Psychologically Speaking

My son is about to go into the army and I am scared stiff. I wondered what advice you could give me.

idf soldier 298 88 idf (photo credit: IDF)
idf soldier 298 88 idf
(photo credit: IDF)
Dear Dr. Batya, You once wrote about your son in the IDF. I remember thinking at the time that the information would someday be helpful. I am curious as to how he is doing; my son is about to go in and I am scared stiff. I wondered what advice you could give me. Thanks. K.S., Hadera Dear K.S., Our kids, true heroes, have much to contribute to the fabric of Israeli life. As my son recently passed the half-way point, my perspective has indeed changed. Certainly as an "IDF Mom" my job description varies daily, but my most important function is to be there to listen - army life can be difficult and at times, they are not happy campers. The adjustment from home to army life can be traumatic; some kids adjust more easily than others, but most kids need us to be there for them, whether to complain or simply share their experiences. We've all grown over the past 18 months. I have enjoyed my son's intense metamorphoses. He has lived with young men and women from all different cultures. Some days are quite intense and the army, whether it be basic training, courses or his general assignment, all bring forth various issues. While his sticker chart with the happy faces - initially made in jest - reveals on any given day how many days he has put in and how many days he has left, he doesn't seem to remember that the chart gave him grounding when all was so unfamiliar and scary. He has matured, become more disciplined and makes impressively responsible choices. He has gone from the "distance" that his commanders established when in basic training - where no one so much as told him their name - to the closeness of sharing difficult moments with his comrades. That in itself results in change. Grateful for our cell phone conversations, I wonder how parents ever managed before. When he calls, I drop everything. Time is precious. The phone calls reduce stress, let me be supportive from a distance and enable me to get to his bus stop on time to pick him up! I never anticipate a visit home until my son is actually on the bus. His schedule is not his own and thus he's unreliable. Seeing your soldier walk into a graduation ceremony and salute leaves one speechless. I can now identify the various colorful berets and have crowded into my brain no less than 80 abbreviations that seem to stand for little and yet stand for everything. Who would have thought? The army isn't Mom, but it can be kind and caring and this helps. The first day my son went off into the great unknown, he was told, "Son, have a sandwich now, or you will be hungry later. Take a drink!" Last week, his mifakedet (commander), a mom of three children herself, compassionately put her hand on my son's forehead to see if he had a fever. She then made him lie down until he eventually saw a doctor. What other army would treat my son like I would? While things differ from unit to unit, some advice on what to expect along the way might have been helpful. Here are my guidelines for step two of the army process: 1. Enjoy every minute with your soldier, as you never have enough time together. Drop everything when they call, listen to them when you can and be supportive. Your best conversations might be at 2 a.m. When they return to their bases on Sunday, you'll be left with a mix of emotions. 2. Know your son's friends are top priority and you may be second best. Invite them over for a meal and you may get a little more time with your soldier. 3. Buy green army thread and proudly learn to sew. Buttons fall off and stripes need to be sewn on, sometimes minutes before his return to base. 4. Constantly tell him how proud you are of him. Little of what they do is easy, fun or work they'd choose. As our modern-day hero, he is an important role model for others. 5. Your child will develop excellent navigational skills. Knowing every bus and train schedule, he is now an "expert" on public transport. This is both empowering and a boon to his growing independence. 6. Encourage your soldier to be the best soldier he can be. Giving your all, volunteering and standing out above the rest gets noticed. 7. Weather is hard on kids. Cold, heat, wind or rain affect the feet, back and spirit. Spoil them when and as often as possible. They get a week here and there, and to them, it is wonderful. Help them enjoy it. They desperately need it. 8. Remember, no matter how difficult, other parents having gone through a similar experience can offer support or an attentive ear. Lean on them because like the army, we are all one big family. Dr. Batya L. Ludman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. Send correspondence to