Matriculation Day: The Hardest Part for Parents is Letting Go

Matriculation Day check inWe are approaching the annual rite of passage at The Citadel known as Matriculation Day, the day the first year cadets, or knobs as they are called, report for their Challenge Week, formerly called Hell Week.

To help families prepare for this day the alumni groups in several area host send off events. In Georgia there is a parent orientation meeting. I started a group for new parents only on Facebook called The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2017 to help parents prepare their knob to report while also helping them learn to let go of the day-to-day aspects of their child’s experiences.

The hardest part of the experience for parents is letting go. The knobs have a tough time, but they are busy learning the system and going to classes. It is tough and they manage it well. The parents, on the other hand, tend to have a very tough time the first few months. They worry about their child, mainly because the system is so foreign to them and therefore, it is scary.

The Facebook group for new parents is there to assure parents that they, and their child, will get through this. Each year over 700 knobs report to the school. 2,000+ members of the Corps of Cadets are on campus each year. The parents of graduates in the Facebook group act as coaches for the new parents. We try to give them the tools they will need to support their cadet’s process instead of intervening.

The cadre march the Class of 2016 to their first lunch in the mess hall.

The cadre march the Class of 2016 to their first lunch in the mess hall.

Parents, you are sending your child to a military COLLEGE, not to war. I know the difference now since my son just returned from Afghanistan. My early worries seem silly now. Allowing your knob to take control of their experience and work out their problems is the best gift you can give them.

I do understand the anxiety though. I was in your shoes in 2007. At that time there were no Facebook groups. The Atlanta Citadel Club does have a send off event and the parent orientation was very helpful. I resourced with a local mom of a cadet and also the Citadel Family Association chair couple at the time. In 2007 knobs were not allowed to have cell phones first semester, so we didn’t get a call at the end of the first week. If we were lucky we received a quick email.

In 2011 I was asked to contribute to a blog called Off the Base , my son’s senior year. The blog is the project of Bobbie O’Brien of WUSF in Tampa, Florida. She thought my voice as the mom of an Army ROTC cadet soon to be officer would be helpful to her readers. I hesitated to write about The Citadel because I really couldn’t speak to the cadet experience. My son was the one who attended, not me. In the end I agreed. The entries trace my experience from a mom who couldn’t understand why in the world my son would want this type of experience, to a mom who knows it is not the experience I could have gone through, but The Citadel was exactly where my son needed to be.

Because of my blog contributions to Off the Base, and my own blog, some parents get the impression I never had doubts about the process. To these parents I suggest reading the first few entries from Off the Base. I assure you I was extremely anxious about the whole experience. The first entry, The Making of a Military Mom and the second, Mom Readies for Son’s Military College trace my early journey. The following entries, The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents and Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel, describe in part the transformation I went through as I saw the changes in my son from a young high school student to a responsible adult.

The Cadre lead the Class of 2016 from the mess hall to their first meeting. The first week this process is repeated over and again.

The Cadre lead the Class of 2016 from the mess hall to their first meeting. The first week this process is repeated over and again.

The best gift a parent can give their knob is helping them prepare for Matriculation Day, then let go. Let your knob be the one to reach out to you. They have no control over their time so if you call and they don’t answer the phone, know that is completely normal. Send them encouraging cards and messages. When they do call, be supportive. Remind them of the strength they have within them to tackle their challenges. If they have a problem with a classmate don’t try to fix it for them, but remind them there is a chain of command and a protocol to go through to address concerns.

You can use the time to learn more about the school and the 4th Class system when your knob cannot call or email you. The Citadel external affairs office does a great job of posting photos and updates to the web site and also to their Facebook page for new parents to try to get a glimpse of their knob. Read through the Office of the Commandant page and all the links to learn about the school and the process your cadet is going through. This knowledge is not to intervene, but to see how they are trained.

As a parent it is tough to resist the urge to fix things for our children. Come April and Recognition Day, the knobs, and their parents, will see they have made it through to be full members of the Corps of Cadets and you will each feel a sense of accomplishment and pride of what you have come through.

The Class of 2016 lines up to enter the chapel the Sunday morning of Matriculation Day weekend, 2012.

The Class of 2016 lines up to enter the chapel the Sunday morning of Matriculation Day weekend, 2012.

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