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Confessions of a military spouse

Something that I have struggled with my entire decade as a military spouse is to find meaning in military life. When we first got married, I talked to seasoned spouses in our FRG and they would have these stories about how, "Oh, I remember this one deployment right after our first baby was born... He was deployed after our second was born as well..." Or, "That was the move that the movers broke half our furniture and the moving company was refusing to pay us a dime for it..." They all had these stories to tell about their misadventures as a military spouse.

As a newlywed, I would come home and (attempt to) make these elaborate dinners. I remember the night I made gravy with dumplings and he never came home until I was in bed that evening. I was so disappointed that I couldn't even eat any of it myself. I would tell this to the seasoned spouses and they would say, "Oh, yeah. My husband couldn't be reached when one of our kids broke a bone" or "when my car broke down in a snowstorm." I felt like, "What on earth have we got ourselves into?!" I felt like I was living far away from my family in a cold, unknown place.

We left our first duty station and I couldn't wait. I hated it there. I hated how cold it was. I hated our tiny, dark apartment. I hated how my husband was never home. We moved to Hawaii. And yet again, I was far away from family and he was never home. But instead of the bitter winters of New England, I had the eternal summer of Hawaii. I was really surprised at how much I actually missed from our first duty station. I missed my favorite coffee shop and this little bookstore that would special order books for me that they thought I would like. I loved that. I felt like, looking back, that I had spent a significant amount of time trying to see the negative side of things (which is easy for me, as I tend to be a pessimist). When, really, we were never going to live at that duty station forever. It was temporary-- only as long as we were stationed there with the Navy. I realized that instead of being so negative, I should view each duty station as an opportunity to live somewhere new for brief period of time.

Hawaii was easy for me to love, as I'm a beach bum. My husband was never home and when he was, we struggled finding our rhythm as new parents. He missed most of our oldest son's first year and I think it took him some time to get in the swing of parenting. By the time we got to North Carolina and had our twins, he was an old pro. But even with him being a great dad and a great husband, it is hard to find a comfortable balance with an ever-changing schedule. Just when we get used to one routine, it changed. Or we moved. We spent the whole time in South Carolina struggling to find our groove with the schedules. It was frustrating that just when we could make it work for our family, it would change again. I felt like, during that time, that I spent a lot of time forcing a routine for us, forcing a way for us to "feel" like a family. I felt like I couldn't ever rely on him to be somewhere because his schedule was constantly shifting, which made me feel like I had to have control over our children's schedules or else I couldn't handle them if we got off track. I felt like the only way for him to be an actual part of our lives was if he was home when I wanted/needed him to be, which I think made him feel like he could never live up to my expectations.

By the time we got to Washington state, we had learned a lot about ourselves. With 4 children now, I finally learned to let go. I learned that everything doesn't have to be done when I would like it to be done. I don't have to spend my husband's weekend off washing all the bedding in the house or whatever other task I had scheduled for that day. I learned that I can depend on him in a lot of different ways, but maybe just not the ways I had in mind originally. He surprised me with how many things he wanted to be part of and how involved he got in my life and the children's lives. For so long, I felt like I was only communicating with him in regards to his life. We learned about give and take and open communication and supporting each other better.

Even with all these lessons we have learned inside our home, I've struggled with who I am outside of our home. I feel like it is really hard as a stay-at-home parent to feel like I connect deeply with the community. I have made those connections and I have had duty stations where those bonds were there. But, for example, I will never be the mom who starts going to the same MOPS group with my first child all the way down to my last child. I will never be the mom who has one child go through an elementary school and each successive child goes after him and has the same teachers. I will never be the mom who already knows what preschool my toddlers will go to because that's the one we used with all our kids. I never have enough time to form mommy swaps so I can volunteer in my kids' classrooms or go to doctor's appointments without little kids in tow.

Those examples aren't me outside the home, but they connect me to the community. They connect me to friends and their kids. They give us roots. They take away the burden of having to constantly research preschools, elementary schools, worry if the nurse can tell our identical twins apart and know who has asthma, participate in their classrooms and get to know their teachers and classmates. These things allow other people to know my kids, know my journey, and to offer sound advice when I'm struggling, to applaud and cheer for me when we move through a hard age and stage or a big milestone for one of our children. These things also let me do that with other people and their children, which in turn allows me to see that, hey, other people are also struggling with this-- it isn't just me. Biggest of all, these kind of things give me freedom and flexibility to pursue passions and interests outside of the home or maybe even a moment to breath and find my center.

Because at each of our duty stations and with each of our moves, I feel like all I have done is add children. Add more kids to our family, which means I have more little people to manage. More little babies to bring with me to appointments. And less of a possibility to find a mommy swap because why, oh, why, on God's green earth, would someone volunteer for a mommy swap with a mom of 5 kids?

When we arrived in Washington, I felt like my husband and I had really hit our stride. We really seemed to be understanding each other on a deeper level. But the Navy life, which up until now had felt like one big adventure, suddenly felt too overwhelming. It felt like I was losing too much time with my husband. Our precious babies were becoming big kids too fast. We were losing these little years that we could be sharing with our families. I felt like my only means of communication with my friends and family was via text message and over the phone. I felt so isolated.

