Sunday, April 13, 2014

Military Spouses and Sacrifice

There is an anonymous article on Facebook (that was written for Military Spouse Magazine's online community) that discusses a woman's journey as a military spouse. She claims she is "that" military spouse. "That" military spouse means that she doesn't take an ounce of credit for her husband's career, and after 25 years she has never made a single sacrifice. She "doesn't understand" why spouses feel like they have served or sacrificed over the duration of a military career. After 25 years, in her opinion, she has done nothing more than if she had been married to anyone else with any other career.

When reading the article, it is important to see where this woman is coming from. She makes it clear very early in the article that she has always wanted a "traditional" family role. A role where she is the mother and homemaker and her husband is the breadwinner and provider. There is nothing wrong with that and she is absolutely entitled to be satisfied and fulfilled as a person. I'm happy she's happy.

Where she loses me is the tirade about her husband's career is his. She does not take credit for his accomplishments. Read: she doesn't wear rank, she doesn't feel like spouses make an ounce of difference in promotions, she just supports from the perimeter. The trouble? With that statement she essentially made the sweeping generalization that spouses who do feel like they have made sacrifices for their spouse's careers are essentially taking credit away from their military member.

Making a sacrifice and taking credit are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the same thing.

Military spouses make sacrifices. I have sacrificed two wonderful jobs in order to follow my husband's career path. I have done it gracefully, and it has never created drama, but I have definitely been extremely sad both days where I had to turn in my resignation paperwork. Most military spouses sacrifice over 50% of their lifetime career income in order to make the transient life work. She might not feel that sacrifice because her goals are much different than mine, but make not doubt about it, the research shows that the majority of military spouses either want or need to work.

My career sacrifice in no way, shape, or form means that I am taking credit when my husband is promoted. It doesn't mean I am bitter. And it absolutely doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the wonderful things, friends, places, and opportunities that this life provides.

The reason I feel like the distinction between sacrifice and credit is so important is that military family life is unique. It requires unique support systems that must be advocated for in order to receive. Blue Star Families does a survey every year to take the pulse of the military community, to see how families are doing and what needs to be done to sustain the system as a whole. Those results are used to lobby Congress and other organization for programming, funds, mental health care, and more. If I were "that" spouse, one that feels that because *I* am peachy keen and never felt an ounce of sacrifice that I couldn't possibly "understand" why another spouse would, how on earth would we be able to advocate for one another?

It is possible to feel one way while being empathic and understanding of a differing viewpoint. If she is happy as an at-home mother, and happy with moving and being "along for the ride", she should at least be able to extend an olive branch to a woman who sacrificed a important promotion or a special home or a close family unit in order to participate in this lifestyle. And have the open mindedness to realize that sacrifices and credit are completely different beasts.

I am proud to say that I have made sacrifices for my husband. I do so because I love him. I do so because I know how important serving his country is. It is a choice I make with purpose and without anger. Does it mean that I don't feel the pang of jealousy when I see a friend who I went to graduate school with get promoted or see a friend buy their dream "forever home"? Absolutely not. I am human and have absolutely felt jealousy before. But that sacrifice is worth it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Trading Nostalgia for Adventure

April is the month of the military child. There have been a few very well written and insightful pieces about what it's like to grow up as a military kid. Some have been uplifting, casting away some doubts about raising our kids in a crazy, unique lifestyle. Some have been more serious and reminded us of the hardships they face; a pause button so that we can hug them and have patience when they struggle to adapt.

My friend Betsy wrote a wonderful piece, a letter to her children, that explains the importance of military families. "Military family" does not mean just a mom, dad, and kids. It is the amazing network of people we meet over the years, and the incredibly strong bonds that connect us. Our military family teaches us that the world is smaller and warmer than we could ever imagine. I love how she reminds her children about how it is people that matter, not stuff. When the military comes and packs up all of our things and puts it onto a truck (or a huge ship to go around the world), we are okay! We have one another and we don't need that stuff to survive. That alone is a lesson many kids will never receive.

