Betty's Open Letter (email)
Re: Coddling Boys Before Missions

Hi Everyone,

In the last week I have become very aware of how many missionaries are returning home early from their missions. My husband and I recently went to Payson to visit with a missionary serving there, and we happened to meet our former Bishop, who is now in the Stake Presidency. He told us that missionaries are returning home early by the thousands each year. The brethren are very concerned about this trend.

My husband came home from his Bishopric meeting this past week, and our Bishop had just come from a meeting with the Stake Presidency. They had been told that the number of missionaries returning are about 6,000 per year! This is astonishing to me. They say that about 3,000 of them have legitimate health concerns, they need to have operations, recover from illnesses, and then are able to return to serving a mission. We've had some serve here, in Lehi, who were here temporarily before being reassigned to another permanent mission. The other 3,000 of those who come home early, however, just plain old quit. They decide that they can't handle it, they give up, they become very depressed, and just refuse to stay on their missions. The big question is, WHY?

Some of you will remember my email earlier in the year about a talk that Elder Ballard gave in my sister-in-law's ward. He told the mothers that they are "coddling" their sons, not allowing them to grow up and become responsible adults. When they get on their missions, they cannot live without their mommies, and come home.

In light of this, what can we, as mothers, do to help encourage our missionaries to "keep their chin up" and be supportive of them? What about those of us who still have sons/daughters yet to serve? How can we better prepare them for the hardships of a mission?

First, let's discuss how to support those who are already serving. I've often been told, especially by my own missionaries, to never talk about "missing them". At first I thought, "how cold! They won't think I love them if I don't tell them that I miss them!" But then, as I thought more about it, I realized that they already KNOW I miss them! They don't need to be told this over and over. Rather, they need to hear how proud we are of them to be working hard, for sacrificing and facing hardships. How wonderful and awesome it is that they are serving the Lord.

The next thing I've been told is to never, ever say, "you'll be home in six weeks!" Or, "you'll be home in 1 year!" First of all, to some of them just beginning a mission, it is horrible to think how long they will be gone! My daughter said that in the MTC, when she was having such a difficult time learning the language, the thought of serving 17 more months was just too overwhelming to even think about! They were told: "Concentrate only on today. Don't think about the months/years ahead of you. Focus on getting through today. If that is too much, focus on getting through until lunchtime. Then on getting through until dinner time, and then bedtime. Don't think about how much longer you have to serve." I haven't met a missionary yet who likes to hear how much longer or shorter in time they have to serve.

There will be days when they will be so discouraged that they will cry themselves to sleep. Of course, our young men are tough, and they would never tell their mothers that they cried on their missions. However, even if they really don't cry, they will want to cry. It is hard. It is tough. They will be exhausted. It will be difficult to get out of bed in the morning. They need to know that at some point, it will change. They will love it. Well, maybe not all of it...but they won't regret their decision to serve. My daughter's mission changed almost overnight. The first few months were really, really hard. Then as time went by, it became routine and things got easier. When it came nearer to her coming home, she was loving it and didn't want to leave.

Our missionaries want our letters to be positive, newsy, and upbeat. They don't want to hear in great detail about the hard troubles we might be having at home...within reason. Sometimes they need to be told some things, (briefly) such as an Uncle with failing health, etc. They can include some of these things in their own prayers. We just don't need to go into great detail about the struggles we have at home. We don't need our letters to become "soap operas". They LOVE to hear newsy things about the family, the ward, the neighborhood, school, community and their friends. If we include bad news, let's not get emotional and draw out with great detail all of the bad stuff. I think most of us here in this group already are seasoned MM's and realize how to best support our missionaries. However, some of our MM's are new to the missionary thing, and perhaps have never heard of some of this advice.

I've been told that receiving more than one letter a week from mom is too much. I know of one mother who wrote to her missionary every day. She got a call from her Bishop. "Your son has requested that you stop writing him every day. He can't concentrate on his mission. The Mission President requests you only write once a week." That mom lives in my ward, and she didn't hide this fact from anyone. She wanted other mothers not to repeat her mistake. Hey, some of us do not write pages and pages. Sometimes a postcard is sufficient. But please!!! Do write at least once a week or so! They really start looking for those letters when they don't show up in a reasonable length of time!

