What? ROM. Again…? Frustration, isolation, added difficulty, and lack of communication are just some words that come to mind. To say that this year has been difficult is an understatement, especially for USNA parents and their Midshipmen at N*ot College, as well as military parents in general.
As I discuss in my book A USNA Mom’s Journal, as parents we are used to being able to fix things. As Moms that comes naturally: we want to make our kids feel better and eliminate obstacles that come their way. But as military parents we can do neither – we have no control over their environment. We have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t fix things and we can’t eliminate obstacles, so we need to learn to “embrace the suck” as one of my favorite mentors used to say. But that does not mean that we can’t help our Mids to feel better.
Strategic encouraging texts or quotes, hand written notes, or an extra special care package can help. And of course, for me personally there is always prayer, which is what I usually turn to. I may not be able to be there with my kid, or to fix it, or to make it better even, but God can be there in the midst of the situation and can calm my child or can calm the storm. I often will text short encouraging prayers in the early morning to prepare them for the day.
In any case, it leaves me and you as parents with lots of nervous energy and frustration. All I can do is offer my insight from our experience, so here are some things that may help:
- Our Mids are in good hands. The ultimate goal of the Naval Academy is to forge Naval Officers that are ready to lead; to look difficult and stressful situations in the face and overcome any adversity that may come their way. The Academy provides many things for Midshipmen to succeed and are vested in their success. Sometimes it may not seem like it, but in all honesty, both of my Mids were well taken care of while at the Academy. Some of experiences would be difficult to hear and believe me, they were difficult to endure. But my kids were well taken care of, their CoC and the USNA staff were supportive and went above and beyond, and we all survived to tell the tale!
- Self-advocacy– situations such as these are an ideal opportunity for Mids to learn to self-advocate. They can respectfully present their point of view, their requests, and ask for what they need. They may get what they ask for or they may not, but presenting their case without emotion, with reasoned and reasonable facts, and with effective persuasion will go a long way and will also develop their leadership skills. As Naval Officers, they will have to advocate for the men and women that they lead and will need to make sure that their charges are safe and equipped to succeed. Learning to self-advocate effectively will go a long way toward being a successful advocate for those they lead.
- Empower your Midshipmen – Empower them to make their own choices, think critically and problem solve on their own. I learned to ask the right questions instead of providing answers. It took a lot for me to remain quiet, listen, and ask questions only – especially when we see the answer looking at our “kids” in the face. But it is a better exercise for them to find the answer for themselves and is a big way in which we can “let go”.
- Compassionate and empathetic future Officers – All Midshipmen are in the same boat. Just as all Mids go through Plebe Summer, so all Mids are experiencing various ROMs regardless of class year. There are no privileges with ROM. Everyone pretty much is in this together. The ability to look for self-help strategies and to look outwardly to help those around them will also help to make them better leaders. If they have found a specific strategy that works for them and helps them to deal with ROM better, they should share this knowledge with those around them. They are a part of a team and as they hopefully learned during Plebe Summer, it is not about me – it is others before self. Speak with them (when the time is right) about being compassionate and empathetic toward fellow roommates, company mates and Mids in general, and to focus on helping others cope. This change of focus can be very empowering and help develop a more positive, healthy attitude as they face ROM.
- Preparation for us as parents – I can say unequivocally, that learning to let go of my Mids during their time at the Academy went a long way when they joined the Fleet. While Mids are at the Academy we do not have much recourse. We parents are NOT a part of their CoC (Chain of Command), and as such we really should not be reaching out to any one in their CoC. But who can we reach out to? The Chaplains are a great resource that offers clear insight and reassurance. Keep tabs on the Naval Academy official social media pages – big announcements are made there. Official press releases from the PAO office.
I have found that my attitude is key and can be helpful in overcoming periods of adversity such as ROM. Am I being critical? Am I jumping on the negative band wagon (trust me I have!) or am I trying to look at the positive and helping others to find it too? This will be pivotal to the way that we as military parents face future deployments, etc. Yes, we can scream ( I usually do that in my car), throw tantrums, hop up and down in frustration, but once that passes, I try to take a breath and change my perspective.