When we moved to California last December, I called a friend and panicked because I hadn't packed any towels and all of our household goods were still somewhere in Nevada. I hadn't seen my friend in about 8 years, but 10 minutes later she was at my door with a pile of towels and a smile. I cannot explain how those easy friendships, ones that are always there, ready and waiting to help, weave a strong basket of support in which we all operate our lives. It is unique and something I am so happy my kids get to witness. The act of being completely willing to drop everything for a friend; to cook a meal, to do a walk through of a house, to bring over a stack of bath towels at 9PM. Friends who you haven't seen in almost a decade due to the military's web of moves, but who are there. In almost every state, in dozens of countries, we have our military family.

I often daydream about the childhood my kids are experiencing. Is it happy? Do they feel secure? What damage or improvements have been made by all of the change they have experienced in their short lives? Connor, my three year old, has lived in four states (MD, VA, KS, and CA). Kate, my 4 and a half year old, has attended three different preschools. John and I grew up in one town, attended the same set of schools with the same set of friends, and didn't branch out geographically until college. We both had happy childhoods. When I go home and look at where I spent summers at the pool or where I went horseback riding or played with my friends at the park, my stomach tightens. Those are my spaces. My husband's parents live in the same house that they raised their kids in. John gets to experience those smells and creaky floors and old wallpaper that surrounded him in comfort his entire youth. My kids won't get that one pool, or that one set of creaky stairs, or that one childhood friend to shape them. Is that okay?

When I was in graduate school for counseling, one thing that always amazed me was how resilient kids are. And since becoming a military spouse and mother, I have read countless articles that calm our nerves because, kids are resilient. They bounce back. They are malleable and forgiving and loving and will not be weathered by some of the things that give adults a lot of heartache and anxiety.

That's great.

But I don't want to raise my kids in an environment where I am depending on their resilience to not screw them up. My wish for them, more than anything else, is to become good people. To learn to be loving, service-oriented, smart, and loyal. To know that John and I love them and will be there for them no matter what; not as friends, but as their stalwart supporters in life. So at the end of the day, can the military lifestyle (and all that it entails) create an environment for that to happen?

After almost 11 years of this, I can honestly say, yes.

We don't frame our moves as leaving an old, familiar place. We frame them as new adventures. When our kids talk about Kansas, they actually say "mom, do you remember the preschool from our Kansas adventure?" And when we moved to California, we told them we were going on a new journey to a new place to have new adventures. We expose them to new food, new parks, and new cities. They have played on beaches in California, Virginia, Florida, and Michigan; they know intimately that Kansas has no beaches (the horror!). They make friends with ease and are quick to pull a shy kid under their wing. We lead by example in teaching them that our hearts should be open to friendship and to seeing the good in people. Kate and Connor actively compare their preschools; not in a wistful way, but in a smart and critical way. We talk about their likes and dislikes, and as preschoolers they have a very refined palate. 

They are learning about service. They know to stop playing and stand with their hand on their heart during Taps. They are good travelers and love to go on airplane rides and car rides to see new parks and places. They have driven through the flatlands of Kansas, the mountains of Colorado, through downtown Manhattan, and tornado ridden Oklahoma. While they don't have grandparents or aunts and uncles in the neighborhood, they understand that distance does not damper love. They know that they are very much loved and missed by their family, and enthusiastically wait for visits.

They are challenged. Challenged by missing their dad for months on end. Challenged by new bedrooms and houses. By saying "see you later" to so many people. But as parents we appreciate those hardships and do or best to frame them in ways that are teaching them good lessons for their lives. They might not get to experience the nostalgia of a one-town childhood, but they won't ever be lacking in adventure.

My motto: Understand - appreciate - comfort - then teach. Military families have so many unique opportunities to raise great kids, but we need to purposefully do so. It doesn't just happen, just like a flower won't grow without attention and pruning. So in the month of the military child, give your kid a big hug. They have overcome great things and lead very big and multifaceted lives. You are their biggest teacher, and the example you set over the course of their lives will mold them into who they will be for life.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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