When my husband and I first started dating, I worked three jobs and was attending school with the hopes that I would be entering the nursing field. In fact, I was working so much that I quit my 3rd part-time waitressing job in order to be able to spend more time with my soon-to-be husband. After we got married and the first baby came along, I went right back to work as soon as I could land a job. I also switched up my career field so that I could attend college on-line in order to balance the demands of work, motherhood and being a military spouse. It wasn’t easy but I enjoyed it. In fact it never once occurred to me to ever stop working in order to be a full time stay at home mom.
Even when my husband’s career demanded more and more time away from the house and it became very apparent that my job as a mom was going to demand 100% of my time and attention; I never stopped thinking of the next career and education steps for myself. It took me two years longer than I anticipated because I had to drop from full-time to part-time student, but I did eventually complete my B.A. degree. Reality hit for me though almost at the same time that my lovely, bright & shiny new diploma came in the mail. There was no way I could go back to work.
My husband was just gone too much and cost of child-care for a nanny or even day-care was more than what I could possibly hope to make in the area where we live. Because I was often the sole parent — the responsibility of sports, school activities and sick-days — fell squarely on my shoulders. What employer wants to hire someone who genuinely can’t look them in the eye and be 100% dedicated to their work?
Unfortunately, this is a situation that is felt throughout the military community. Spouses are faced with the difficult decision of putting their careers on hold in order to support the career of their loved one. Let’s face it, you can’t exactly tell a deployment “Hey, sorry but..I have to go intern in another city so my husband needs to be able to pick up the kids after work. Ok? Thanks!” Also unfortunately, spouses get labeled with a huge stigma about this. They are called “Lazy”, “Dependas”, “BAH-stealers”, “Tricare wives” and lots of other uncomfortable terms that I don’t really think are appropriate to write about. For a long time those terms stung when I heard them, regardless of whether they were directed towards me or not. I felt lumped into a category of women that I wasn’t entirely convinced existed. I had never once met a wife who looked me in the eye and said they married their Soldier for the BAH and free healthcare. Or at least, they were smart enough to never confess it.
What I have met are women who feel trapped between a rock and a hard place. Women who live paycheck to paycheck on that oh-so-glamorous BAH and feel pressured to work just to make ends meet. I have met women who are torn between being a “good” mother and trying to help support a young family by taking on any odd babysitting or cleaning jobs they could. I have met women who put off their own careers and even starting a family because the timing isn’t right and they just can’t afford to attend college at that time. Or they are working hard to finish their degree and get the education they desire so that one day they can be that extra income and support system for their family.
I’m sure that for these women, some of their dreams and plans didn’t exactly work out as they expected as well. In fact I would place a bet on it because that is just life. We should not talk down about these women, or place them in un-seeming categories simply because they fall under the umbrella of being a military spouse, especially if you are one yourself. I’ll say that again, especially if you are one yourself. Because no matter the personal choice to work or not work, to educate or not educate, when you point the finger and label another spouse, the old saying that “three fingers point back at you,” holds true. So let’s not judge another spouse’s situation ladies, and if you absolutely have to, keep it to yourself. You make the rest of us look bad.
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