4 communication tips for talking with parents and siblings when you join the military

Family support can play an important role in the decision to join the military—and the decision to stay. Military family readiness programs are often geared toward supporting military partners, spouses, and children. But parents and siblings of Military Service Members need support and skills to back up their Warfighters too.  

Family reactions when deciding to join the military

Your “family of origin” is the family you grew up with or spent your formative years with (for example, parents, stepparents, and siblings). And they play a key role in making you who you are. They typically influence how you communicate and relate to others and the path you take as you grow up. If that path leads to entering the military, chances are your family will be impacted too, particularly if you have a close or connected relationship.

Consider sibling relationships. The relationship you have with your brothers or sisters is unique as one of the few lifelong family relationships you might have. When children are young, those relationships are often characterized by both rivalry and warmth. Then into adulthood, sibling relationships tend to shift as you each become people who can choose to be connected, or not. When you decide to join the military, it’s normal for siblings to react in all kinds of ways. It’s common for them to react with surprise and resistance. You and your siblings might even argue about it because they feel anxious or worried about your safety. It might also be normal for your siblings to consider adjusting their plans to help support your parents while you serve.

Similarly, your parents might also experience a range of emotions at your decision to join the military. No matter what your age, parents are socialized to protect their kids— and it can be difficult to let that go even once you’re an adult. Many parents feel pride at your decision to serve and reassurance that you’ve found a secure career path. But at the same time they might feel concerned about your emotional and physical safety. Parents might also feel helpless and isolated when their child joins the military because many military-family resources are targeted to spouses and school-age kids.

So how can you support your parents, siblings, and others in your family when you join the military?

Communication strategies to support your siblings and parents

  1. Talk about your thought process. While the decision to join might not always be a surprise (particularly if other family members are or were in the military), your family’s reactions might be better if you include them in the planning. As soon as you start to explore becoming a Military Service Member, consider opening up to siblings and parents about your thoughts. As you learn more, do you best to share it with them. Then, if and when you ultimately decide to join, you’ll be more likely to have their support. (Your parents might have important information about your medical history that could impact your ability to serve too.)
  2. Expect mixed reactions. Your family members will probably have many emotions throughout your service. Often, those emotions might be in conflict with how you feel too. It’s normal! Remember: Even if your family feels anxious or concern, they can also be supportive and proud. Do your best to validate their feelings and connect with them when you can.
  3. Start sharing support resources. The moment you join the military can be the hardest and most confusing time for your family. They might not be familiar with military culture or really know what to expect as you start your career. Again, it’s not always easy for siblings and parents of Military Service Members to find good support networks or get the information they need and want. Encourage your family to get involved with your installation’s local Family Readiness Group. Another good strategy for parents and siblings is to find online communities to connect with others who can share information and support.
  4. Plan the logistics. Talk with your family about how often you’ll be able to communicate during different stages of your service. And set realistic expectations so your family members don’t worry if they don’t hear from you right away. Then, make sure your paperwork is in order. Even if you’re single, it’s still important that a member of your family (or someone close to you) can represent you while you’re away. Though it might be initially nerve-wracking to talk about things like power of attorney and wills, it’s also a sign that you’re planning ahead and doing your best to keep your family involved.

No matter how old you are, you decisions will likely have some impact on your parents, siblings, and other family members—especially if you’re close and connected. If you decide to join the military, open communication with your family can help keep your support system strong through the process.


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References

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Crow, J. R., Myers, D. R., Ellor, J. W., Dolan, S. L., & Morissette, S. (2016). Military deployment of an adult child: Ambiguous loss and boundary ambiguity reflected in the experiences of parents of service members. Marriage & Family Review, 52(5), 481–509. doi:10.1080/01494929.2015.1115454

Farero, A. M., Blow, A., Bowles, R., Gorman, L., Kees, M., & Guty, D. (2019). The relationship between parent–soldier communication and postdeployment soldier mental health. Military Behavioral Health, 7(3), 336–344. doi:10.1080/21635781.2018.1550026

Gibson, J. L., Griepentrog, B. K., & Marsh, S. M. (2007). Parental influence on youth propensity to join the military. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 70(3), 525–541. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2007.03.002

Rodriguez, A. J., & Margolin, G. (2011). Siblings of military servicemembers: A qualitative exploration of individual and family systems reactions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(4), 316–323. doi:10.1037/a0024527

Wadsworth, S. M., Lester, P., Marini, C., Cozza, S., Sornborger, J., Strouse, T., & Beardslee, W. (2013). Approaching family-focused systems of care for military and veteran families. Military Behavioral Health, 1(1), 31–40. doi:10.1080/21635781.2012.721062