When we start a new year, many of us reflect back on the chapter of our lives that just ended and take stock. We think of things that worked well, the things that need tweaking, and the things we are absolutely no longer willing to tolerate. 2013 was filled with so many blessings, I cannot even begin to list them all. The blessing reached every single avenue of my life. Friendships, family life, professionally and personally.
But, abundant blessings can often take the form of tremendous stress… and by the end of 2013 I found my body and mind at a near breaking point. Things happened so fast, and these things were AMAZING. Because I didn’t want to miss a thing…I pushed myself and allowed myself to be pulled in different directions by everyone. And by the time the holidays rolled around, my body finally said “THAT IS ENOUGH”. I spent the better part of my vacation time really very ill.
It was a wake-up call for me. So many of the military spouses I know are in similar boats. We feel like because of the important work our spouses do… we should be moving mountains on a daily basis. We feel like if our spouse is deployed we MUST make up for the absence of that other parent in the household… by giving 200% all the time. We feel like we have had to be strong and independent for so long… we can tackle any and every thing that comes our way.
In the process we stretch ourselves thin, we neglect our own health, and we allow stress to take over.
I decided that I wasn’t going to allow it anymore. I was going to refuse to be pushed to that breaking point again… and that it was 100% MY RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that didn’t happen. Because ultimately, I am the one who dictates what I allow into my life.
Of course I couldn’t just wave a magic wand and “poof” fix all of the things in my life that were causing me stress, making me tired, or stealing joy. I need a plan. I am a planner. And a list maker. So I got to work. And here is my plan for 2014.
Three Things I Won’t Let Break Me this Year
1. Working Too Much
Now, before any of you start thinking the folks over here are slave-drivers, let me assure you… they are not. I love my job. But, just like many military spouses, I have more than one “job”. Relax. I get that some folks don’t consider being a mom a “job”. We will just have to agree to disagree. Raising kids is hard work. I also have other career aspirations that I focused on in 2013. And I have no intention of slowing down on them this year either. But, in an attempt to try and juggle all of them at once, all the time… I was spreading my focus too thin and as a result not being efficient. So now, my full-time job gets the attention it deserves DURING my set aside office hours. When I am practicing my music, I am focused on that 100%. And when I am spending time with my family, I am focusing on them. Admittedly, this has been hard to do… and I am not successful every time. Habits are hard to break. But when my toddler literally pushes my phone out of my hand to shove her favorite book in its place… the message is pretty clear. “Mom. I need you. THAT can wait.” Yep.
How do I do it? I put my cell-phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode after a certain hour each day. Only phone calls from specific people will come through. I plan out the week on Sunday, listing all of my office hours. The family knows them, my co-workers know them. I am getting better at sticking to them. I do as much work as possible through email instead of on the phone because I work with awesome people who I like, and I know we can talk too long. I went back to a “write it on paper” method. My lists are in a binder now, not on my phone or computer. Same with the calendar. Less time looking at my electronics means less time being distracted. And then I follow my to-do list. I get the hardest thing done first, then go from there. Check. Check. Check. Close the binder. Turn off the computer. Done.
I have talked about guilt in other pieces I have written. Most memorable is in the piece “I Adore My Husband, but I Might Need an Alibi Soon”. We can probably all say, to some degree, that guilt guides what we push ourselves to do. For me, I suffer from a terrible case of ‘Mommy Guilt’ right now. I have a teenager and a toddler. The teenager needs me… the toddler needs me… both in very different ways. And I traveled 10 months out of the year in 2013. My husband is the one that took the teenager to every single orthodontic appointment. My husband is the one who stayed home while I was gone. My husband did the majority of bedtimes and diaper changes. Sometimes I am absolutely overwhelmed with guilt.
But guilt is a destructive emotion. First of all, it is usually unwarranted. I stayed home with my oldest when she was a toddler. Certainly I never had guilt then, right? Of course not. It may not have been of the Mommy variety… but I felt terrible that the financial burden fell squarely on my husband’s shoulders. Now I work full-time and travel, but I am still home with my daughter a couple of days a week. Our youngest gets more time with Dad that the oldest did. There is no REASON for me to feel guilt. But I do.
Guilt is also a manipulator. We all know folks in our life who use this emotion to exercise control. They know that it can have great power… and they use it. And before we know it we are taking on too much, apologizing for being ourselves, or second guessing our sound decisions. No part of that is healthy.
Most importantly, guilt doesn’t make anything better. Was I “guilty” of not spending enough quality time with both my girls and giving them my focus? Probably. But I am also human and in the process of figuring out how to manage some important changes in my life. Feeling guilty didn’t help me… it just clouded my judgment further and kept me awake at night. So instead of feeling guilty… I am taking action. If something is not working and needs to be re-evaluated, I refuse to feel guilty. I refuse to be manipulated into doing something. I will sit down and discuss, come up with solutions, and implement them. Goodbye guilt!
3. Stressful Relationships
This is a tough one, and none of us escape it. As human beings we have the capacity to love and care about many different people, in a variety of ways. As military spouses, we have the unique challenge of re-negotiating our marriages after deployments. We struggle to strengthen the bonds with extended families that we are no longer in close proximity to. We also are in an endless cycle of making new friends, while keeping the old… as we move, they move, and move again… and again… and again. All of these things can lead to relationship issues. And sometimes those relationships can become stressful, not healthy… or downright toxic. And our ability to “fix” a relationship that has gone bad may be also affected by our military lifestyles.
In our marriages, we may not have the luxury of working on or resolving a problem before the next deployment cycle begins again. Our spouse may be struggling with things they are not ready to get help for and it can hinder the healing process if we are having issues. This doesn’t mean that we have to accept behavior that is not conducive to a healthy marriage… from our spouses OR OURSELVES. Fighting for my marriage continues to be on the top of my list for 2014… as it has been for the past 15 years… but I fall short. And I know what is on my list.
But last year I had a realization about certain friendships in my life. Ones that I had previously treasured. Some of them crumbled last year. Shattered into pieces. And it broke my heart. It caused a great deal of stress in my life, and I have vowed not to let it affect me in the same way in the future. Because relationships will end. People will change, they will decide they need something different that you are not willing to give. And none of us should feel guilty about it. We should take people at their word. If they say (either in words or by actions) “I don’t value this relationship anymore and want to end it”, we should respect that, grieve the loss and move on. Likewise if a relationship needs to be terminated on our end, we close the chapter, keep fond memories… and move on. Focus on the friends who truly know our heart, don’t expect perfection… and to whom we can give to and take from without keeping score.
What about you, fellow milspouses? What do you hope to change in 2014?