The days of lullabies, trips to the park and help with homework are over. You have gone from being a supervisor of your child’s life to a spectator as your young person takes their first steps of independence. This can be a challenging transition for any parent, but what if your young person has decided to join the Royal Navy or Royal Marines?
Back in the 1960s, recruits at HMS Raleigh were given a compulsory postcard to send home to their parents in their first week of training, and were told what to write! Nowadays parents are much more likely to hear the unvarnished reality of their children’s experiences.
We’ve been talking with parents about their experiences of their grown up children joining the Naval Service. They have told us about some of the things that have helped them during the early days of training and moving on to first assignments. A common thread in the feedback we received from parents was that they felt confident that their ‘children’ were being well looked after and supported by the Service. Families felt that their young people knew where to get help and support, and that they had access to people who would listen to any concerns. There was good awareness among young recruits of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines’ guidance on issues such as bullying or harassment. In particular, parents mentioned Royal Navy Chaplains as providing invaluable support, whether or not the young person has a faith.
One mum said that young people generally get caught up in what they are doing and life with their new ‘oppos’, and tend to think about mum and dad when something goes wrong. This can be misleading for parents who may only hear about the more challenging stuff. Despite how it may sometimes feel as a parent of young people, you are very influential, and your support and ability to listen can have a huge impact on their success.
Parents who have experienced Service in the Armed Forces themselves said that they felt this was a huge advantage to them in helping them to feel confident and happy about what their young people were doing. One father said that he felt confident that if he approached the Navy about any concerns that he would be taken seriously. He felt it was important that parents who had not served in the Armed Forces themselves realised that people will talk to you and help you. Several parents said it was helpful to ‘buddy up’ with someone who has more experience of Naval life, and that appropriate social media groups could be helpful in reducing anxiety for parents.
Here are some of the top tips you shared with us:
“Simple really; don’t worry about them; they are being better looked after than we could ever dream.”
“Get them a good iron and a good ironing board!”
“Expect phone calls with tears and asking to come home from basic training. It probably won’t happen but be prepared so that you can look after your own feelings and be supportive. Talk beforehand about the fact that it will be tough and about how they can get support if they need it. Try to foster determination to stay for the basic training at least. Agree that this can be the finishing point if they want it to be, but encourage them not to give up half way through.”
“At times supporting a serving person can feel like a bit of a one-way street (like many areas of being a parent!). Care packages and letters are appreciated, although letters are not always reciprocated.”
“If you don’t hear from your young person, assume the best and not the worst. If anything serious does happen, you will get to hear about it. No news is usually good news.”
“Do your best to boost them up and be positive.”
“Make contact with other parents in the same situation. There are lots of groups and support networks online. The Royal Navy website has a forum and there is a Royal Navy Family and Community Facebook page. There are also numerous unofficial groups and networks that you can access via social media. Please be careful to avoid posting information about operations or ships’ movements, use your privacy settings to limit access to your profile, and don’t identify yourself as a Service person’s family member on your public photos and details. Parents have told us that Facebook groups have been incredibly helpful. They are not always easy to find at most are ‘secret’, so you need to find someone in real life who can introduce you. Some of the parents we spoke to had become friends with other parents of serving people, and found this very helpful.”
“If your young person is in a relationship with a long-term partner, accept that they may make that relationship a priority when they have time off, and that their time with you may need to take a back seat. This can be tough for any parent, but training and deployment can result in time to invest in relationships being in short supply. As hard as it may be, your young person may have a new centre of gravity in their life. A wise parent will foster a good relationship with their adult child’s partner, and seek to support them through times of separation in an appropriate way.”
“Equip yourself with information. Find out about what is involved. You can download ‘A Parent and Guardian’s Guide to Careers in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines’ from the RN website that will answer many of your questions. Information packs are given out at new entry training establishments, but if these don’t reach you as a parent you can find all the information you need via the Royal Navy website or from us at the Naval Families Federation.”
Thank you to all the parents who took the time to speak with our team for this article. If you would like to give any feedback about your experiences of being the parent of a serving person, please do get in touch with us here.