We’ve been told, mostly from brochures, pins on Pinterest or sayings on wooden wall hangings, that being a military spouse is the hardest job on earth. We mostly nod our head in agreement or smile with a half-witted smile. However, I don’t agree. I think we have it pretty darn good. It’s about perspective. We are much better off when compared to our predecessors – the military spouses and mothers that came before us.
My Aunt Wallie Ruth (named for after her father, Wallie and her mother, Ruth) was a military spouse for 26 years from 1950-1976. She was married to an amazing man, my Uncle Bob, who was a super hero of sorts back then. He was a Wild Weasel pilot during Vietnam War. He flew every type of jet the Air Force offered.
She was a military spouse raising three boys before there were base agencies directed to help dependents and support them. She was a military spouse before there was email, Skype, digital pictures or cell phones. Deployments were long and mostly went without notice. She was a military spouse raising a family during an era of turmoil, uncertainty, and war and she wouldn’t have changed a thing.
When my aunt and I chat over the phone, she always reminisces about the stories of life in the military. She gently teases me about how easy I have it now. She also reminds me not to take anything for granted – from spending time with my husband to investing in my military family – because I will not always be a military spouse.
1. Never underestimate a military spouse
My aunt hasn’t driven a car in years. She’s a quiet person and stays alone most of the time. She’s never had a career for herself, only the few jobs over the years. Aunt Wallie Ruth mainly loved the job of a stay at home mother and homemaker. She doesn’t like modern technology, fast cars or airplanes.
However, she’s a wife of a United States Air Force fighter pilot and a veteran military spouse. She raised three boys, ridiculously close in age, into amazing men – doing most of the parenting alone. Spent more time away from her husband than together through the first 10 years of their marriage. When given the opportunity to raise her teenage sister (my mother) she agreed without hesitation. Family always came first. She handled the money back in a time when women didn’t have checkbooks. She moved overseas and sent her husband off to war more times than she could count, knowing he was actively being shot at. No modern technology, no quick airfares to go home, no base support services. She did everything by herself, way more then we are expected to do today.
I’ve learned it’s a weakness to assume you know someone else’s life by the way they live today. Underestimating her would have certainly been your weakness. By judging someone from the outside, you run the risk of never learning their inner character and strength. She is by far the strongest person I know.
2. Some things never change
Deployments haven’t changed in 50 years. They are still short notice, still long, arduous and frequent. The time away is still painful and lonely. The memories they miss of the children growing up are still lost. A baby’s birth is still missed, birthday parties aren’t attended and communication remains hard. Being a mom is the most important job you can have when raising your military children through war. There are ways to stay strong on the homefront.
Overseas assignments are still seen as scary, but exciting adventures. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins and friends still miss the growth and connection of our families because we live an ocean or two away. Navigating different time zones remains frustrating, calls are missed and mail still seems to take forever.
Being reunited continues to be nerve racking and we still work tirelessly to ensure our house is clean and kids are still in one piece when they arrive home. Reuniting is still complicated and it is hard to avoid distance after distance.
Being alone with your husband again still has urgency. As my Aunt shyly stated, “When Bob would return home, I would hide jelly beans all over the yard and have the kids go on a jelly bean hunt. That would give us a good hour alone. (wink, wink).”
That’s a new one, I’ll have to try that!
3. Acceptance – you didn’t marry a car salesman
When I asked my Aunt Wallie Ruth how she dealt with the revolving war zone deployments and continual moving with three little boys and an adopted sister in tow, she responded with an answer and shrug of her shoulders:
“We just rolled with the punches. You can’t change it and I know what my husband did for living. It’s up to me to make the best of it.”
I realized there are certain things I have to accept from my husband. He is not a car salesman and he doesn’t work for a hometown company. He doesn’t have set hours at work, he may not be able to make it home for dinner most of the time. His office is an intricate part of the national defense of this country. So if there is ever someone that deserves a pass on preschool activities, dinner at home or forgetting a T-ball practice, it may very well be my husband.
My husband is in the military and therefore the military moves him where he is needed next. He can’t change the location of our next PCS anymore than I can. However, I can get help to help the PCS go smoothly. It’s unfair to blame him for the rapid pace of moving or the place we must raise our kids for a few years. Acceptance. Soon enough it will be time for the family to lay roots; but until then, we roll with punches.