Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Feelings of Inadequacy: How to Help Your Missionary Child Through Them

We all have feelings of inadequacy from time to time, and our missionary children are no different. When my husband served as Mission President in Boston, it was one of the things we learned was inevitable with a new missionary--he was going to feel inadequate. No doubt about it. Brand new missionaries would arrive in our mission, look at the Assistants and how capable they were and say to themselves, "I'll never be as good of a missionary as they are." Many of them would prepare for failure by telling themselves all the ways they could fail. It was definitely, in their minds, a way to protect themselves in case things didn't go the way they hoped. But, in truth, those negative feelings weighed them down and held them back and it took even longer for them to get in the groove and start to progress as a missionary.

It is important to mention that learning a new language adds to the tendency missionaries have to feel inferior and makes it even more important that they are receiving encouragement. We recognized a pattern that emerged among our missionaries: when missionaries felt inadequate, they almost always got discouraged. When they got discouraged, they almost always got depressed. And when they got depressed, they were headed on a downward course that needed immediate attention. My husband and I began to brainstorm about ways we could help our new missionaries avoid feeling inferior, because this seemed to be the time of their missions when they were most susceptible to discouragement. It made us sad when we sensed that some missionaries felt less than people around them. We wanted to build them up, help them appreciate the good in themselves, and encourage them to be patient as they grew into their role as a missionary. That became our primary focus when new missionaries walked in the door of the mission home that very first night. It was much easier to deal with this at the beginning--when they were facing the "inadequacy" stage rather than the "depressed" stage--so we would sit our missionaries down the day they arrived and tell them the following things:

1. "You are YOU. Don't try to be anyone else. We love you just the way you are!" As a Mission President, you hope all your missionaries will come to you with good self-esteem and an understanding of who they are. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. So many come from difficult situations and bring with them a lifetime of experiences that have made them feel less than valued. Many have struggled with feelings of inadequacy their whole lives. Some have never really felt loved and appreciated for who the person they are. Make sure your missionary child is not one of those. Be sure he knows he is loved unconditionally for who he is, exactly the way he is--warts and all!

2. "Every single Assistant in our mission was once a new missionary too! They once felt inadequate. They once felt like they would never really arrive as a missionary. But look at them now. It will be the same for you!" Eventually, your son or daughter will look back on the first months of their mission and be so surprised at how much they have grown since then. Remind them that it will happen a little bit every day and, although their growth may seem at times almost imperceptible to them, it will accumulate as time goes by. It may be hard for them to believe, but, before long, THEY will be the experienced missionary that all the new ones are admiring!

3."Don't look too far ahead. Just take one day at a time. And every day, take one step forward to becoming the missionary you want to be." I try to imagine how my missionary sons felt the first night at the MTC. I try to imagine how they feel that first week...that first month...even the first six months. I'm sure the question crossed their minds: where will I be a year from today (and to a young adult boy or girl, a year feels like ETERNITY!) And then the answer: oh wow, I will STILL BE ON MY MISSION! That realization can be (and most certainly is) so overwhelming to them. It can push them into a depressing and discouraging place if they dwell on it. It is so important that they don't look too far ahead because, well, it is just too hard. Encourage them to look at tomorrow, and only tomorrow! Some missionaries who are in the beginning stages of their adjustment can't even look past today without feeling hopeless. Help them focus on the NOW and remind them that all they need worry about is just getting through that small, do-able period of time. Help them see how to eat an elephant...one bite at a time!

4. "Be patient with yourself. Good things take time and being able to teach with confidence, speak the language well, and become a strong missionary is no different. It will take time!" We all need to remember this fact:growth never happens overnight. It takes a constant effort and day after day of righteous choices to become the person (or missionary) we want to become. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy (or quickly, for that matter!) Teach this to your missionary child. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “Personal, spiritual symmetry emerges only from the shaping of prolonged obedience. Twigs are bent, not snapped into shape.” And speaking of Elder Maxwell, we would always give our missionaries a condensed version of a talk he gave called: "Notwithstanding My Weakness." It is amazing and says it all, just the way Elder Maxwell alone can. You can find it on lds.org and I will also put a link to it in the comments on this post.

As mothers, we can constantly remind our missionary children of their worth. We can remind them that they are so very loved. And we can fill them with positive thoughts that will help them overcome feelings of inadequacy. In this, and so many other ways, we can truly make a difference.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Called To Serve: Now What?