As far as sending cassette tapes...well, my kids didn't get them except for one near the end of their missions. My nephew found that he just couldn't listen to his family on tape because it made him incredibly homesick. Try sending one, if you'd like to do this, and then find out if it helped or deterred their missionary work.

Stop sending them so much money! A mission is meant to be a sacrifice. They need to learn how to budget the money they are given by the church. It is especially hard on their companions! Many missionaries are church supported. They do NOT get extra funds from anyone. A missionary should learn to go without sometimes. They don't need a credit card with an endless supply of money. Once in a while extra money is needed for transfers, broken items (bikes included). My son was robbed and needed extra money for food, etc. These kinds of things come up, and they do need extra money. But to give them $500 a month is just too much! This isn't helping them learn anything except selfishness. Contrary to a mother's soft heart, a missionary needs to learn to go without and a mission is the very best place to learn all about sacrificing. This is where my husband learned how to really watch the "pennies" and to budget. These principles have stayed with him his entire well as many other thousands of missionaries. They are not building good character by having plenty of money on their missions!

For those of you who do have missionaries come home early, you might consider enrolling them in one of the Anasazi programs. Get them help. They will need it. It is much, much harder for a missionary once he returns, than if he stays out and does his best. But if they are suffering from depression, they need some help. [Note: Anasazi is a wilderness residential treatment center providing a troubled teen program for at-risk youth.]

I think there are still a few of you in the group who remember my daughter's boyfriend before her mission. You might remember how I stressed out about their relationship...both before and during her mission. I don't think that I "coddle" my sons. But, I did learn that some mothers just do too much for their boys. My own husband's mother, in my opinion, did too much for her boys. But at least they knew how to cook, clean, and do their own laundry! My daughter's ex-boyfriend was what I would call, "coddled". When he was in college, he lived at home. His mother would get up in the morning, cook his breakfast, and get this: she would go outside on cold winter mornings, warm up his car for him and scrape the ice off of the windows. Good grief! This isn't service anymore. This is spoiling and coddling an 18 year old. If they were ill or late one day I MIGHT consider doing this for my sons. However, they need to act like adults, and that means we need to let them do things for themselves like an adult has to. My daughter gave many more examples of what his mother did for him. Rather than helping him, it has crippled him.

Did it help him become a better person? Nope. He only lasted 5 months on his mission. He served in the States. His mother wrote him frequently, telling him how much she missed him. He came home, and never went back out again. He is 24 years old, almost 25. He still lives at home with his mom. She STILL warms up his car and scrapes the ice off of the window for him!

He stopped writing to my daughter when she left the MTC. He expected her to leave her mission and go back to him like he went back for his mother. But he didn't ever ask her to marry him. She has told me that if he had asked her, she would have married him. He told her he loved her more than anything. But he wouldn't support her while she was serving.

OK, maybe there are some better examples of what "coddling" is...if you think of any, post them. I'd like to know if I'm guilty of "coddling". We don't need to run our homes like a boot-camp. But, I do think we need to allow our kids to grow up, become responsible, and suffer the consequences for their actions. We can't follow them on their missions and protect them from everything. They need to learn to stand on their own two feet.

I hope this has helped some of you. If you have any advice to add to it, please do! I'll be sending another email with part II....preparing those yet to serve...

Betty Pearson, Lehi, Listowner, LDS Missionary Mothers
Sister Lisa Pearson, Argentina Buenos Aires North (Dec 21st, 2000)
Elder K. Erik Pearson, Germany Munich (Sept 14th, 2001)
Elder C. Thompson, Washington Tacoma (Aug 2003)

The following email came from a Mission President's wife who read this letter about coddling our preparing missionaries and had this to add:

Dear Betty,

President and I just read your open article on "coddling". We are clapping loudly!! The only thing we would add is "Teach your children how to care for themselves when they are ill." We are finding that many missionaries are not coming into the mission field with any type of medicinal supplies - cold, flu, sore throat, skin rashes, athelete's foot, jock itch, etc. - the basic family medicines, or what to do if they are running a fever, vomiting, or have diarrhea. I would think the Boy Scouts would cover this in their first aid courses, but I have found this not to be the case, and rather than ask for help many of the Elders just 'tough it out'. So they get more ill, thus losing valuabe time in the field.

So much to teach and so little time to teach, but oh, so valuable to them here in the field as well as in their lives after their missions, what a help they would be to their wives when children are sick if they had this knowledge.

Thank you