Parents tend to vary in their feelings when their child takes part in a term of service—from excited and supportive to suspicious and concerned. Wherever you fit on the spectrum, here are some words of wisdom to keep in mind during and after your child’s term.
You may feel that by volunteering full-time for a year, your child is floundering. The truth is, if you have raised a thoughtful child who is passionate about making the world a better place, they are going to need some time to figure out how and where to do that. Unlike so many career paths, the path to social change is relatively undefined.
For starters, a term of service experience offers many benefits to the community and to your child—for more on this, read Why Service? If your kid is thinking of signing up for a second term, read Why Service? a second time.
What your child needs from you:
Protect them from the Peer Pressure You May Feel
- When your peers brag about the material achievements of their kids, don’t panic. Surely you can find other things to brag about—namely, what your child has single-handedly achieved to end poverty, educate youth, build community bridges, etc. Hopefully your child is keeping track, so you can ask them for the details. If you really want to show your kid you support them, brag about them in their presence. Let them blush and protest, but let them hear you.
- Learn to explain their program in a sentence or two. It may help to say, “It’s similar to Peace Corps but…” because most people have heard of it, have some general understanding that Peace Corps is a legitimate volunteer organization, and that the people who participate are not to be mocked.
After the term ends, be patient and helpful about their career transition
- First, recognize that when your kid’s term ends, they may be processing what they experienced and what they saw—they may need time to decompress emotionally. You can play an important role by listening to them and reflecting back what they say, non-judgmentally—no use getting in an argument about public policy at this point. They just want to be heard.
- The first thing you may want to know is when they will get a “real” job. When speaking of their career transition, it’s so important to stay positive and helpful, and keep your own anxiety out of that discussion.
- That all said, set clear boundaries if you have limits around what kind of financial support you are willing to offer them moving forward. If you are firm, you will be more patient with the choices they make because you know (and they know) that they will not be living off your income longer than you’d like.
- If your child’s moving back in with you, establish clear rent payment expectations and also the time-frame for when they need to be out on their own again.
The best thing you can do, for yourself, is get educated about your kid’s program and about service in general. Talk to parents of other former corps members and find out how the term affected their lives and careers. Find out what financial and educational benefits your child’s program offers. If your kid has a work plan or position description, it may help to look at it, to realize the responsibilities they have been tackling.
Just like when they learned to tie a shoe or ride a bike, your child must now practice new life and career-transition skills. And just like then, they need you to be there to support them, cheer them on, and get so excited for them when they succeed.
Since my mom is reading this, I will add, thanks, Mom, for always being my cheerleader. I think I mostly turned out all right.