My Military Life | A Blog by the National Military Family Association
A Blog by the National Military Family Association. We provide families of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOAA with information, work to get them the benefits they deserve, and offer programs that improve their lives.
One common misconception of Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) families is that they don’t move around as much as active duty families. For a few, that may be true. However, for most AGR families, moving frequently is a very real part of life. As if moving every couple of years was not pain in the butt enough, if that family has school aged children, those frequent moves can bring even more complications when their kids move from school to school. Everyone experiences changing schools differently. Some have great experiences. Others? Not so much! I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. As will anyone who moves frequently.
One of the troubles we ran into was not a surprise and I can’t imagine we’re the only ones to experience it. Our oldest had behavioral concerns to begin with, so we expected him to take a little longer to make new friends after the move. Six months after our most recent move, he still had nobody he called a friend. When I asked him why, he said he didn’t want to make friends because we’re just going to move again. It is pretty heartbreaking to see your once outgoing, friendly, and happy little boy become reserved and afraid of new experiences. Again, it was not entirely unexpected. Nonetheless, it was one of those things we hoped wouldn’t happen.
We also ran into complications with his Individualized Educational Program (IEP). He was diagnosed with ADHD and had an IEP in place at his previous school that met the minimum federal requirements, but did not meet our new state’s requirements. In order to get a new IEP in place, we had to go through the assessment process all over again, which, at his previous school, took months to complete. Having a child with a behavioral disorder, or other special needs, comes with a new set of complications and there is a good chance you will have to go through the assessment process at every school your child attends. Luckily, his latest school is amazing and they were able to finish the process very quickly.
Unlike the not-wanting-to-make-friends issue, the next caught me completely off guard. Our son’s previous school was on an active Army post, so every student at his school had a parent serving or who worked for the military in some other capacity. His current school is located nowhere near a military installation and the number of students in his school who have a parent serving is significantly less. He is likely the only military kid in his class. Why is this an issue? For a class activity, our son was asked what some things were that are special about his life and his family. He did not think being a military kid was one of those things because he thought everyone in his class was a military kid. It never dawned on me that we would have to explain to our children that not everyone has a mommy or daddy who serves in the military. I feel a little silly even mentioning it. It seems like a no-brainer now, but I never thought it would become a concern.
A year after our most frequent PCS and I’m happy to report our oldest little man decided making friends wasn’t such a bad idea, his academics get better every day, and he’s beginning to understand that not every kid is part of a military family and is learning to take pride in being a military kid. Just in time for the end of the school year. Here’s hoping we won’t get new orders before the next year begins.
Can you relate to any of these education struggles? You’re not alone! Check out NMFA’s Education Revolution and hear more stories of military families fighting for the best education for their kids. And leave your experience in the comment section!
Posted by Andrea Bitterman, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer
Back in the day, I went to various day and overnight camps during many summers in my youth. As an only child, with both parents in the military, and living with my grandparents while my mother and father served our country, it was important to all the adults in my life that I have somewhat of a normal childhood. So attending a camp with lots of diversity was the ultimate decision.
Summer camp for me was very special because I was able to learn how to ride a horse, get better at my gymnastics, cheerleading, and swimming skills, do archery, and so many more fun and exciting activities. Plus I made lots of new friends.
When I became a military spouse and parent of an only child, extending the tradition for my daughter to go to summer camp was something that I knew had to be done. Our child learned how to do ballet, play tennis, soccer, and again meet new friends. These experiences have helped shape her into an outgoing college student.
Working at the National Military Family Association as an Operation Purple Program Manager is very important to me because I have lived the military experience as a child, and now an adult. We have partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project again this year to make it possible for over 1,200 children to attend an Operation Purple Camp at one of 12 locations in 11 states.
The camp locations that we partner with already have a passion, profession, and purpose for kids. And we add the training of teaching the counselors and camp staff to help the military campers overcome the stressors that come with their parent or guardian’s military lifestyle. During the camp week, kids learn how resilient they are by playing numerous and different activities, learning lots of new things, including environmental education, and meeting new friends that are just like them in many ways.
