Feature Stories

Missionary moms: You’ll love this mother’s honest thoughts on the joy and pain of sending a child on a mission

Julia Ditto with her son George Ditto prior to his mission.
Courtesy of Julia Ditto

My oldest son, George, left to serve in the Chile Santiago South mission in September 2023. The experience of sending a child on a mission was new to me, full of joy and also sadness. The following are some of the thoughts and feelings I had in the days leading up to his departure.

Sunday, September 10, 7:00 a.m.

Today is my birthday, and also the day that George will deliver his mission farewell. Tonight, he’ll be set apart as a full-time missionary, and tomorrow he’ll begin a week of home MTC. In nine days, he’ll be gone—off for five weeks at the Mexico MTC before heading to Chile.

I am so happy that he’s chosen to serve a mission, but every time I think of not hugging him for two years, or hearing him talk late into the night with his sister, or watching him play football in the front yard with his little brothers, my heart hurts. I’ve never cried on my birthday before, but now I sob into my pillow for a solid ten minutes before I climb out of bed to get ready for church. This is going to hurt.

Sunday, September 10, 11:45 a.m.

I did it to myself. As ward music coordinator, I could have picked any other song for the closing hymn after George’s farewell talk. But I just had to choose one of my favorites, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” I get three words out before my throat closes up and my eyes get misty.

Soon, tears are streaming down my face and I’m alarming the ward chorister, who has a front-row seat to the meltdown of her normally jolly friend. By the end of the closing prayer, I am a blubbering disaster, and an army of fellow women rush to my side to offer a hug or a squeeze of my shoulder. It’s a show of solidarity in this moment that is required of all mothers at some point: getting ready to say goodbye.

Wednesday, September 13, 12:05 p.m.

George has an hour before he needs to be back on his Zoom call for home MTC. For the moment, I’m his companion, and he has to stick by my side. It’s my dream come true.

“Want to go to lunch?” I ask, knowing that lunch with his mom is the most exciting thing he’ll do all day. He’s all in. We go to the Mongolian restaurant down the street from his old high school, even though we already ate there once this week. I’m with my boy; I don’t mind.

Monday, September 18, 10:45 p.m.

I stand among the three tightly zipped suitcases that George and I have been packing all day, so he’ll be ready for his six o’clock flight to the Mexico MTC tomorrow morning. Surplus supplies that I had purchased in an effort to send him out with every last thing he might possibly need sit discarded in a corner, edited out of his luggage when we realized he didn’t have near as much space as we thought he would.

The white shirts I washed and ironed a few days ago are folded neatly in a packing cube in one suitcase; the two pairs of highly researched shoes in another. Every nook and cranny of each suitcase is stuffed to the gills.

I stare at the suitcases, my husband, Logan, by my side, and feel a weight of sadness as it hits me that we are down to just a handful of hours before we say goodbye to our son for two years. Logan and I look at each other in disbelief, and he pulls me in for a hug. My mother heart splits open.

“I feel like this is the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever been asked to make,” I say as I sob into his shoulder. And it is. It’s the law of consecration in action. And although I am thrilled that he is making this choice to serve his Savior, I’m not sure how to let him go.

Tuesday, September 19, 4:00 a.m.

I wake up with a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. We arrive at the airport excited for George, but I can’t help but feel like a prisoner walking to the gallows as we make our way through check-in and head to the security line, where we’ll be saying our final goodbyes.

Finally, we’re there. The time has come, and I cry as I watch George hug his grandparents and younger siblings. At last, it’s my turn. I clutch my arms around him, trying to get a hug tight enough to last two whole years. With my face pressed into his suit, I cry as I think of all the years we’ve had together, and how much I have loved raising him.

And then, “trusting my all to [the Lord’s] tender care,” I let go and watch as he walks away. We wave for the next ten minutes until he’s through security and out of sight. When we arrive back home, Logan leaves for work and my other kids leave for school. I see George’s sneakers by the front door and I cry.

Tuesday, September 19, 12:30 p.m.

A friend drops off a carton of chocolate peanut butter ice cream—my favorite. I eat it straight out of the carton while watching a lighthearted movie, and I start to feel like maybe the world isn’t ending.

I look at the clock and realize that George is in Mexico by now, probably all settled into his room at the MTC and meeting with his new district. I contemplate going upstairs to his bedroom to pack up the last few things he left behind but think better of it when I remember the sneaker incident from earlier this morning. Packing up the room can wait. I’ve got two years to go.

Maybe you’re like me and found it a bittersweet experience to say goodbye to your missionary child. You’re so thrilled and grateful that they’ve chosen to serve their Savior, but there’s no denying that their absence leaves a hole in your family, and you’ll miss them immensely.

Screenshot (313).png
The Ditto Family
Courtesy of Julia Ditto

Below are a few thoughts that can bring you peace when you’re feeling the pain of sending your child on a mission.

Your missionary is not gone forever, just for a while

When George left, we felt his absence at every turn: on the funny family group text, at the dinner table, and during the holidays. But when I reminded myself that his absence was only temporary—that he WILL come back—it made it a little more bearable.

Your missionary is having the time of his or her life

Most current and returned missionaries will tell you the same thing: being a missionary is fun. There are funny things that happen, new experiences that delight the heart, and people to serve and serve with who bring joy to the soul.

Obviously, not every moment is fun. Missions are also challenging and soul-stretching, and watching your son or daughter go through that can be difficult.

