This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.
Dear Military Spouse Employment Community,
I’ve never been comfortable with writing open letters. I’m not sure why either. I’m not sure if it’s because the letter is “open” and the purpose of an open letter is to address a large group of people. Maybe it’s the potential backlash That’s a real concern, especially today. I find myself shrinking from vulnerable, raw writing because of that backlash. Whatever it is, I’m hesitant in writing an open letter.
Then something changed my mind. Last week I read an article in The Mighty; an online magazine for people with disabilities and chronic healthcare issues. I realized after reading “We Need More Options for Working Parents of Kids With Disabilities” by Calleen Peterson, I needed to write a similar one for the military spouse and EFMP community.
Many people believe that the number-one issue impacting military spouses today is spouse employment. I am not sure about that. I do believe that spouse employment is a big issue but to say it’s the greatest issue–number one–isn’t something I can do.
Before anyone gets upset, I will explain myself. Yes, spouse employment impacts my household, but we are an exceptional family. We are part of EFMP, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that EFMP impacts my family more.
Did you know that I am lonely? I am lonely in my son’s diagnosis. While I have friends who also have children with disabilities, our world–the world of disability–can be an isolating world. Oftentimes, I will talk with my fellow spouses, and I can tell you want to understand what we go through as a family. You are empathetic but disability doesn’t impact you the way it does in my home.
My son’s diagnosis isn’t complicated as some are, but it still exists, and we still must learn how to manage it. We have therapies twice a week, routines, schedules, and a lot of reassuring my child and myself.
We are fortunate that my son has therapy only twice a week. Some families have three to five therapies per week, per child. They have feeding routines, medication routines, home healthcare nurses, multiple medical appointments that don’t include the therapies, and more, so much more.
We have school and child care issues. We fight, day in and day out. We fight for our children and for our sanity. As a parent, I have been called ugly names that I won’t share here by both medical and educational professionals .
I am a parent that deals with a behavior health issue and an auditory processing disorder. Both impact my son’s school performance. As Peterson wrote, “Some children with disabilities deal with behavior issues. These are complicated issues and could mean calls from the school or daycare to come pick up your child.” For the last two years, I’ve had to have a parent-teacher conference within the first few weeks of school starting. Just as I felt that everything was going right, I discovered I how wrong I was.
My family is just one of the many exceptional families in the military today, and we still have medical and educational demands placed on us that many military families do not.
I would love to work. I miss working. Like many military spouses there is fulfillment in working. Having a job, or career does more than provide fiscal security. A job can provide personal satisfaction. I would like both.
I’m not the most employable person though. I can’t work a Monday-through-Friday-nine-to-five job because I need to leave early twice a week for my child. I also must be ready to leave work when I receive a call from the school informing me that my son must be picked up.
It’s good to know that spouses are talking about child care availability, wait times for our child development centers, and how the lack of quality and affordable childcare impacts our ability to find jobs. There’s more though. At my duty station, one the biggest complaints I hear from families is not only child care availability. We have a lack of same-day appointments at our military treatment facility. We all know what that means: If your child has a fever or wakes up sick, they aren’t going to school or daycare. That means a day off work.
Our community is divides itself when we say one issue is more important over others. Being an exceptional family member is already a lonely experience, not being included in the employment conversation harms us.
You advocate for flexible work options and that’s exactly what we need. I agree with so much of what is being said regarding spouse employment. I need something from you though. I need for you to advocate for exceptional families, too. Keep including child care, start talking about paid family leave, and never stop advocating for flexible work.
My issues may not be yours, but we are all in this military life together. There is a way for us to work together. I am willing to fight for spouse employment. I also need you to fight for me. For my family.
By Susan Reynolds