I just found out I have an article published on Military.com! It's titled "How to Get Your Kid Into a Service Academy." (I had a different title, but it's their website.)
Military.com is a support website for active and retired military personnel and their families. My article is in a section for spouses, and it's about parenting a service academy hopeful. You can go over to their site and see it all fancy, edited a bit, with pictures and everything, or you can read my original here - or you can do both. I've been saving it so they could publish first. So here it is!
You Want to Go Where? Tips on Parenting a Future Service Academy Candidate
He was eleven when he decided. He saw the place once and said, "Mom, this is where I want to go to college."
I smiled. This was my firstborn, and I was sure that eleven-year-old boys had no idea where they wanted to go to college. I was used to his intentions to be a superhero, or, more reasonably, a professional baseball player and NASCAR driver. Sure, he wanted to be in the Army, but West Point? I smiled sagely and said, "All right." I held my tongue while my brain rolled out questions and doubts and projections. I made no comment about the facts that he didn't like school and this was one of the hardest schools in the country and he'd have to impress a Congressman and a whole panel of generals to get in. Just, "All right." That was enough for an eleven-year-old boy's dreams to grow on.
Have you heard similar comments from out of the blue? With no prior experience, have you been assigned the position of Parent of a Military Academy Candidate? I'm here to tell you it's possible to complete that mission. Here are some tips for getting started.
First of all, never tell a child he can't aim for a dream. Yes, the service academies have high standards for academics, athletics, and leadership. Students who get turned down there get scooped up gleefully by other schools who are thrilled to have such over-qualified applicants. So even if your candidate doesn't get in at one of the federally sponsored academies, his preparation to get there will put him in good stead for pursuing the next dream at a senior military college, through ROTC, or even (gasp!) in a civilian career.
Second, remember that this is not your dream; it's his. You aren't the one who gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror, then puts on his shoes (or boots) and marches through his day. I know your heart follows all those things, but it is not your face in his mirror. You aren't the one lying awake at night planning, resolving and assessing; you aren't the one running the miles (and miles), doing the pushups, leading the teams, passing the tests, etc., etc., etc. There's a lot to do as a candidate for a military academy, and you don't do any of it. You may support, encourage, and advise, but you are not the one being trained to lead troops into war or to negotiate peace. You can not do this for your child. Breathe, pray, wait, and watch him grow.
Third, let's talk about those high standards - and not worry about them. Every service academy hopeful is evaluated on the basis of academic performance (grades and test scores), physical fitness (sports, medical checkups and a fitness test), and leadership. Leadership is a broad category. Scouts, church, volunteering, employment, sports - all of these provide opportunities to develop leadership skills and all of these can be brought to the attention of the admission board to fill out a candidate's resume. The point is that academies are looking for well-rounded individuals. There's no need to stress about performance in one specific area. If your child doesn't have a 4.0 and didn't take Honors Everything and didn't ace the SAT, that does NOT destroy the chances of getting in to an academy. Do NOT pressure her with, "If you want to get into the Academy, you'd better . . . ." Instead, encourage her with positive affirmation when she's working hard; celebrate with her when she achieves her intermediate goals; remind her that you're proud of her and her hard work all along the way.
That's worth saying again in closing: Tell that kid you are proud of him. Some parents have trouble with this. When the big goal is a service academy appointment it is tempting to think we need to coach, remind, prod, push, nag him to keep him on track. Stop it. You are not going to be in the barracks to coach, remind, prod, etc., so you may as well not form that habit now. Let yourself off the hook on that one; it's a nasty hook anyway. Instead, be sure you tell that young person who's doing everything in his power 24/7/365 to reach for the stars that even if he pulls down a fist full of stardust and has to start over from scratch YOU ARE AND WILL BE PROUD OF HIM.
I guess that's enough to digest for today. Watching your child grow up is not easy, and imagining your child as a military academy cadet may make it harder. Letting him dream, letting her strive, and letting yourself off the hook are critical to completing the mission with minimal collateral damage.
Debbie Roszel is the co-author with Lisa Joiner of The Mom's Guide to Surviving West Point (www.momsguidetosurviving.com). She's the mother of a soon-to-be 2LT as well as four other amazing children. She blogs about the joys of life in and out of the military at DeborahLWRoszel.blogspot.com.