If you’d asked 10-year-old me, if I ever thought I’d be close to anything resembling a spotlight, the answer would’ve been a resounding no.
One of the conversations that slammed through like a bolt, true and straight was when a senior spouse shared that life as a Commander’s spouse will, at times, be like living inside a fishbowl. People will know who you are on sight, your actions and conversations as you’re out and about on base can suddenly become a topic of conversation, and there’s a whole lot more “ma’am” everywhere. I don’t feel old enough to be in ma’am territory, but here I am.
Life in the “Big Commander’s House”
One of my very first spouses’ events was a low-key chat over coffee. I intentionally hoped I’d set an informal, open vibe – and instead of feeling guarded and reserved around me, spouses would feel welcomed, and want to build a connection not only with me – but with each other. It was a success, and that coffee was the first of many – and it led to rebuilding the unit’s spouses’ programs.
I’d been a Commander’s wife all of a week at that point, and couldn’t help but laugh at one of the first questions a “brand-new to the military” spouse asked me.
“What is life like in the ‘Big Commander’s House?”
In my mind, I was the same old me – my husband the same, just both of us in new roles. I hadn’t realized there was a distinction around us now, but there it was.
It’s largely just as normal as anyone else’s life. We have our Netflix shows (I love all things scary, including “Haunting of Hill House”), our hobbies, and a family pet that likes to barf on the living room carpet to keep us humble.
Sometimes, the “Big Commander” comes home and still thinks he’s in “issuing orders mode.” He’s not, and much to his chagrin – I let him know it.
Sometimes, I have to nudge him to take off his boots, and push him to pause for just a few minutes when he comes through the door glued to his phone. Sometimes the phone rings in the middle of the night. Those calls are never good.
Our home life has largely stayed the same, but there are more demands on our time and attention in it. We’re definitely much busier now.
Making Peace with a New Social Calendar
Once my husband took command, I was invited to all manner of coffees, luncheons, board meetings for Family Readiness/Key Spouse events, and a plethora of organizational and installation functions like Annual Awards Banquets and class graduations. Of course – as a civilian none of these events were “mandatory” for me, the protocol police weren’t going to come arrest me if I didn’t show up. And I couldn’t attend all of them, as I also worked – albeit a part-time job.
My first reaction, as an introvert – was to figure out which of these events I might be able to get out of. Until a pivotal first meeting on my new social calendar – which was actually with the Chief, First Sergeant and unit SNCO’s. Their enthusiasm was through the roof! They couldn’t wait to discuss the unit and family readiness events with me – and I truly realized in that moment how much lending my support meant. And I also realized the unique position to be in, to create and nurture a powerful positive environment of support and strength for so many members in our unit, and their families.
My calendar is much fuller now, and no, I still can’t attend all of the events. But I realized that with each event, each connection, each handshake and hug – the Esprit de Corp grows. I truly do care very deeply for every member of our units, and their families – and now realize the events for what they are; an honor to meet, connect, and support one another in this crazy military life together.
Importance of Being a Positive Example and Setting a Tone
Think of any job that you’ve had, and the boss was either having a bad day – or was just a rotten person to be around in general. It doesn’t take much negativity to spread like wildfire, even more so if it comes from the leadership, or their spouses.
I’m an optimist by nature, so I know I actively try to seek out the positives in life. I’ve been in units rife with negativity, and others bursting with optimism, and there is a marked difference in the quality of life and sense of belonging. This isn’t meant to imply that there won’t be problems, and often very serious ones, but as a Commander’s spouse, I am constantly focused on what example I am setting, and the “tone” I am sending to units, and in particular, our spouses.