I've really wrestled with the meaning for being a career military family. Why are we doing this? Why are we putting our children through this? Ourselves through this? Missing our friends? Missing our family? Putting so much strain on our marriage and sanity? It feels like what we have put in to this military life is nowhere near what we are getting out of it. On top of that, I have no idea who my friends are and what kind of an impact I have made in the military community.

These thoughts have rolled around in my brain over the past year. One of the reasons I was excited about being a career military family is that the military spouse community lays heavy on my heart. I care about this community. I write my blog because I feel like that we as military spouses struggle constantly with everything I have just said-- creating normalcy, connecting, planting roots, and flourishing. We put so much of our own lives and our own selves on the back burner, just to support the demands of our spouse's job and the climate of a certain duty station. We think, "I will pursue that at a better time." I have put my degree on hold for years, waiting for the right time. We are proud of our spouses. We support our spouses. We have had so many amazing adventures and unique opportunities because of our spouse's careers. But at some point, there comes a time when we doubt and we wonder, "Is this right for me?"

My husband and I are nearing our eleventh wedding anniversary. I was thinking about this and who I am now compared to who I was then. I was thinking about my own seasoned spouse stories. The moves we've had go wrong. The number of duty stations we've had, the houses we've lived in, the schools our kids have gone to, how uncertain the next couple years are for us (where will we go next?). Even how uncertain the rest of this year is for us. We have so many changes coming up this year and our children have already been through so much. (Shout out to my parents for being an amazing support system!!!) And for myself, everything I've been through the past couple years. We are finally done having children. Our youngest baby is nearing a year and a half and normally by now we are trying for our next baby-- and this time we aren't! We are done! (I don't even have a uterus if we wanted to.) It's just crazy to look back at these years as a military spouse and everything that we have gone through and everything we have learned.

In a lot of ways, I still feel like that unseasoned spouse. Granted, I can set up a move on move.mil with the best of them and I have a whole system for our pack out and I can unpack a house in under a week with 5 kids, but there are still times when the military life feels like a dream. When I long to hold on to something real and firm that will plant me in the ground and I can dig in roots and flourish. When I worry that the storm will wash me away because I'm barely holding on. When I worry if my children are feeling the same as I do. When I don't understand how everyone else can dive into a new duty station and keep life rolling there, like they only turned a page and the story continues interrupted.

It is hard for me to let my guard down and to rely on new people and new places, especially when I know how fragile this military life is-- someone always moves. But I think a lot of military spouses feel that way, seasoned and unseasoned. I get emails from people apologizing for asking "basic" questions, "I'm really sorry for asking this, but I am new to military life... What is an FRG? Someone asked me to go with them and I don't know what that is." As military spouses, there is always something to learn. ALWAYS. It drives me insane sometimes because I feel like I never quite have a grip on this military life-- just when I think I have a good understanding, another acronym comes along and throws me off balance. My passion is for military spouses and this community. My passion is for learning how to find a balance between a healthy home life and moving every 1 to 3 years. My passion is for voicing what other spouses are feeling-- from figuring out sleep schedules for their kids, to finding a family routine with shiftwork schedule, to keeping moves organized with a busy and growing family... all these things. Being a military spouse isn't a compartmentalized aspect of life; it isn't just my husband's job (no matter how much I would like it to be). We have no rank. We do not go on deployments. We are civilians, yet struggle to plug in to the communities around us. We live places for short times and hang pictures on walls we know we will be repainting. We stay home and wait. I get all of that.

I think this last duty station broke my self confidence. I struggled the last couple years writing blog posts that I thought would match the tone of my blog-- optimistic, encouraging, or heartening. I struggled with depression a lot over the past year. I have recovered from my depression, but my confidence is still shaken. I made a lot of changes that were good for my mental health and got the support I needed. I have really struggled with how honest I should be about these things, "Should I talk about my depression? Anxiety? Struggles in parenting? Struggles with military life? Marriage?" And I always come back to yes. Because as I've opened up about my struggles and shared my story, I have heard from so many people, "Me too." It reminds me of my miscarriages and the babies we've lost. It hurts to talk about and it is hard to bring up in conversation, but when you speak about it, there is a connection with someone else walking the same road. I feel watery talking about these things. Weak. Unworthy. Unliked. Painfully honest. Ashamed. I feel like a failure. But I also feel like I'm not alone. And the judgement I pass on myself is not the judgement I give to others going through the same thing. I hear their stories and think they are courageous, for fighting those demons and for winning those battles and for putting one foot in front of the other each and every day. For parenting day in and day out when the schedule is always changing and the future is unknown and you are alone and isolated and angry at the military. It is such a hard place to be.

This is life as a military spouse. This isn't always how it goes, but these are my honest struggles. I feel like I am not alone and I feel like my voice should be heard.

Comments

Emily Haugen said…
I always enjoy reading your blog. I've been dating (and now engaged!) to a gentleman in the navy, and I think I found your blog when I was looking for halfway box ideas. I check in rather infrequently, but I enjoy it. It's gives me something to look forward to, and I feel a bit of a kinship with you, I'm also in Washington. I love it out here ( I grew up out here, my father was in the Navy and settled here once his contract was up), and it's interesting to think that when shore duty comes up, all of the places we might end up. Thank you for sharing though, it's good to have a frank view of what's in my future.

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