Camps also host a Military Day during the Operation Purple Camp week that helps military campers feel more connected to their service member and understand that the whole family serves our country in different ways.
Operation Purple Camp wants to do our part and help by sending military-connected children whose parents/guardians have been wounded, ill or injured (medically retired, medically discharged, active duty and reserve) or deployed during a 15-month deployment “window” (December 2016 – June 2019 includes pre, during, and post-deployment phases) to a free week of summer camp. Even if you are not a service member, military spouse, or kid, everyone has a family member that has served in one or more of these three important roles. So we should all care about these military kids because they are a part of this country’s future!
For a military family with school-aged children, moving and changing schools can feel like flying an airplane blindfolded. An experienced pilot knows the runway is out there somewhere. The pilot trusts skills, instincts and instruments to execute that perfect three-point landing. When it comes to landing at the right school for our kids, military parents know it’s out there, too. We have to trust our instincts as parents, our experience in military life, as well as important tools to create a smooth landing in a new academic environment.
Military families who move with school-aged children know how different schools can be from one assignment to the next. Each state, for the most part, manages and controls its own schools, so from funding to curriculum and education standards, a child’s academic life can change each time a family moves.
Military-connected students can be affected by any of fifty varying state standards, as well as those of the Department of Defense Education Activity, which runs the schools our kids attend at overseas and some stateside assignments. Within each state, districts and local schools also have their own curricula, academic standards, budgets, placement criteria and more.
Challenge 1: The Official Transcript. Parents may not think an official transcript should present a problem; but it can if it’s the only information a receiving school has about a new student. The sealed manila envelope handed over when a student withdraws from school may contain only one school’s version of a student’s education history—possibly only a few flimsy sheets of paper. Schools send what they have at the time of a student’s withdrawal, which may be just one year’s record of grades. At best, it may also include a reading assessment and maybe the results of a recent standardized test. None of these, together or separately, provides a complete picture of the student’s abilities and needs to a new school.
Solution: An Unofficial Transcript. Parents can create their own record of a child’s education from kindergarten through high school, an unofficial transcript. In our book Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers, my co-author Amanda Trimillos and I call this an Education Binder and provide complete details about how to build it. An Education Binder is a portable record of the personal and academic history of a military-connected student. The binders I keep for my two children hold their complete educational history compiled and maintained by me, often with help from key educators.
My kids’ binders include information about where they excel and where they need improvement, to help a teacher and school meet my children where they are. In my kids’ binders, I include things like:
• Letters from previous teachers about my kids and their abilities
• Work samples that show their strengths and weaknesses
• Past report cards and standardized tests to show academic progression
A military student’s complicated academic story will never truly be told with an official school transcript. The Education Binder completes the picture and can be presented to the receiving school for enrollment and class placement. This PCS Education Checklist from NMFA is also a great printable resource to help!
Challenge 2: Mismatched Curricula. A major issue facing military students is the mismatched curricula they may face with every move. Some discrepancies are expected with each grade and school change. Repeated school changes over the academic lifetime of a student—six to nine changes, according to DoDEA—means high potential for mismatched curricula and patchwork of content standards. A student in a new classroom may be either ahead or behind in his classmates, or ahead in some subjects and behind in others. All these variables can hamper learning progress. This can create a cumulative effect on a student’s education when those discrepancies are not addressed with each move.
Solution: The Parent-Teacher Team. From the first day at a new school, it’s important for parents and teachers to become a team of support for a student. Parents can request a meeting with the teacher to discuss the past several schools, standards, strengths and weaknesses. Use the Education Binder you’ve built for your student as focus of the meeting.
Teachers have twenty or thirty students in each class. Don’t let your military student get lost in the crowd. Give new teachers an awareness of your child’s academic history so they can provide the best support and the smoothest landing at a new school.
