By Jaimi Erickson
When we arrived at our first duty station as a married couple, I just assumed a village of support would exist. I had envisioned neighbors showing up at the door to introduce themselves.
Then, after we unpacked all of our household goods… nothing. I did not see one neighbor on our street. I really expected the village to just show up. The military movies I’d watched had made me think a village was just supposed to be there. I was ready to join in and be part of it.
But there was not a single person around. It felt like a ghost town. Our street was in transition due to renovations. A few homes were vacant. I began to feel very defeated about the rank dynamics and empty neighborhood.
We had just had our first baby six weeks before that PCS move. Living in our first military base home was exciting. Even though I tend to be more introverted, I was willing to go meet the neighbors. I just never saw anyone.
Community did not exist when we first moved on base. I wanted to fix that.
Military spouses are great at seeing problems and solutions. It may come from all those times we parent and run our households when our spouses are gone on deployments. Whatever the reasons, I knew there had to be other spouses that wanted a sense of community on that base.
I wanted friends. I wanted a feeling of community. So, I decided to help create one.
Community Building as a Military Spouse
My first step was to lean in to the friends that I already had. The two other women and I all had our first babies around the same time. Even though they lived off base, we got together every week to have coffee and chat. The babies played on their tummy time mats and we got to build our friendships.
We walked together while pushing strollers. We gathered for dinner when our husbands were all deployed. They supported me when I had to have surgeries during that year-long deployment. We were a small group, but we became family for a season of military life.
In the midst of this, I kept watching out for other neighbors to meet. I still held the ideal in my mind that I would have an on-base village of support some time.
When my friends moved away, I was back to square one when it came to being part of a community. A renovated home was available to us. We had to move. Of course, this was smack in the middle of the year-long deployment, and it was eight weeks after I had two major surgeries.
After we moved into the newly renovated home, my husband’s two weeks of R&R leave was over. He redeployed to Iraq, and I was again without a village. It is bizarre to think about now. So much of the military spouse life we live solo. The idea of a village is not always a reality.
I kept hope alive though. My first step was to be outside. I took my then-toddler to the playground every afternoon. After naptime, we walked down the block and he played at the playground before dinner. I thought just being out would allow me to notice neighbors. If they walked by, I could say hi and introduce myself.
After a few weeks, what was just a hope became a reality. I actually met a neighbor at the playground. As we hung out together, we started making plans to foster community together. She helped me start a neighborhood playgroup, and we built it into a regular meet up. I met the best friends I have ever made in the military through this group!
This all happened while my husband was gone. In fact, when he finally got home, I had made a life at our duty station while he had barely lived there yet. Life as a military spouse feels like a life unto itself. We live parallel to our servicemembers while working towards the same mission of service.
Quick Ideas for Building Community
There are numerous ways to build community where you live. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:
- Take cookies to a new neighbor — or one you’ve know for a while..
- Email the spouses in your servicemember’s unit to invite them over for coffee.
- Attend base playgroups or family events.
- Sign up for the outdoor activities or spouse nights in your housing neighborhood.
- Start the discussion at the playground when another mother is there with her child. A great starting question is “How old are your children?” or “How long have you guys been stationed here?”
We can also build spouse connection by creating spouse groups in our unit. Attend the activities at your base or local area. Take the kids to the playground every day on the chance that someone else will be there to meet.
Action in the Waiting Periods
Military spouse life is complicated. It really is. It also takes a boat-load of patience as we wait. We wait for our spouses to come home. We wait for orders telling us where we will move next. We wait for our careers to find a foothold. We wait for community, but we may find that this is not always one we have to wait for because in the waiting, we can take steps to build what we want. We can build community where we are just by going through our daily life looking for it. When it comes to having a sense of community, one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to wait for it to come to you if you build it up yourself right where you are.