There is nothing like finding your village, and I have found that the military community provides exactly that. Never before have I lived anywhere with so many people my age, who are home with children, whose spouses are all in similar lines of work. We milspouses can connect, relate, understand and – in short — we get it.

At our first duty station, I was a stay-at-home-mom to a six-month-old and a 2-year-old. Within weeks, I found women in my on-post neighborhood who were in the same boat. We all looked tired, were rocking our yoga pants, leggings, dry shampoo and travel mugs of coffee. We breastfed, changed diapers, said “ignore the mess,” dealt with toddler meltdowns, laughed and just got it.

As we grew closer, we babysat and even parented each other’s children. We weren’t afraid to step in and instruct other’s kids to share a toy, not to hit and we’d constantly prompt, “What do you say?” Her kids were my kids and vice versa. Beyond that, we started spending time together away from our children and bonded as real friends.

It was incredible to have so many women in a similar life phase within arm’s reach.

From Playdates to Paydays

Then one day it happened. One of my best friends decided that it was time to work again. She became an FCC provider caring for six children a week in her home for 12 hours each day. I supported her, was proud of her and encouraged her desire to take on a profession. I thought, “We’ll still see each other — she’s just right here in the neighborhood.”

Reality quickly hit me, that when she wasn’t working, she was cleaning, handling meal prep and preparing for home inspections. She was always tired from her 6 am to 6 pm work days, and if I was able to see her, it was because we met on a playground with our combined eight children… so you can imagine how feasible real conversation was.

I lost one of my best friends to the working world. She entered a new life stage and there I was, searching for new people with whom I could share playdates, drink coffee, converse as adults and assure that I wasn’t the only one wanting to tear my hair out some days.

My Own Transition

Fast forward a few years. I am now at another duty station and found yet another amazing milspouse tribe.

As a freelance writer, I gradually took on work, writing a few articles per month in my spare time from home, while still raising my children. But this fall, something massive happened — both of my kids started full-time school for the first time ever. Yes, having a kindergartner and a second grader meant that I was FINALLY FREE! After years of being a stay-at-home-mom, my time had come!

I envisioned manicures, coffee dates, massages and so much time with friends. I pictured a clean house (FINALLY) and catching up on Netflix while my boys were in school. After all, it had been years since I had the opportunity to go to the bathroom by myself without someone following and talking to me. That alone was life-changing, folks!

Instead, I decided to see every medical specialist under the sun (appointments for myself I had put off for years), because I no longer required a babysitter. I took on much, much more work, and realized that I wanted to see my friends, but I didn’t necessarily want to do so with a massive collection of children. Why? Because I no longer had to.

I had phased out.

Suddenly I was the one working, constantly on deadline, rushing to appointments, squeezing in workouts between articles and work calls. Suddenly I was the one no longer on the playground, at coffee dates and felt very much out of the loop.

I became the working mom. And it happened without me fully realizing it.

The Moral of the Story

I have talked with my friends and have thanked them for still inviting me to join them, but have explained that my life is now different. And I do continue to value them and make it a point to see them when I can, even if it’s just for a quick coffee or a glass of wine after the kids are in bed.

Yes, I miss them and they miss me, and just like the initial stages of parenthood, this phase basically smacked me up against the head and looked nothing like I imagined.

So what have I learned?

  1. Enjoy the present and make every moment count — before you know it, these days will be behind you.
  2. When you do go into the next phase, give yourself a little bit of celebratory downtime — you don’t have to go at the breakneck pace that I did.
  3. And lastly, no matter where you go in life or what stage you are in, keep those who are close to you in your corner. Never be so busy that you forget who is important to you. Make something for yourself, but also maintain key relationships — you’ll be happy and well-rounded as a result.

 

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A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops enjoys exploring the various facets of her personality by chronicling military life, world travels, family, her love of the arts and more. Her academic background is in the fields of Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and she has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. Jackie’s articles have been featured on Army Wife 101, Wall Street International Magazine, SoFluential, HomeAway, Military Biz Connection and FamiliesGo. While stationed in Germany, she regularly discussed her articles on-air with the Armed Forces Network in Wiesbaden. A mother of two, Jackie enjoys coffee, freelance writing, languages and discovering new ways to express herself. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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