Challenge 3: Assumption. Military families facing school transition may assume a receiving school will take into account a student’s past placement in school programs when placing them at a new school. Parents may assume a school or teacher will recognize a student’s needs and test and place him appropriately. However, states, school districts and individual schools vary widely in curricula, standards and acceptance. (See Problem 2). Aside from federally supported Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 accommodations, states and school districts set their own policies and standards for services supported, activities offered, and credits accepted.
Solution: Never assume anything. It is up you, the parents to understand the challenges your student may face with any school transition. Do the homework and research new schools. Read the fine print about credit acceptance, special education, testing and placement for gifted or other special programs. Ask for help from the school liaison officer assigned to your military installation to help navigate the differences. Contact the guidance counselor of the receiving school as early as possible to discuss standards, services, and placement. Get any decisions or agreements in writing.
Schools have hundreds or thousands of students, each with their own needs. Military-connected students can get lost in the shuffle at a new school, if parents don’t take the initiative to learn the ground rules and help educators understand the unique lives of military-connected students.
Just as a pilot trusts skills, instincts and instruments when making a safe landing, military parents can develop skills, trust their instincts, and use the right the tools to bring their students in for a smooth landing in a new academic environment. The tools and information are available, and there’s no reason to fly blind when it comes to school transitions for military-connected students.
What tricky situations have you encountered with your military student? How did you navigate that perfect landing? Share your experiences in the comments!
Posted by Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman, NMFA Volunteer, Air Force spouse, writer, mother, and advocate within the military family community. As a parent-to-parent trainer for the Military Child Education Coalition she leads workshops and seminars on topics related to military-connected students. She is the coauthor with Amanda Trimillos of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Tips for Parents and Teachers. More information at SeasonsofMyMilitaryStudent.com
On my return flight home from Boston, I found myself crawling my way off the plane with a case of the flu. I had just returned home from a long week of traveling for work. And little did I know, my day was far from over. I walked through my front door to find my 16-month-old son on a breathing treatment with RSV.
I literally laid down on my living room floor and said “I’m done.”
It was at that very moment I made the decision to do something different. I knew I wanted more flexibility in my life to be there for my family and spend time with my growing children. And my current job just wasn’t cutting it. While I had those desires and dreams, I never set out to be an entrepreneur. Hence, why I often like to label myself as an “accidental entrepreneur.”
Since that living room floor moment I had in 2004, I’ve started four businesses in the last thirteen years in the apparel, software, and service-based industries. I’ve also successfully sold one business, while two others are still in operation today.
So, you might be wondering: how did I get started on my journey?
Well, simply put, I walked into my boss’s office with a proposal in hand. That proposal highlighted all the reasons why they should hire me on as a contractor to finish out the projects I was currently involved in.
Transitioning from full-time into an independent position would allow me more flexibility, while they would be able to fulfill their current obligations without training anyone new. (Plus, I actually ended up getting paid more! Go figure.) It really was a win-win situation.
From that point on, as I was working from home and being my own boss, my entrepreneurial spirit was growing by the day. Suddenly, I was 100% in charge of my own schedule and the amount of money I was bringing in.
Was it scary? YES! But, was it worth it? Absolutely!
Over the years, I built a successful software consulting business working with government contracts and healthcare clients. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks. And that can be downright terrifying.
But, because I made the leap and started my own business, I was able to fund my other endeavors. I could finally spend more quality time with my kids (I have four of them, so believe me when I say I know the chaos with kiddos). Not to mention, I could succeed without having to depend on my location. Like all good stories, however, there’s a twist…
I became an active duty military spouse.
My husband, who was a reservist at the time, came home one day to tell me he wanted to go active duty. Of course, I was 100% supportive because, being a business owner of a virtual business meant I can pick it up and go wherever, whenever. So, what did we do? We started our military family journey.
When we moved into our first predominately military community, I was amazed to find out that many of the talented and highly-educated spouses around me were struggling with unemployment.
This space was new to me and I had no idea this problem existed. Seeing spouses unable to continue their careers lit a fire in me. And, that inspired me to begin hosting coffee dates and sharing how I translated my skills into a new business of my own.
