. Families can help. Social life is a big challenge for many returning missionaries. It is hard to go from having constant companions, even if you don’t like them, to not having anyone to hang out with. It is especially hard if old friends have moved on, or have not grown up while the missionary has. Returning missionaries may have to work at making friends and dating again, and that can feel awkward. Avoid jokes about marriage, and help them manage outside pressure to make decisions about marriage too fast. Help them trust themselves to just date, learn to be friends with the opposite sex, and not feel that every date requires an immediate decision about marriage potential. Have fun helping them think of things to do, people to do them with, and ways to connect, and support them in taking time for this important part of life.

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What do I think?

You may not want to know what I think on this matter, as I could expound all day on the seriously poor dating skills that are out there at the moment. But, as Dave and Wendy suggest, it’s important for us as parents to avoid making it more awkward for them than it already is, so I’ll hold my tongue 😛

The biggest thing that we have done to help our three marriageable age daughters is to make our home a place where young people want to be. As parents we decided early on that to assist our girls in finding their social mojo, and eventually their eternal companion, we would offer our home as a place where they could bring their friends to hang out and socialise. Many of you may remember the Food Friday piece I wrote about ‘Pancakes and the Maurer’s’? We used these occasions to invite many young people into our home.

It’s my belief that the more opportunities our young people have to mix and mingle with the opposite sex, the easier it is for them to identify the characteristics and qualities they most want in an eternal companion and the the less painless it is for them to learn the art of socialisation. It also gave us opportunities as parents to meet their friends and discuss these things with our daughters openly. As Dave and Wendy suggest, the key is to making it fun for them and supporting them along the way.

But I place a huge caveat on my statement above! This is not an opportunity for parents to enforce their ideas and preferences on their child. Remember the last post I wrote on ‘Renegotiating Family Relationships’? That relationship is now one of support and encouragement, not rule making, curfews and parental expectations. They are adults now, and need the freedom to make their own choices, no matter how much you feel they could be wrong.

Questions:

1. Is it appropriate for parents to set curfews and rules about dating in the life of their returned missionary?

2. What are some ways that you think you could assist your returned missionary to become integrated back into a healthy social life?

3. Do you have any creative ways that you have used to support a missionary on their return to the dating scene?

4. In what way do you think the change to the ages of missionary service will affect the dating habits of our returned missionaries?

**Part 7 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ we’ll talk Singles Wards and Church Callings.

Renegotiating Family Relationships

Part 5 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

This post can be applied to any parent who has a child entering their adult years. As I have discovered with all my daughters, the mere fact that they turn 18 or 21, does not mean they will turn into adults overnight. It is a process of negotiation and renegotiation as parent and child. Indeed, for some families it may be a case of the child wanting to remain as a child; reluctant to have to start making adult decisions.

But for those who do serve missions, this process of change will often occur while they are away. For many parents this then requires a sudden re-adjustment of the terms of their relationship with their child once their missionary returns.

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Renegotiating family relationships.

From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Generally, children leave for missions and adults return. This means that everyone has to adjust to a new, adult-adult relationship. As parents, it helps if we will lovingly initiate conversations about our ability or willingness to provide financial support, our need for help with household responsibilities, and our hopes for our new relationship rather than imposing rules. Your child is now an adult who has been living independently for some time, and who has dreams, skills, needs for independence, and ideas that may differ from yours. Be patient with the over-idealism that missionaries often cling to in the ambiguity of a new life. It is not easy to go from having the answers to loving the questions, and some make this transition more easily than others. Also, almost every mission and every first year home has sensitive or unresolved issues. Work to ask questions in ways that invite honest answers, and be careful not to let pride in your missionary’s accomplishments leave them afraid to disappoint you. Then accept that they still may not tell you everything.

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What do I think?

This is the unknown to me. It is something that I am yet to experience, and therefore is a bit scary. My plans are to tread carefully with my daughter till I get a feel for whether we will need to renegotiate our relationship with her or not. Pre-mission she was never really a child who was champing at the bit to have her freedom, or break free from being the child. To me she was extremely mature before she left, and I feel that we had already established that adult to adult relationship. But I’m not making any assumptions till she is back home.

I would really like some feedback on how other parents have dealt with this renegotiation. Perhaps girls are easier than boys, since they leave on their missions at a later age?

Questions:

1. How do you distinguish between rules that you imposed on your children pre-mission, and general house rules for all to abide by post-mission?

2. What is the kind of language you use with your adult children that may be different from when they were children?

3. Can anyone share a particular experience of how you approached that renegotiation?

**Part 6 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ looks at Friends and Dating.

Big Goals, Little Steps

Part 4 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

This is an image that I designed and created especially for this post. A vision of what it feels like for many missionaries as they leave fulltime service and come back into the world.

