When the Going Gets Tough…

It’s Time to Reevaluate Priorities

It’s that time of year when six week exams have passed and your Plebe may or may not be happy about the results. Grades are out and some Plebes may be ecstatic, but for some Plebes, there may be disappointment with their performance. Add to that preparing and having to pass their PRT on top of everything else they have to do. Most will pass, but some will not pass…

Especially during this time of uncertainty, they may be frustrated and even down right downcast. They study hard (or maybe not) and are just not at the level they are used to performing. These high achievers that used to get straight A’s may be getting Bs, Cs, Ds, or the occasional F!  This may throw them for a loop and may cause parents to be anxious. Remember that the Academy is supposed to be hard and academically rigorous for more reasons that we can understand. They may be having trouble prioritizing and managing their time having to squeeze in their duties, studying, practice PRT runs or extra help sessions, if needed. aLack of sleep may also be  a cause for concern to parents but there is also a method to this seeming madness. I remember visiting our oldest during 2/C Parents Weekend and it was a time when he had several projects due, lots of studying, duties, watch  in the middle of the night, and more. He had only been able to get 10 hours of sleep in about ten days and needless to say that his mind was a little frazzled. 

Fast forward four years to when he was deployed. Our son had watch as OOD (Officer of the Deck) from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. every night. After watch he would go to his departments to make sure everything was running smoothly and to help or advocate for his sailors when/where needed. He had to study for his pin, and he got a precious few hours of sleep where he could find them only to begin again for another day. During his nine month deployment, our oldest had learned to maneuver and think clearly on little sleep, process information in high quantities and at high speeds, and had to sometimes make life or death decisions with clarity and conviction. Was it hard? Yes it was! But the Academy had laid the foundation for what was to come. In the end he had a very successful deployment that gave him vast amounts of experience and two service pins.

Parents: don’t be discouraged! Believe it or not this is normal and at some point or another most Plebes/Mids will go through this, especially during Plebe year. You may also see this after returning to the Yard after Christmas/Holiday break in January after spending a few weeks at home again for spring break. This sometimes repeats itself Youngster year before they return for their 2 for 7 signing. Tough schedules – 21 credits (who takes 21 credits at USNA willingly?!) and even tougher majors can weigh much on Mids let alone Plebes…

It is critical that when things are not going their way, they stop to re-evaluate, ask for help, and learn from their mistakes. The big difference between real failure and success is not whether they have a momentary set back, but if and what they learn from it, applying the lessons learned going forward. These lessons may be the cause of much soul searching. Academic issues may place a Plebe and/or Mid on restriction for the grading period or the semester or possibly even having to go before an academic board (I discuss this in my book – A USNA Mom’s Journal, in the chapter entitled, “What Happened?”). If they failed their PRT, they may have to wake up extra early and do remedial training with their Training Sergeant and may feel self conscious or embarrassed.

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All of these obstacles can be overcome with the same can-do, Semper Gumby attitude that got them to the Academy in the first place. These times can be excruciatingly painful in so many ways and may cause some to re-evaluate why they are attending USNA. The inability to meet the high expectations they have of themselves may make them feel like they are not up to par… and doubt creeps in… They may be second-guessing themselves: Do they really belong at the Academy? Did they make the right choice? They may think to themselves, “My friends are having a good time at at home – distance learning – “normal” U and I am missing out on the college experience”… They may also be partaking in their own pity party – “Everyone else is smarter than me… It does not matter what I do, I just can’t make it!.” Or, “I am a failure… I can’t do anything right.”  It does not help that they are bound by the Academy rules and schedules.

If this sounds familiar to you, I would advise reaching out to the Chaplain’s office. They are fantastic, very knowledgeable and supportive! You can speak with the Chaplains in confidence. You could also SUGGEST to your Plebe or Midshipman that they speak to a Chaplain. It is a “safe space” and it’s helpful and they may not feel as alone in the journey. There is also the Midshipman Development Center or Center for Academic Excellence, their professors, Chain of Command, and many other resources are provided by the Academy that are in place to help Plebes and Mids alike get through tough times and to succeed. The Academy wants them to succeed and they provide everything possible to this end, BUT it is up to each Plebe and/or Midshipman to be the one that seeks it out…

You can also talk about this with your Plebe when you visit. Just bringing them food gave our Plebes a respite from the regular schedule. For those that are far away – sponsors become your support structure, and their roommates are important too. Encouraging notes, packages and reassurance that they will make it will help as well. As parents, we are used to fixing things, but in this case, we can’t necessarily do that, so when you speak with your Plebe, it is a good idea to allow him/her to vent and try not to problem solve – just LISTEN -remember Plebe Summer. You are their only truly safe place that they can vent and trust to keep everything confidential. If your Plebe or Midshipman is facing adversity, you can remind them why they chose to attend the Naval Academy. 

You can also speak to them about adversity being a test of their character – you can affirm their abilities and strengths, remind them of why they wanted to go to USNA in the first place, and after you listen, ask them if you can share advice from you own experiences on how to cope and prioritize. You can also remind them of the responsibility they have to finish what they started – if not for themselves, for the other 3,000 Candidates that were triple qualified but did not get selected and would have given anything to be in his/her shoes… 

You can also pray (if that is your thing) with your Plebe or Mid. We could not have got through everything we went through with our Mids had it not been for our community of prayer warriors and battle buddies. We were diligent in praying with our Mids as well as for them. We had an army of people, and still do, praying for all of our kids!

Before you know it, one day the semester will finally be over and they will be on the other side, all the stronger for having gone through it. I have witnessed that conquering these types of situations, will give them inner strength and confidence to know that they can get through anything that comes their way. They may have to make tough choices but they should now be able to make them more confidently and this will be invaluable when they are out in the Fleet or Marine Corps and face the tough choices they will have to make as Officers.

Another thing that is very helpful is getting plugged in. If they are not on a sports team, a group or a club, they need to get plugged in. It will make a huge difference! I know in both of our Mids’ cases it certainly did as well as in the lives of many Plebes and Mids that we have known and counseled over the years. Encourage them to get involved in MAG, intramurals, church choir, anything they are interested in… it will help! Both of our Mids were in the Glee Clubs and in sports and it was truly an escape.

Without a doubt, Adversity makes us stronger. Our Plebes and Mids will one day be out in the Fleet making life and death decisions – their time on the Yard will seem so easy and simple. Adversity tests our mettle and forms our character. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and sometimes it is hard on our pride. We just have to keep on going regardless!

If any of you fellow parents out there are going through a tough time, trust me, I feel your pain!!  Both of my Mids had their own obstacles to overcome and difficulties to deal with – some really major and some not as big, but in any case, as you go through it, it seems insurmountable. Remember Semper Gumby and know that this too shall pass. Just like Plebe SUmmer had an end, this semester will end too and probably all too slowly! I spent many a night in angst because I knew my Mid was toughing it out. But trust me, it will pass, and in the end, you will have a stronger, more mature, more confident young man or woman of character.

Hang in there! We are all in this together and am here to help.  Please feel free to reach out. I will try to reply promptly… Just a message away.

GO NAVY!!

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