With all of this said, consider this new period of ROM a part of your training for when your Midshipman is commissioned as an Officer, joins the Fleet or USMC and is ultimately deployed. As heart wrenching and frustrating as it may be, this is the perfect time to let go. I can assure you that when your future Officer is in the Fleet, we as parents are not part of the information chain and are totally out of the loop. We cannot reach out to their ship, duty station, or CoC. When they are deployed, we will not be able to find out where they are, know what is going on with them, or have any other information pertinent to their tour of duty. So as much as it is difficult at times, we can enjoy that fact that we know exactly where our Mids are and that they are safe.
As Fleet or USMC parents, we can check our Officer’s ship or duty station’s social media pages if any, and the information will most likely be minimal. Your Officer (as your Midshipman is today) will be your ONLY source of information, if and when they can communicate, that is. Also consider that communication may be very limited depending on their assignment and OPSEC (Operational Security) will be paramount – that means there may be many things they can’t talk about, and for us, no sharing on social media AT ALL. Keeping their information close and vague when others ask about our kids is key for the safety of our Officers, their ship or vessel, and the men and women they will command. I know that I am mot alone in saying that when our Officer was deployed we did not hear from them, know their whereabouts, or know how they were doing for weeks, sometimes, months at a time. We just had to trust that no news was good news. So this time around, it may be a good opportunity to consider this ROM your personal Plebe Summer v. 2.0 and use this time as a true opportunity to prepare to become a Fleet or USMC parent.
- Trust the way that you raised your Midshipman – Our Mids are pretty amazing, incredible individuals – I know! They are a part of the most prestigious Naval Academy in the world and the #1 public college in the nation. Pat yourself on the back – you definitely did something right (more than something actually!). Give yourself and your Mid some grace. Trust how you raised them, the person they are, the abilities that they have, and the skills that they have and will develop. Join me in taking a deep breath, exhaling, and choosing to let go. If your Mid is not complaining or says that things are not too bad, trust them. Know that through this crucible, they are growing closer together with their company and classmates, and are growing as individuals and hopefully, as leaders.
I truly believe that the four classes on the Yard this year, that have faced the adversity brought on by the pandemic, will be stronger, more resilient Officers, prepared to face and overcome any obstacle successfully. TRUST THEM! The Academy does and trusts them to run the whole show. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt. With that said, you know your kid, so if you honestly feel something is not quite right, reach out to the Chaplains – they will be able to better guide you.
- Big Navy is in this too – Remember that USNA is part of Big Navy. Just like our Mids’ specific circumstances are Company dependent, so will it be as Officers. Each ship, station and command has a different culture, so we are now training to be Fleet parents as well. Although our current focus is on USNA Midshipmen, for Fleet and USMC parents, Big Navy is in ROM mode too. Officers and personnel in my kids’ duty stations go from home to work and back home. They can only go out for food – either groceries or to get take-out. No haircuts, not eating at restaurants, no working out in the gym… nothing. Particular commands and duty stations may have slightly differing guidelines, and things change depending on circumstances. As always, your Officer will be your best source of information on what those guidelines and restrictions are if they are allowed to discuss them. If they can’t we just have to accept it. Remember, we will not be a part of their CoC nor will we be in the information loop. And if they do share please keep it confidential.
- We are in this together – Remember that you are never alone. Lean on your Battle Buddy’s shoulder, your fellow company parents, the friends that you have made in your class group. My advice is to take social media and news with a grain of salt. Remember – headlines and controversy sell papers, or clicks, in the case of social media. What if you don’t have a Battle Buddy? Perhaps someone that you have been corresponding with from your Mids’ company or a class group may be a good option. Reaching out to seasoned parents that may be Admins on your pages is another option. And I am always glad and willing to help and listen.
I invite you to read one of my previous blog posts, Plebe Summer Challenge, and to use the strategies that I discuss there. These strategies really do help especially in this CoVid environment.
Finally, if you are a person of prayer, please read the Plebe Prayer on page 91 in my book that you can adapt for your Midshipman or find a scripture in Psalms that is encouraging and calming and pray that for yourself and for your Mid as well. You can also join one of the several USNA parent prayer Facebook pages. Perhaps your Battle Buddy is waiting for you there.
Know that parents that have walked before you have your six and that the Naval Academy has your Mids’ six too. And as always, I am always here to listen. Just a message away! GO NAVY!!