You’ve probably encountered a military spouse who just doesn’t have it together. We’ve all had those days where the kids are screaming, our house is crazy, we haven’t showered in… wait, how many days now? You get the point. We’re not talking about the spouse who doesn’t have it together once in a while — we’re talking about the one who habitually struggles.
So what do you do about it? Do you laugh at her? Do you gossip over coffee or wine with your neighbors? Or do you reach out and see if there is anything she needs or anything you can do to help?
It’s all too easy to pass judgment, to feel relief that your life isn’t that bad, and you may even look at the gossip opportunity as a way to connect with other spouses. But what is that really accomplishing? Nothing positive, I’ll tell you that.
When Spouses Are Visibly Struggling
When we PCSd to our first duty station, we came into contact with spouses who either flourished or floundered. We lived OCONUS in Germany, and while many embraced the castles, villages, Christmas markets, restaurants, and travel opportunities, others felt completely lost and isolated. They had never left the country before, were nervous about not understanding the language, customs, or signage, and had never been so far from family before. It was quite the dichotomy of experiences on one small military installation.
The day the movers delivered our household goods, something else entered our home — a toddler eating a peanut butter sandwich. There was no parent to be found, and this small child just wandered into a stranger’s house to watch a team of more strangers unload boxes. When we figured out where he lived (just a few houses down), we walked him home to find that his front door was open and his mom had no idea that he had left the house.
I took it upon myself to invite her to have a playdate on a playground a few times, but she always refused. I made sure she knew about our online spouse groups so she could connect with others from the comfort of her own home, if interested. I don’t know that anything really stuck, but just making the effort versus saying “not my problem” meant a lot to her, and she always felt appreciative.
Not Making Ends Meet
When we moved back Stateside, our family next door had five children, in the age range of elementary school down to a new baby. The little kids were on their own for their walk to and from the bus stop, even though the on-base protocol asked that there be someone waiting at the bus for kindergarteners. Knowing that I was going to be at the bus stop with my kindergartner and toddler anyway, I asked if it would help her if I walked her kids too. She was appreciative and said that it didn’t make sense to haul everyone to and from the bus stop every day. This helped immensely.
As the weather transitioned from fall to a cold Maryland winter, something else caught my eye — her kids didn’t have winter clothes. In freezing temperature, they had no hats, gloves, or coats. I mentioned this to another neighbor who immediately said, “You should call CPS on her.” I had a better idea. I touched base with several friends to see if they’d be willing to donate any winter gear they weren’t using, and they loved the idea. We made an anonymous drop on her porch in several paper Commissary bags, and were thrilled when she made a joyous post on Facebook, thanking whomever did this, and that their family needed the blessings.
Another day, when bumping into her outside, I also made sure she was familiar with some of the free services we qualified for, such as WIC and free and reduced meals at school (which our military family also used, loved, and appreciated).
What Can You Do About It?
In both of these examples, doing nothing was an option. Causing harm by gossiping or trolling them online was an option. I don’t know about you, but when I am helpful and of value, it makes me feel good. Not everyone will accept your help, but what is the harm in:
- Asking if someone is okay?
- Offering to babysit?
- Inviting them for a playdate or night out?
- Sharing food?
- Letting them know about on-base events or helpful groups?
- Educating about local and federal resources which can make all the difference?
- Or simply being kind?
The next time you see a military spouse struggling, I encourage you to reach out, connect, and see if there is anything you can do. It may make all the difference in the world to that family. You never know — there may come a day where you need a little extra support too (I know I have)! I encourage you to pay it forward and support your fellow military spouses.
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