Dear Military Spouse,
God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
(John Milton, “Sonnet 16: On His Blindness”)
I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to write for the military spouse community for several years and I’ve noticed a shift in attitude lately, especially regarding articles that shed light on the military life challenges or not-so-fun aspects of military life.
It’s along the lines of “Get over yourself … this isn’t about you …YOU’RE not in the military … this only affects the military member—not the family.” I’ve been shot down in the comments section over articles I’ve written that were intended to be encouraging on some aspect of military life.
I find it an interesting contrast to the fact that our top military leaders recognize the toll that military service takes on families and the sacrifices regularly made by military spouses and offer help and support through programs such as Key Spouses, newcomers’ orientations for new military members and their spouses, and support for deployed spouses.
I recently had the privilege of meeting Deanie Dempsey, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey, who commented that if we could somehow bottle up what makes a military spouse, we’d have something special. Movies like “American Sniper” provide insight on specific ways military families have been affected by years at war, and even military service organizations such as the Air Force Association offer events such as the Spouse and Family Forum in recognition of the need to provide support for military families.
Why does it matter?
Why not just ignore the ignorant, those who don’t understand military life, those who’ve never served, and who probably don’t have a clue of what’s involved?
Because, unfortunately, some of those voices come from within the military spouse community itself.
I could chalk it up to immaturity and inexperience. I suspect that some of this arises from a spouse’s need to be their own person, to feel independent, to insist that the military will not dictate how THEY will live their lives. And I get that.
But I fear that other young spouses will hear and believe the detractors, which will ultimately have a detrimental effect on them and their families. I worry they will come to believe that it’s somehow shameful to say that military life does affect them very much indeed, or admit that they’re not doing OK and could use some support.
So, to those who trumpet, “You’re not in the military, you knew what you were getting into, get over yourself” yadayadayada, while I defend to the death your right to say what you feel, I will tell you that in this case, I believe you to be simply wrong.
Doesn’t affect the family?
Tell that to my preteen son who I found holed up in a corner of his room after his dad shipped out to a scary place in the post 9/11 military we found ourselves suddenly thrust into. (We’ve been around long enough to remember how different military life was before that event.)
Tell it to my daughter-in-law, who said goodbye to her husband of one month—that same son—for 10 months of military training. And understand that this isn’t an uncommon way for a military couple to spend their first year of marriage. But though they’d both been raised in military families, I think it’s safe to say neither of them were truly prepared.
Tell it to me and my four kids, who, after an exhausting 20-hour flight as we moved (because the military said so) from a remote Pacific island to North Dakota, found ourselves walking down the street, huddled en masse against the cold, to get to the commissary for milk before it closed while my husband dealt with issues checking us in at billeting and getting our rental car.
Tell it to my daughter who just left her best friend…again…to move across the world.
Tell it to my family who spent 2 out of 4 years with our husband and dad deployed.
Tell it to me, who’s spent more wakeful, lonely nights than I could have ever anticipated and wouldn’t wish on anyone. Who smiles when family or friends talk about ‘how hard’ it is when their spouse goes on a 5-day business trip and is actually glad that they won’t ever have to know anything harder.
Tell it to the young spouse, desperately trying to find after-hours childcare for her little ones so she can get to her job on time while her husband works swing shifts.
Tell it to the commander’s spouse whose loved one just left for a 1-year command in a combat zone. The one no one calls to check on because “they’ve been doing this a long time and are probably just fine.”
Military life doesn’t affect the family? Doesn’t affect spouses? Really? Unless you go live in a cave and have nothing to do with military life or pretend not to care if your spouse is deployed or gone, it’s just going to. (And guess what? It DID affect you! You live in a cave!)
When we married 27 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how much the military would dictate our lives. But it does. And it will until we retire. And even then, I suspect that it will continue to impact us all as long as we are alive. And yes, at some point, a military spouse has to make peace with that fact and look at the positive, and I have become well versed in that art. But it’s also OK to admit that sometimes it simply sucks and press on.
With less than 1 percent of Americans serving in the military, it’s critical that military spouses support and care for each other. Let’s stop the shaming and realize we’re in this together.
We also serve who only stand and wait.