“She stood in the storm; and when the storm did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails”- Elizabeth Edwards
The life of a military spouse is adventurous, to say the least! You get to travel to, and live in, all kinds of new and different places, at the expense of the government, and you have the amazing opportunities to expose your children, and yourself, to different cultures and lifestyles, than most could ever dream of. The benefits are not too shabby, either. Most routine medical visits, exams, procedures, and prescriptions are free, and you have access to adequate housing located in neighborhoods with tons of family-friendly activities always on the schedule, the comradery of other families who share your unique lifestyle, and tax-free shopping. Depending on where exactly you live, everything you might ever need is located on base or on post at your convenience. Yes, the military lifestyle may seem like a great deal, and in most cases it is, save the deployments and consistent training your spouse will undoubtedly have to do. But your spouse is a hero! People often will thank him or her for his or her selfless service! And don’t forget the discounts that are often thrown our way on Veteran’s Day! What could be so bad about it?
Before I get into this post, I will preface it by saying that I am very grateful for all the experiences that I have had to date. I am proud of the work my husband does and am very much aware of the sacrifices that our service members make on an everyday basis. As a mom with children who have diagnoses, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their medical care and therapeutic services are for the most part covered, with us not having to worry about paying anything out of pocket. And I thank my lucky stars every day that I have been given this incredible opportunity to live in a pretty kick ass city in which I can expose my children to a variety of arts and culture that some other duty stations may not have. Washington DC is expensive! And I get to stay here for free, well for the most part. How awesome is that!?
But is something missing; something that even at 33, I have not yet grasped hold of. In the five years that I have been married to the military, I have yet to secure a way for myself to be financially independent and committed within a career path that I have found to be rewarding. Blah Blah Blah… I know what you are already thinking. But in this day in age, girls are raised with the idea that they can be anything, that they can do anything they want. All they have to do is work for it and study hard. But what if that’s just not enough? What if life has its own plan for you and it doesn’t match up with anything you ever had in mind? As a young, bright-eyed college student, I didn’t even think that the military was any place for me. Quite honestly, and in the spirit of ignorance, I believed that the military was a last resort, a place where those who didn’t want to attend, or could not attend, college ended up. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had a distinct plan for my life, a road map if you will, about exactly where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to be. I won’t go trouble you with boring details; let’s just say nothing turned out as planned.
Even though I have accepted my lot in life, as fat lady has yet to have sung, there is still a stirring in my soul. And it has everything to do with my status as a military spouse. While I understand it is because of the service member’s enlistment in our military that I am even granted access to the numerous privileges afforded my family and I, there is a silent sacrifice made by spouses everywhere, and sometimes this sacrifice can lead to silent suffering. Often, this sacrifice goes unnoticed and unmentioned because the focus is often on the service member. But mil spouses and our families sacrifice a great deal as well. Dare I say, the sacrifice we endure might be a little greater.
Every few years or so, we are called to uproot our families and relocate to another place, not of our own choosing, and sometimes quite sporadically with very little time to get to getting. This often means the retrieval of school and medical records, the packing of personal belongings, and the preparedness for the transition ahead, which can be especially tricky for children who don’t deal with change very well. There’s the research that happens of the new area, new schools, new homes, new neighborhoods, new everything. And if there are special needs to consider, there is the research that goes into finding a good care provider that will first of all have openings, and second be a good match for your family. These things, while challenging, we eventually get used to doing, and may in fact become good at it. But there’s still something else that can be incredibly frustrating.
The job market for us is a bleak one. Most of us will choose to stay home because maybe our spouse requests it, or maybe it’s cheaper to stay home to offset the cost of child care. Maybe some of us find our purpose in staying home to raise a family. And I take my hats off to those who do. But there’s a number of us, maybe even just a few, who have the desire, the drive, and the ambition to make something for ourselves, to have our own and not be dependent on anyone for anything, including our spouse. This restlessness is often cured in the civilian others by finding a job that can turn into a meaningful, and sustaining career. You see, our family took a bit of a different route into the military lifestyle. We were both older when he enlisted and had attained our college degrees. In college, I was in the honors program and surrounded myself with friends who were focused and ambitious like myself. This was quite the attitude being in the historically black college environment because we all had been taught that it wasn’t enough to just be adequate; we had to be twice as good, to do our very best to excel because that was the only way we were ever going to be considered on par with the majority of the population. As a result of our home training, and the hard work we put into our books in school, I can proudly say that most of my college friends, acquaintances, and sorority sisters have found themselves amazing jobs which have led to amazing careers, which have led to amazing life experiences. Everything you could dream of, and boy did I. So it becomes a bit of a burn when I wake up int he morning and that is not my reality.
You see, to have this life, the life that I wanted for myself, is a bit tricky in the military. A big part of the military lifestyle is the instability it offers. For the most part, you are never in one place long enough to really put down roots. And for the career woman, this can be a grave problem that leads to gaps on the resume, and work stints that don’t really last longer than three to four years. It means a never ending job hunt, and constant updates on the resume which in and of itself can be time-consuming and tedious work. I do not know a single person who enjoys the arduous task of job hunting. Not one. If I’m a recruiter and I see a resume with a lot of different job titles in a short amount of time and/or some significant gaps in employment, it might lead me to question the dependability of this candidate. And even with the explanation of being a military spouse, I might then grow concerned about their likelihood to stay with my organization. The job hiring process can be a time-consuming and expensive one, something most organizations really don’t like to do, but have to do. If I have a choice between choosing someone who is permanently in my location and someone else who will be leaving in a few years, and both these individuals have the same amount of experience and education, it would best serve my organization to go with the candidate who is more likely to dedicate more time and years in service than the one who will be packing his or her bags in a three-year period. So yes, there are days where I wonder if I’ve failed myself or not.
This is the reality. I felt called to write this piece because this is the very hellish cycle I am enduring as we speak. I took solace when I left my previous gig because I knew that I could get through the next several months with the aid of unemployment helping to ease the transition between jobs just a bit. And it did. I was grateful that I still had a way to pay my bills and do fun things with my family while still adjusting to a new home and helping my children transition within a new school environment. I’ve gotten a chance to explore my new city and have had the time I didn’t have before to focus on my writing. These things are a bit more challenging when holding down a traditional 9 to 5.
So what is there left to do? I have played, and continue to play, the part of the dutiful housewife who keeps her home neat and tidy and ensures everyone is taken care of, all while trying to complete her first novel and buckle down on the job hunt. I understand that all will happen in it’s time, as I have written time and again. And yet I still grow frustrated by how stuck my reality tells me everyday that I am; how no matter what I have done, or what I can do, I will never fully have control over my life and my choices, really, while the military continues to be the real boss of our household. And it drives me crazy. But as I continue on my journey as a mil spouse, I am certain that all the experiences I have had have a point, a life lesson somewhere that allow me to realize my fullest potential. And perhaps that’s not in the traditional 9-5. Maybe, it’s leading me to a calling to do something fearless, maybe a little reckless, but all the more daring and different.
Fellow spouses, it may feel like we are constantly wandering without a trace of a road map, but I promise you, we are far from lost.