Children playing in the street, women sipping coffee on the front porch keeping a casual eye on the kids, white picket fences, and American flags. There certainly are times when it seems the military is stuck in the 1950s. And there are some definite positives to that. I love that my neighbor will bring in my trash can without being asked. I like that if my friend across the street needs an extra egg for breakfast, she knows to come on over. I love the impromptu get-togethers we have on weekends.
But as a military spouse with a career, this 1950s mentality is frustrating and draining.
We’re expected to show our support by attending events that are always scheduled during work hours.
We’re expected to attend evening events that were “planned for those working” and sacrifice our family time.
We’re expected to drop everything for a last-minute potluck lunch or assembly at school.
We’re expected to put the military’s traditions and expectations ahead of our own careers.
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we knew that the military wasn’t going to take our career as seriously as we do. We knew they weren’t going to suddenly change everything to fit those families who have a spouse with a career.
But sheesh, could they make this a little less painful?
Find the balance
I love military ceremonies. . . love them! I enjoy attending changes of command and promotion ceremonies. As a new spouse, they helped me learn about the military; as a mid-career spouse I found it important to be there to show that families are important. But when I had a full-time office job, it was impossible to attend everything. I had to start prioritizing.
My top two questions:
- Does it fit in my schedule without taking time off?
- Is it really important to my spouse that I attend?
Of course, if it was my spouse getting promoted or my spouse changing command, I would make it a very high priority. But, I would also ask them to consider working spouses and try to schedule it over lunch or after work. This is something spouses of those in leadership can help change. Start talking about it. . . and I bet it will eventually catch on.
Give yourself a break. . . and give others one, too
You can’t attend everything. No one can. Sure, it seems like the stay-at-home spouse is at every event and luncheon and meeting, but they aren’t. They can’t be.
Your career is important to you, otherwise you wouldn’t keep moving it from place to place. Your career is important to your family. Don’t ever feel guilty because your career isn’t allowing you to live up to these antiquated expectations of the perfect military spouse.
And remember: Just because that stay-at-home spouse is able to attend more events than you, it doesn’t mean they are happy about it either. The look you are perceiving as condemning may be jealousy. They may be struggling to restart their career after this last move. They may be volunteering just to ensure there is no gap in their resume when they move again. We can’t assume they are thrilled with organizing every family event or attending every meeting.
Working spouses and stay-at-home spouses are both incredibly busy. They are often maintaining the household while their service member is working long hours, sometimes away from home. Neither role is easy, so creativity becomes very important. One of the things I struggled with when working a full-time office job was the little amount of time I had left to give. After working, taking care of the house, the kids, making dinner, etc., there wasn’t much left. Weekends were often spent catching up and preparing for the next week, so how was I to serve my community?
I got a little creative. I found some volunteer work I could do from home or on my lunch break. My supervisor allowed me to take short lunches in exchange for longer breaks when I needed some time to volunteer at the school or attend an event. I found new ways to help my fellow milspouses, too. I was able to use the skills I learned at my job to help other spouses find employment. I was able to use my network to advertise family events and connect new spouses with others. I may not have been able to run the family readiness group, but I could still cook a meal when someone needed it.
There is no singular mold that military spouses must conform. We all know it. . . so why do we keep pushing ourselves to change? What we need to do is be true to ourselves and change the conversation. Just as the spouses in the past blazed a path for us, it’s our turn to blaze a path for the ones that are coming in the future.
By Rebecca Alwine