Tavia Kimball of Caldwell, Idaho, sent her daughter off to the Peru Lima South mission in 2021.

“As difficult as it is for a parent [to watch], experiencing those hard times is how she learned to rely on the Savior,” says Tavia. “I was grateful for those hard times she experienced because she grew closer to Jesus Christ. She learned how to apply the Atonement into her life. She learned that she can do hard things. And what better environment to go through hard things than on a mission?”

The Lord will take whatever offering you and your missionary are able to give and turn it into what He needs it to be

As George was getting ready to leave, I felt a nagging fear that I hadn’t done enough to prepare him. I was about to send him off on one of the most challenging experiences of his life, and yet there was still so much he needed to know.

Would his faith hold up to the rejection and scrutiny he would receive as a missionary? Would he be street-smart enough to stay out of danger? Would he be able to cope with exhaustion, difficult companions, and homesickness? Would he lose his passport the moment I let him out of my sight?

I took comfort in the message of Elder Vern P. Stanfill’s April 2023 General Conference address, “The Imperfect Harvest.”

“We must remember that whatever our best-but-imperfect offering is, the Savior can make it perfect. No matter how insignificant our efforts may seem, we must never underestimate the Savior’s power…Our clumsy efforts can lead to miracles, and in the process, we can participate in a perfect harvest. …

“The Savior stands ready to accept our humble offerings and perfect them through His grace. With Christ, there is no imperfect harvest. We must have the courage to believe that His grace is for us—that He will help us, rescue us from the depths when we falter, and perfect our less-than-perfect efforts.”

That goes for my imperfect efforts as a mother, and George’s imperfect efforts as a missionary.

Some missionaries return home early, for various reasons. The Lord loves their offering as well.

Doctrine and Covenants 124:49 states, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”

▶ You may also like: What to say to help your missionary through a hard time

Your missionary is going to learn and grow in remarkable ways

When Brian Holdaway of Stockton, California, starts missing his daughter, Alana—currently serving in the Ecuador Guayaquil North mission—he tries to focus on his gratitude for the growth she is experiencing:

“How lucky Alana is to have the time, resources and opportunity to be singularly focused on this one thing for a season, how lucky I am as a parent that she is learning hard life lessons without me mitigating the results, how lucky she is to be learning a new language, making new friends, becoming more self-sufficient, and learning to rely on the Lord in matters big and small,” he says.

“We tell Alana and ourselves that when she returns, she will be an upgraded version of her former self in every way.”

Your missionary is going to do much good in the lives of others

Screenshot (314).png
Elder Ditto with fellow missionaries.
Courtesy of Julia Ditto

Everywhere a missionary goes, he or she brings a light.

President Russell M. Nelson said, “All missionaries teach and testify of the Savior. The spiritual darkness in the world makes the light of Jesus Christ needed more than ever. Everyone deserves the chance to know about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Every person deserves to know where they can find the hope and peace that ‘[pass] all understanding.’”

You will get to see or talk to your missionary each week through the wonders of technology

On the day George left the Mexico MTC for Chile, our whole family waited in anticipation for his allotted phone call to tell us he’d arrived safely. Finally, around 5 p.m., the call came. We were able to see him over Facebook Messenger, meet his companion, and tour his new apartment.

At one point, one of my sons looked out the window and saw the moon rising in our barely dark sky. He asked George if he could see the moon at that moment as well. George popped his head outside his apartment and pointed his phone at the moon. We all shrieked with joy. Knowing that I was looking at the same moon that my son was also looking at thousands of miles away did wonders to soothe my mother heart.

Tavia Kimball had a similar experience: “I loved that we got to experience a little piece of her mission with her,” she says. “Sometimes I felt like I was in Peru with her, as we would be talking while she walked down the streets, or while she was experiencing p-day soccer. A few times, she asked me to say the prayer for her and her companion before they left their apartment. It was a shared experience, in a small way. I definitely felt closer to her through those weekly chats.”

Your missionary and your family will be blessed through his or her service

Natasha Woodward of Spokane Valley, Washington has sent three sons out on missions: one to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; another to Oaxaca, Mexico, and another currently serving in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.

“We have come to realize what hundreds of thousands of parents of missionaries know: the blessings of having a missionary serve are always spiritual and universal,” she says. “It is the law of consecration we covenanted with God to obey, and we are reminded frequently as we participate in temple ordinances that we dedicate our time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed us to building up Jesus Christ’s church on the earth. We can be sure there are blessings yet unrealized as we keep this covenant.”

You and your missionary will get back much more than you give

Suzanne Flake of Houston, Texas has sent three daughters on missions (to Charlotte, North Carolina; Retalhuleu, Guatemala; and Washington D.C. South). She has one piece of advice for parents as they prepare to send their child out:

“Say goodbye to your child; you won’t see her again. She will be transformed through her mission experiences,” she says. “Each one of my daughters came back a better individual, family member, disciple, and example of Christ. They have a deeper understanding of the gospel, increased faith and understanding, a greater measure of empathy, and more effective gospel study skills and habits.”

Saying goodbye for 18 months or two years is a small price to pay for such rewards.

As President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It is not a sacrifice to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is never a sacrifice when you get back more than you give. It is an investment, … a greater investment than any. … Its dividends are eternal and everlasting.”

▶ You may also like: This fascinating pharmacy term will totally change how you think about opposition in all things

George Ditto with his mother, Julia Ditto outside the Spokane Washington Temple prior to George's mission.
Courtesy of Julia Ditto

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content