Sometimes coming home from a mission feels like you are stepping out from Eden into the vast wastelands. Without goals in mind, a missionary can be left to wander the wastelands with little purpose or focus. With larger goals in mind, it may still be rough, but there is purpose and hope on the horizon as they take each day, step by step.

Today’s post is all about how returned missionaries can take those small steps towards the greater goals in life; navigating through the wastelands to find haven within the Temple and the ordinances found there.

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Big goals, little steps.

From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Newly returning missionaries will not be able to create a ten-year plan for themselves (although some would like to). More important is to start doing small things that will help them get some momentum and put them in the path of inspiration. Help them list ten little things they could do in a variety of areas to get started (school, work, social life, hobbies, church, friends, etc.), and the bigger life purposes will emerge over time. Review patriarchal blessings. Make lists of what they have learned, what they like, and what they want.

Some helpful books:

1. What Color is Your Parachute? (Bolles) for direction in career decisions

2. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, (Steve Covey) for goal setting, planning

3. Seven Habits for Teens, (Sean Covey) for goal setting, planning at a teen’s level

4. The Artist’s Way, by Cameron for imaginative ways to get started with goals

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What do I think?

Recently, in talking with one of our daughters, my husband and I explained that if anyone had said to us 25 years ago that this is where we would be at this time of our lives we would have laughed at them. While we are in a very good place, the journey we have taken to get here has been one that we would never have been able to predict. Nobody knows what twists and turns are along the path of life. This is most applicable to missionaries returning home. Many think that they have the answers and burst back into the world with high expectations, only to be discouraged by what they find.

I am hoping that the image I have shared above instills a sense of what it can be like for many missionaries coming home. It certainly reflects the feelings that I had over 30 years ago. As Dave and Wendy stated, it is very hard for a returning missionary to create a 10 year plan. As a returned missionary I knew what I needed to do, but I had little control over the many of the important things. But what I did have was control over the little things. Those little things were what prepared me for the bigger decisions when they came along.

On their departure from their mission, most missionaries are given the challenge by their Mission President to go home, find a companion, marry in the Temple, and raise a righteous family. Honorable, but HUGE goals. For the majority of returning missionaries, these goals will not be met within the first 6-12 months of returning home. They are also goals that most have little control over until the opportunity arises.

So what is vital to these young people is the need to micro manage their lives in such a way that they are working towards those greater goals. Small steps towards the bigger goal…

Questions:

1. Have you talked to your returned missionary about what they hope to do in the future in terms of work, school, hobbies, church service etc?

2. Have you shared with your returned missionary some of the experiences you may have had in terms of setting goals?

3. Have you taken the time to share with your returned missionary strengths that you see they have?

4. Can you share here an experience your returned missionary has had where setting smaller goals has led to the successful achievement of larger goals?

>> Part 5 Renegotiating Family Relationships >>

Excitement and Disorientation

Part 2 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

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Excitement and Disorientation.

From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Ending a mission can be challenging, and it is not unusual for missionaries to feel disoriented and a little lost. Often they are physically and emotionally tired and looking forward to a few days to sleep in, visit with friends, and do nothing. Parents rightfully expect children to come home from a mission with new maturity, skills, motivation, and discipline, and may be dismayed to see them sitting around playing video games in their pajamas. Try to remember that missionaries have worked 60+ hour weeks for months and years with no weekends off and no vacations, and outside of these work hours they were expected to study, plan, keep up an apartment, and help companions. They need a little time to rest, to learn to be a “normal” person again, and to integrate their new self with their old environment. At the other extreme, they may be quite judgmental of the family, overly idealistic in standards, and not want to let go of mission patterns. This is certainly not all bad! Don’t get defensive, and don’t tease – just be kind and patient. Make sure they have some kind of personal space, especially if they won’t get their old room back. They also need some non-missionary clothes, books, music, and activities that gradually reintroduce them to normal life. Ask about their plans, interests, and needs in a supportive, non-judgmental way. Listen, learn, be patient, and remember: They won’t stay in this “lost” phase forever.

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What do I think?

Even tho’ a missionary has been living in the world, their world is one wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord and other’s. Just like being wrapped in a clear bubble – still seeing the world around them for 18 months or two years but free from its influences. On return, that bubble is popped and suddenly you are breathing the same air as everyone else. It takes time to re-explore it and find your place within it.

As a return missionary I think I fit Dave and Wendy’s description perfectly. One of the hardest parts of serving a mission for me was the first 3 months after I returned. I felt very disoriented and a little lost. I remember being excited to come home and begin the next phase of my life, but I really didn’t expect it to be quite so hard to adjust to a new kind of routine (well actually no routine).

The regiment of mission life didn’t exist any more, and in a lot of ways I felt a lack of purpose. I was really grateful for parents who were very patient with me; who didn’t pressure me to be something I wasn’t ready to be.

