What I’ve Learned as a Military Spouse Is I Can’t Do It All

Balancing on my crutches, I took an awkward crutch-then-step, as I kicked an empty box across the floor with my good leg on a slow but stubborn mission to the recycling bin.

My husband sitting nearby asked what in the world was I doing? Why didn’t I simply ask for help? Hmm…a legitimate question.

While it seems silly not to seek help when you’re sporting a fractured hip like I am right now, I’m so used to figuring out things myself that I often revert to “task-mom mode” as I call it, that state where I forge ahead obstinately vs. taking the help that’s obviously right in front of me.

I’ve often said that when I married into the military, I truly didn’t know what I didn’t know. But, as years went by, I gradually grew into the military life and became well versed at dealing with separations, moves, and deployments like so many spouses before me.

And I now forget to ask for help when I could really use it.

Many of us are inspired by the image of Rosie the Riveter, the icon of women on the home front during the World War II era. We love the picture of strength and the “can-do” attitude of American women who picked up the slack for our country during that time.

My own grandmother was one of those left behind, and I’ve always loved her story of holding down the fort while my grandfather served in the Army in Europe. She juggled life alone as she gave birth to their first child, took college classes, and worked in a telegraph office. She had no idea that it would be 18 months until she’d see her young husband again.

It’s inspiring and affirming to hear these stories! But with the picture of women like her or the larger-than-life Rosie in our minds, what happens when we’re truly struggling? While military life is incredibly rewarding, it can also be incredibly challenging, and every military spouse will simply need help at some point.

1. Lead by Example: It’s Ok to Admit You Need Help

Sometimes we seasoned military spouses are too quick to swap our war stories or one-up each other. It can end up being like sitting in a room full of women comparing birth stories, “Oh, you had an 8-hour labor? Huh. Well, I had a 36-hour labor, which ended in a C-section!”

These turn into, “Oh, you’re moving across the country? Let me tell you about the time I PCS’ed overseas with 4 small children, husband deployed…and, oh yes, I’d just had major surgery…”

While the stories are true and we may have the best of intentions,  if we’re so busy regaling others with the hardships we’ve been through, it can have the unintended result of sending the message that lesser struggles aren’t worth speaking about. A young military spouse may not feel like he or she can admit to not coping well in the face of our thrilling “war stories.” Let’s remind ourselves it’s not a competition—there is no winner for the worst story.

2. Ask for Help When You Need It

There is no shame in admitting you could use a breather. Swap childcare with a friend, hire a sitter for a few hours, take a nap if you need it, build in time alone–whatever you need to get through and stay healthy for your family.

Be proactive vs. reactive.

3. Don’t be stubborn! (I am saying this to myself, too!)

And if your spouse is TDY or deployed, I’m here to remind you that you don’t get a reward for being a martyr and not caring for yourself! You aren’t doing yourself or your family any favors to always put yourself last. I know it’s hard to find time, but please. Find the time.

4. Learn About Military Spouse Resources and Pass It On

Keep some websites, phone numbers, and information at hand for yourself and to share with others: Military OneSource, your Key Spouse or Ombudsmen program, a local chaplain or counselor familiar with military family struggles, the Military Family Life Counselor on your installation (these offer free and confidential help), services and freebies for deployed spouses.

These can run from free oil changes to several hours of free childcare at your CDC.

Now, say it together with me: It’s ok to ask for help when you need it.

As for me, I’m currently looking for a willing recruit to take out the recycling!

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