The only way to do Parents Weekend correctly

A Day is behind us, meaning the Basics are now Doolies, and Transition is also in the rearview mirror, signaling the return of the entire Cadet Wing and the beginning of the academic year. That means the focus for most USAFA families turns toward one thing – Parents Weekend.

Over my six-plus years as a military academy parent, I’ve seen families handle Parents Weekends in a number of ways.

See? The cadets are excited about Parents Weekend, too.

Some are all about the official activities. That means on Friday, they will do the tour, attend the Q&A, and take in the pomp and circumstance of the parade. There will be breakfast at Mitch’s (not to be confused in any way, shape, or form with Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and the football game (of course), preceded by squadron tailgate parties, which are a great way to meet your cadet’s squadron mates and other parents. To go the extra mile, some will do a BCT tour of Jacks Valley on Sunday.

Some will be solely focused on spending time with their cadet.

I fall squarely in the latter camp. I’ll spend Friday prepping our rental, making sure the fridge and cupboard are stocked with my cadet’s favorite snacks and comfort food (and the same for her boyfriend) and that I have the weekend’s meal plan all squared away. I’ll also make sure we have our streaming services set up on the TV and figure out the routes to her favorite restaurants and, of course, how to get to Walmart for an inevitable trip to stock up on provisions. I’ll enjoy the football game – I enjoy football of any sort – but will mostly be watching my girl and the rest of the cheerleading squad. Then after the game, we’ll go back to the rental and I expect we won’t venture out much for the rest of the weekend, except maybe for dinner at her favorite places and the aforementioned obligatory Walmart stop on the way back to the Academy.

Some folks will straddle those two approaches and that’s fine because I am here to tell you that there is absolutely, positively, only one way to correctly do Parents Weekend – whichever way you want to. I’ll repeat this until I can’t say it anymore, your experience is the right experience. That applies to pretty much everything involving life as a military academy parent and an important corollary for a parents’ weekend is, let your cadet take the lead.

If your cadet wants to take you on a photo tour of the AFA grounds, the Garden of the Gods, and Old Colorado City, enjoy. But if not, don’t be jealous of the photos that flood your Facebook feed … and your feed will be flooded with them, rest assured.

And I’ve seen plenty of parents – both at USAFA and USNA – have something like Parents Weekend Envy because they see the social media highlight reel from other people’s experiences. Why didn’t my son want to show me his dorm room? Why didn’t my daughter want to take us to the squadron tailgate? You know, there are all in the same location, but they are not in the same place and despite all wearing the same outfit every day, they are not the same people.

As parents, we need to accept that and actually embrace it.

If you have a Doolie, you may be excited to spend a lot of time on campus seeing the sights, but they might simply want to sleep. They may not want to even venture out for a meal, preferring to stay out of uniform and, just as importantly, out of the public eye. The same might be true for your C3Cs, C2Cs, and Firsties. That’s 100% A-OK.

I’ll be honest, if Parents Weekend wasn’t on a three-day weekend, I’m not sure that’s when I would go out. For me, it’s more about spending time with my daughter than anything else. I love meeting other parents and other cadets, for sure. But that’s more like icing on the cake for me. That goes for every visit, not just Parents Weekend. There were times I’d stop in to see my son at the Naval Academy to take him out to dinner and while I was looking forward to some father-son discussions, he’d come out of Bancroft Hall with a buddy in tow.

“Is it OK if [insert Mid’s name here] comes along?”

Of course, I’d say, and I meant it. It was still going to be a great experience, not just the one I anticipated.

In fact, during our two USNA Parents Weekends (they don’t have an “all Brigade” Parents Weekend every year, instead there’s one for Plebes – the equivalent of USAFA’s Doolies – and one for Second Class), we had two distinct experiences. For Plebe Parents Weekend, it was just the family. We interacted very little with anyone else and my son mostly enjoyed the air conditioning, slept, and ate comfort food. For the latter, we rented a house and I expected a similar weekend. Instead, I ended up cooking meals for a handful of Midshipmen and their families as well as serving as bartender. I loved both experiences.

We all have expectations for what will happen this Parents Weekend, which is fine. But whatever the outcome, embrace it. There are only a handful of these in the fleeting time your child is at the Academy, so don’t waste a moment of it on regret or envy. Whatever way you spend that time is the absolute correct way.

P.S. And if you can’t make it to Parents Weekend – that’s fine, too. Be bummed that you’re missing time with your cadet, but not for missing this particular weekend.

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