By Claire Wood
So far, 2021 has proven to be a big year for our family. This year has held the highest of highs and the lowest of lows; truly it’s been a year of mountains and valleys. In the late winter and early spring, we had four family deaths — three of them sudden and unexpected.
In May, we hit our ten-year Army anniversary — the proverbial halfway point where we made the turn onward to the prized twenty-year retirement threshold. In August, we celebrated our 20-year wedding anniversary — no small feat by any standard, but a milestone for which I am incredibly proud especially due to specific challenges military life can pose to marriages.
This fall, my husband recently earned his next rank of service. I find myself equally proud as well as apprehensive at what his next jobs and responsibilities may entail with this honor. Additionally, our oldest child began his senior year — a time with mixed feelings of excitement and wondering whether he is adequately prepared for independence in his next phase of young adulthood. Are we?
As we have passed these many milestones, I have done quite a lot of reflecting back on what our first ten years of military life and twenty years of marriage have taught me. I have spent considerable time contemplating the lessons I’ve learned, what is most important, and what I hope my next ten or twenty years of life will be like. Below are the five beliefs I know for sure about what it means to be a military spouse.
1. You Get to Decide How You Are Going to Live Life
It’s true that it often feels like the military is calling all of the shots in your marriage and family. Duty calls and our servicemembers follow. Deployments, TDYs, long work hours, going to the field, training, and the heavy operational tempos of day–to-day military life certainly take up a lot of the energy in the home, both for the soldier and the family.
What I have learned is that I have little to no control over those aspects of my husband’s job. What I DO have control over is my attitude and how I choose to respond to those stressors. I choose (most days) to see the good in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. I choose to carry on with my roles and responsibilities within the home, welcoming my husband into them when he is available and attempting to work out my frustrations when he is not.
I choose to continue making memories, having fun, enjoying life, taking trips, visiting family whether my husband is available or not. I get to decide if I view this life as an adventure and a calling or an aggravation and a curse. Attitude is everything and having the right frame of mind will carry you far.
2. You Get to Decide What Fills Your Cup
I learned early on that no one else is going to really make sure my relational, emotional, or physical needs are being met. While the Army is certainly looking out for the servicemember, it’s up to me to institute rhythms and routines into my days to ensure that these aspects of my life are nourished.
If I want friends, I need to be a good friend. I have to be willing to initiate conversations, playdates, or coffee with others. If I want community, I need to be community-minded. I have to be willing to initiate visits to chapel or auxiliary ministries, local moms groups, or civic organizations I like to be part of. If I want good mental and physical health, I need to practice habits that will facilitate good mental and physical health. I have to be willing to initiate well-visits, counseling appointments, daily exercise, and nutritious eating.
As tiresome as military life can get and as much as I’d love to have someone coordinating all of these areas of my life for me, I get to decide what fills my cup and how I will choose to maintain my needs and wants.
3. Teamwork Really Does Make the Dream Work
While it can be easy to fall into the trap of “I must do it all,” or “The weight of the world will fall apart if I don’t carry it on my shoulders,” some of my best memories and seasons of military life have been when I have made myself available to sharing the load with others. Enter teamwork.
First and foremost, my husband and I choose to see our marriage and our nuclear family as a team. We cheer for and champion one another. We each pick up the slack when the other(s) cannot. We aim to all row the boat in the same direction, seeking to elevate and serve the other when possible.
Outside of the home, I have gleaned great value and belonging by serving and spending time within our unit coffee groups, women’s ministry groups, homeschooling co-ops, part time work within my fields of writing and teaching, as well as by opening up my home to various groups of friends and acquaintances. Find out what you enjoy and spend time doing those things with like-minded people. There is no I in T-E-A-M. Lean in to the strength you find in numbers.
4. Seasons Ebb and Flow
As much as I once held a deeply flawed view that life was somehow perfectly linear, I have seen over the past many years that it is definitely not. While time does move along chronologically, life seems to take many unexpected twists and turns. This can be downright jolting and disorienting if you aren’t looking out for it.
Not every aspect of life is going to be the same duty station to duty station. Sometimes I have been a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes I have leaned heavily into volunteering or part-time work. Other times, I have worked full-time and let some aspects of my role as Military Spouse take a back seat. Now I try to remember to see the good and enjoy the season I’m in knowing that good or bad — challenging or easy — it won’t last forever.
The same is true with parenting. Many years our kids were homeschooled. Some years we did co-ops. One year I taught at the private school my kids attended. Now my kids, all teenagers, are in the DoDEA schools on our post. Each and every school year has been met with joys and obstacles. We have met them head on and made it through each one successfully.
Some seasons of life I feel so on top of my household management game. The house is clean and tidy, we unpack quickly, the dinners are delicious, the laundry is folded, and my heart is full of hospitality to invite others inside. But there are other seasons where I struggle to see the beauty in our on-post quarters, we go for days or weeks without a cruciferous vegetable on our menu, and I’ve let a ring of mold fester in our shower.
Mentally, I find myself feeling both content and full of longing; excited and exasperated; full of energy and depleted. Life is full of ups and downs and there are seasons of peace, joy, contentment but also seasons of loss, grief, and the blahs. Both are normal. Both are to be expected. When life ebbs and flows as it is prone to do, just ease into the waves and ride them until they subside. I’ve always found that brighter days are often just around the corner.
5. You Can Do Hard Things with Great Care
In the past ten years, and particularly this year with the loss of my dad so very fresh, I have learned that I can do hard things with great care. Life in general and military life in particular is full of hard things.
There are long deployments. There are messy reintegration periods. There are parents or loved ones who die. There are miscarriages. There are diagnoses. There are long, long days of monotony or loneliness. There are hard goodbyes to friends, jobs, and communities we love. There are times when it’s hard to forgive. There are times when it’s hard to see parts of your dreams take a back seat. There are times when it hurts to watch our children struggle. There are pandemics. Often, these hard things feel hard because we find ourselves so invested in the outcomes.
Life can be rife with difficulty and disappointment. It’s just a part of being human. However, we can persevere through those difficult and disappointing moments. We can continue to put one foot in front of the other. We can lean on our spouses, our families, our friends, and our faith.
Every time we do the hard things we gain understanding, strength, and wisdom. We can have confidence, courage, and character. We continue becoming who we are.
More Thoughts on Life as a MilSpouse:
Solutions for Your Military Family:
Life Insurance, Wealth Management, Home Mortgages, Survivor Services, and more. Learn more about AAFMAA.