Joining the Military — Talk With Parents


Every now and then this email is received from a young man or woman seeking some advice on preparing for service in the military.  This one is a little different as this young high school graduate needs some information on preparing his parents on his desire to serve.  Since many of our readers are future service members and we have many veterans and active duty members who read these blogs, I thought maybe this article can be used to share some ideas on how you broke the news with your parents when you decided to serve.  Not every one has supportive parents period, much less supportive of serving in the military during times of conflict.  Here is the email that prompted this blog post and request to the readers to share their stories:     

Stew — I have been a multi-​​sport athlete my whole life and I am ready to serve my country.  However, my family has been really against enlisting and going to the military as an alternative to college, BUT I am 100% positive that’s what I want to do.  Both my sister and brother are in college sports and they expect me to do the same. What kind of tips can you give me to tell them.     Thanks for reading and I hope you can reply.    Sincerely,  JM

First, good job on the extra effort it takes to being a scholastic-​​athlete with a potential to play at the college level. That requires a good amount of commitment and you learn a great deal of skills that will transfer over to the military such as teamwork, small unit communications, and of course physical and mental toughness.  But this is a tough one for me to answer alone.  With both Grandfathers in WWII, my parents were supportive of me joining the military either before or after college, but I had to finish college at some point.  I never had any verbal disapproval of my decision to join the military so I do not know what I would have done personally.  I have had friends that have done a variety of things like:

1 — Reasonable discussion — Most people if they fully understand their situation can explain the pros /​ cons to joining the military and frame it so there are more PRO than CONs to joining for your particular situation /​ desires.  Get to know the training pipeline:  Boot Camp, advanced training, MOS goals, deployment cycles.  Know where you will be living, how long the training schools last, what your goal profession within the military is, and what unit you want to go to.  Find out how long and typically where that unit has deployed.  Find out what missions have they been involved with to get a better understanding of what you are doing, as I am sure your parents will ask these questions.
BE PREPARED WITH AN ANSWER if possible.  Take your parents to the recruiters office so they know they are part of the process with you.
- If it is the “go to college debate vs enlisting” like many have, I personally agree with parents on this one as you can grow /​ mature /​ get fully prepared using college facilities for BUDS /​ Spec Ops life.  Statistically speaking many 18–20 yr olds quit Spec Ops selection programs like BUDS.  I remember when I first got to BUDS at age 22 (post college /​ officer) I thought that there were a lot of young kids at BUDS — at least 50% off the street and just out of high school.  After Hellweek, we had a hand full of  teenagers left in our class.  So it helps to go to BUDS /​ Spec Ops world a little more mature and have a better understanding at what fitness /​ hard work really is.
- BUT the GI Bill is a great tool to get veterans to college after /​ during their time serving.  It is a great way to have resources to pay for college if money is an issue.  So pre-​​college service is an option with many benefits.  Additionally, there are some enlisting programs that will pay college debt up to a certain amount if you enlist with an addition 2 years.  I knew a guy who had $50,000 college debt paid, BUDS bonuses with the enlistment term of 6 years.  The first two years of enlistment in the SEAL program is training anyway.Check out these links for the Army Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) and the Navy College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP).
2 — It is a calling — not a alternative to college.  You cannot just join the military because you don’t want to go to college.  Join the military because you want to serve your country no matter what branch /​ profession you choose. This is serious and if you can make your parents understand your desire to serve on that level you will be better off for it.  Take your fitness just as serious in your preparation as one day your fitness level may be the very thing that help you save a life or save your own.
3 — Screw You - Depending on the relationship and if it is a toxic family life — some friends of mine said — Screw You I am joining anyway and left home.  Some have said, “I am 18+ yrs old and I just enlisted — I leave next month.”  I do not like this option as I recommend that you act like an adult that you are and make your parents understand that you have thought this out fully and are fully educated on the process. You know where you will be living once you are in training /​ post training, and beyond complete with career goals, etc…
Good luck with your discussions with your family.  Check out some of the comments below for even more ideas and personal stories from veterans who were once in your shoes.  You do not have to serve for a full career but if you do you can retire with benefits at the age of 38-​​40yrs old if you stay in for 20 yrs with immeasurable experience in leadership, logistics, building teams, and knowing how to get a job done.



  1. Soensaeng says:

    Serve???? Most have no idea what the word really means!! I’d say 99 out of 100 DO NOT serve at home!! If they DO NOT SEVRE there they WILL NOT SERVE anywhere else!! Most of the time it is self serving egos that want to go in the military. In the article above.…
    ”— Screw You I am joining anyway and left home. Some have said, “I am 18+ yrs old and I just enlisted — I leave next month.”
    Unfortunately this is the attitude of MOST not all that enlist. When they are not willing to submit to the authority over them sat home they are going to be a nightmare when it comes to submission to those over them in the military, I say this coming from having been enlisted (E-​​1 thru E-​​6 & also O-​​1 thru O-​​2).
    Most going in the service have no real idea what it means to serve anywhere. They didn’t at home and they are not going to in the military. From what I’ve seen whether the person is married or single going into the military they are usually tearing to run away from authority & or responsibility of one kind or another. To be quite honest because of the attitude & actions of my fellow service members I was embarrassed to say that I was a part of the military. Without exception all the places I was stationed most (not all) the personnel were UTTERLY DISGUSTING. They lived for partying, drinking, buying any & all the women they could afford. Is this HONORABLY representing America????? From one side of the globe to the other the EXCT SAME THING WAS & IS STILL GOING ON!

    • retired8/29/1946 says:

      With your attitute I understand why you say what you are saying because you were one of the people you describe. I served 20 years and spent 12 of those years in various countries in the far east. With the exception of a few pot heads and crack heads almost all the people that I served with earned every last penny that we received. I did not see a 40 hour work week until 1984 after I retired. Every position that I served in was always short manned and the work had to be done so you did what you had to do to get it done. We worked hard and we partied hard when we had the chance which was not all that often. I never had any problem telling my family I was enlisting because I had older extended family members that had made a career out of the military and I was not surprised by anything that happened when I went in because both my recruiter and the family members discribed exactly what would be happening in the different phases of the service.

      I only had 3 supervisors that I worked for that were not supportive of the people that worked for them and I was fortunate that their supervisors all knew me and when the crap hit the fan they were the ones that had their tail feathers clipped.

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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