It seems like the Call will never come. Then, one day, it finally does. You now know where he will serve, when he will leave, if he will speak a language, and which MTC he will be sent to. You have all the pieces of the puzzle and he is ready to pack his suitcase and walk out your door except for one thing: It's not time yet. There are still weeks (or months!) to wait between call and departure date and, trust me, these will be some of the most trying days yet. Most likely he will be living at home without school or work to keep him occupied. You don't want him getting into trouble because he has too much time on his hands and you don't want him spending too much time with his girlfriend (remember, I've had 7 missionary sons!) So what's a mother to do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Spend as much time together as you can (as much as he will) because the day will soon come when you will look back and wish for one more minute with him (and, it might surprise you, but when he is gone, HE will wish for that, too.) Shopping for clothing, supplies, and whatever else is on his list of things to take along is one great way to do that.
2. Have him pack up his room and tape the boxes shut--very tightly if he has younger siblings who might want to wear his clothes or "borrow" his things while he is gone. Unfortunately, I learned this from experience. Prepare for the inevitable moment after he returns home and finds a few things missing. I was much less accountable for those "lost" things if I had HIM pack up his stuff and store it away before he left. I offered to pack up one son's belongings and when he got home and realized not everything was there, he looked at me with wide eyes and mouth open as if to say: MOM! How could you? I learned my lesson with that one. From that moment on, I always had my missionary son do it himself so I wasn't in trouble when he got home.
3. Suggest to your child (or even the entire family) to read the Book of Mormon during this time with an eye for missionary scriptures. It's amazing the things you discover when you have one subject in mind as you read. It will be a fun activity and your missionary child will love this memory once he is in the mission field (and will probably find a whole lot of new scriptures to use, as well!)
4. Help him practice things he will have to do on his mission. We have a son who was so timid in high school that he wouldn't even call the pizza guy on the phone because he "didn't know him." (Seriously, though, who DOES know the pizza guy?) So while he was waiting to leave, I made sure we changed that and, not only did he start calling for pizza, he learned it really wasn't all that scary to talk to people he didn't know. As a matter of fact, most of my boys felt that same kind of anxiety prior to leaving, and talking to strangers (investigators, members, companions, other missionaries, even his Mission President!) is really what missions are ALL about. If your missionary son or daughter is challenged by this, try to find situations around home in a familiar environment where they can practice this in more comfortable circumstances.
5. Most of my boys served foreign missions so I sent them with a big ziplock bag full of over-the-counter medications that they wouldn't be able to get abroad (Advil, Immodium, Allergy meds, etc.) I spent some time teaching them how to use everything (or in other words, teaching them to read the directions on the package and not just count on me to give them the right dosage.) I knew they would need to know how to remedy some things and I also knew they probably hadn't paid a bit of attention to that in years past. This was a great time to educate them.
6. Help him build self-confidence because self-confidence turns into courage and everyone needs a boatload of that on a mission. Remind him of his strengths and compliment him often. Teach him the right words to say in different situations. I know that's what we mothers have been trying to do all their lives. But a mission will present unique situations that your child has never before faced and he needs words that he just might not have. For example, when he meets his Mission President for the first time, teach him to look him in the eye, shake his hand and say "Hello President." That might sound simple (and it is) but you would be surprised how many missionaries came to us in Boston who were too shy to look us in the eye or speak one word. It helps SO much if we as mothers can prepare them by helping them know the words to say.
7. Time for a few cooking lessons! Stick with simple things like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches (hey, your child might already know how to make those things but my boys sure didn't!) Knowing how to cook rice could be valuable in Asian countries but when my son served in Japan, most missionary apartments had rice cookers. (Hopefully that's still the case for you who are sending children to Asia.) General rule of thumb: ask yourself what the bare minimum is for your child to eat to survive. And then teach them how to make those things.

Quick story: our oldest son finished his senior year in Utah when we were serving as Mission President and wife in Boston and received his call at the end of his senior year. He then came to Boston to spend 2 months before he was to report to the Provo MTC. Being in the missionary mindset that I was as the Mission President's wife, I was SO sure he would come to Boston wanting to work hard and prepare for his mission. We couldn't wait to memorize scriptures with him, have him go on splits with the missionaries every night, and a million other things that would transform him into a real missionary right before our eyes. Imagine my shock when he got to Boston and ALL he wanted to do was sleep, eat, and watch movies. Like...that was IT. I still laugh when I remember how frustrated I was. But, you know what? That was exactly what he needed (and hey, we watched movies together sometimes, so there's that) and still, he became a wonderful missionary! I guess what I'm saying is, don't panic if your child isn't in missionary mode yet. That is normal. Don't ruin your last days together by nagging him and trying to tell him what to do. Make suggestions but then step back and let him set the pace. Make it a peaceful, happy time in your home. THAT is what he will remember most once he is gone.