Many of my friends had moved on – married, moved away, or simply made new friends. I remember one time, not long after reconnecting with my best friend, how she complained that I talked too much about my mission and wondered if I had anything better to talk about. I was devastated. The one person I thought would understand had just impatiently brushed me off.

I must also admit that I had thought, and mentioned once or twice, about how my family  needed to up their act in terms of living the gospel. I’m pretty sure there were a few raised eyebrows behind my back…but glad to say that they never seemed to take offense at it.

Questions:

1. Do you have any expectations for your missionary when he/she gets home?

2. Have you discussed as a family how you are going to assist your missionary to integrate their ‘new self with their old environment’?

3. Do you have an experience that you would like to share here of how you assisted your returned missionary to settle back into life?

**Part 3 will explore the ‘Need for Structure’ soon after returning home.

>> Part 3 The Need for Structure >>

To Pick Them Up or Not

Part 1 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

‘To Pick Up or Not to Pick Up’ that is the question. There are differening views and opinions on this subject – believe me I have heard a lot of the pros and cons – so I think it is important to flesh it out a bit.

Looking for lots of discussion on this series, so at the end of each segment I’ll pose some questions and comments that can prompt some response here. Please don’t leave this page without engaging in some way.

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Dave and Wendy Ulrich

To pick them up or not

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. If you decide to go, some tips: Missionaries like showing you around but also are eager to get home – don’t stay more than a few days. Call the mission office to work out travel arrangements, work out hotels and itineraries yourself, be on time for any meetings at the mission home, and try not to tie your missionary up with planning. Missionaries often complained to us about parents making them “trunky” by counting down the days and talking only of plans to come visit or for when the missionary returns. Preferences of mission presidents and local circumstances vary greatly, so respect his requests. The church asks that you not plan to stay with members (even when members invite you). Once you are there, recognize that your missionary knows far better than you how to get around, what is safe or not safe, what is appropriate, how much things should cost, etc., and let them take the lead. Understand that missionaries are expected to live and dress like missionaries until released by their stake president at home. Some would really prefer to come home and be released, then return later to visit. Most parents do not pick up missionaries, and most missionaries are fine with this. They are eager to get home anyway! In all cases, realize that the stake president’s release is an important transition event, as are homecoming talks, high council reports, family gatherings, father’s blessings, and other traditions that help mark this life change.

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This question has been raised several times amongst my fellow missionary mums. There is not a lot of information out there from the church on how to organise things if you choose to pick up your son/daughter at the end of their mission. But I did find an FAQ page on LDS.org that answers some key questions. Below are some of the more important ones:

Missionary Travel Services FAQs:

Does Missionary Travel Services make airline reservations for parents and family who are going to pick up their missionary?
No. Missionary Travel Services will only make the reservation for the missionary but we will coordinate your missionary flights with yours.

I would like to pick up my missionary when he or she finishes their mission. What should I do?
Contact the mission office where your missionary is serving to find out release date and visa issues if applicable. 2. Contact Missionary Travel Services at 800-537-3537 or 801-240-5111. If you are flying to pick up your missionary here are your options: a. After calling Missionary Travel Services, buy your ticket on the airline we have a contract with. Missionary Travel Services will buy a ticket for your missionary on the same flight pending availability. b. Buy your ticket and your missionary’s ticket on an airline of your choice. Missionary Travel Services will reimburse you up to the amount we would normally spend on his or her ticket or if you spent less we will reimburse the lesser amount. c. Buy your ticket on an airline of your choice and pay for any extra cost to have Missionary Travel Services purchase a ticket for your missionary on the same flight.

Who can pick up a missionary?
A parent or legal guardian of the missionary can pick up his or her missionary. Other family members can come if they are accompanied by at least one parent.

Can we drive our car to pick up our missionary?
Yes. The Church will reimburse you for the amount we would normally spend on his or her ticket and you can use that money towards the cost of driving.

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What do I think?

We have no plans to travel and pick up our daughter in 7 weeks, but that is more because I know she will want to go back there next year for General Conference with us and can do it all then.

While the church neither encourages or discourages parents to make plans to pick up their missionary, I do know it is important to consider carefully the feelings of the missionary, as well as the policy of the specific mission they are serving in.

A key thing to remember too is that they still have the mantle of a missionary right up to the time they arrive home, meet with their Stake President and are officially released.

Questions:

1. Have you ever picked up a missionary from their mission?

2. If so, then how did you plan it and what would you do differently?

3. Do you think it is a wise thing to do?

4. What do you see as possible pitfalls to picking up a missionary?

5. What do you see as possible advantages?

6. If you had a particularly positive experience with picking up your missionary, then please share here what it was that made it such a positive time.

**For Part 2 we will be looking at the excitement and disorientation associated with returning home from a mission.

>> Part 2 – Excitement and Disorientation >>