After that, we moved four times in five years of active duty service. Talk about baptism by fire!
During one of our short PCS moves, I met my co-founder, Erica McMannes, at Fort Lee, Virginia. We kicked off our relationship in an online fitness group. Through it, we shared our stories of business ownership and professional experiences as military spouses. But, like all military spouse friendships, ours was cut short by another PCS.
Two years later, I got a message from Erica out of the blue with an idea to create virtual job opportunities for the military spouse community. She knew I had the business and tech background to help make this happen, and I was instantly onboard. Thus, MadSkills was born and we officially launched it in 2016.
Since then, we’ve worked with more than 25 employers, placed 60 military spouses in virtual jobs, and we have an internal team of seven military spouses helping us achieve our mission. Now, we’re coming out of the startup phase of business and growing in year two with more than 2,200 military spouses in our talent community.
From the very beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s not always easy, but it’s a great path for military spouses looking for seamless portability. You just have to pick the right business!
That said, I’d like to leave you with some of my key takeaways after being a business owner for 13 years now:
Activate your grit—you need a whole lot of grit to make it on the entrepreneurial path. It’s okay, though. If you’re a military spouse, grit is practically your middle name.
Don’t be afraid of partnering with someone—my cofounder is my battle buddy. She compliments my skills, challenges me to be better, and is always in my corner as we work to achieve the great things in store for MadSkills. Having someone working towards the same dream as a team is priceless. Just make sure you pick a good one, like mine!
Know when to delegate—you’re not going to be good at everything. Please take time to recognize when outsourcing or bringing on another team member might help you move things along faster and more efficiently.
Find a mentor—a mentor helps get you where you want to go at a much quicker pace. You want someone who is honest and successful so you get the feedback you need to grow your business. A good mentor is worth their weight in gold.
Good luck on your journey. Let your passion drive your purpose and keep reaching towards your goals!
Have you ever started a business? What tips would you give someone who’s considering it?
Posted by Liza Rodewald, military spouse and cofounder of MadSkills
About 5 years ago, this month, we were packing up for our first PCS in the Army Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) program. My husband had been in the Reserves for several years at that point and was itching to go active duty. Well, the problem was going active duty from the reserves was easier said than done, so we decided AGR would be a good way to get his foot in the active duty door.
Being an AGR family means your soldier is a reserve or National Guard soldier who is active duty. Now, being active duty as a reserve soldier doesn’t automatically mean an overseas deployment. While most reserve soldiers have civilian jobs to pay the bills, AGR soldiers work full-time for the Army (or other branch) on top of drilling with the rest of the soldiers at that particular unit. AGR soldiers, along with civilian and Department of Defense employees are the people that keep things functioning on a day-to-day basis at reserve units throughout the country.
Though, we are still fairly new to the AGR lifestyle–only having PCSed 3 times–I have learned a few things along the way I wish active duty families knew about us:
It’s not all butterflies and rainbows. We were at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, an active duty Army post, for our last tour. Living on an active duty post, most assume you are regular Army and not a reserve soldier. When it came out that we were AGR, we received comments like, “You’ve got the dream gig! Coming in and leaving when you feel like it and taking as long as you want for lunch!”, “Must be nice not to have to wear your uniform every day,” or “I bet it’s nice not having to move around so much.”
These statements could not be farther from the truth. My husband leaves for work at 0715 and usually does not return home until about 1800. Even then, he brings his work computer home and continues working after the kids are in bed. He typically works through his lunch breaks and the only day he doesn’t wear his uniform is the Monday after a Battle Assembly weekend (a.k.a. drill). And as for the moving around comment…
We move around just as often, if not more frequently, than our active duty counterparts. A typical AGR tour is around 3 years. A deployment could make that longer. Some might even get lucky and have their tour extended (but from my understanding, that’s pretty rare). If your soldier is an officer, you’re looking at a PCS every 2 years, and sometimes more frequently. The need for full-time soldiers fluctuates in the reserves, whereas all regular army units are full-time.
We will more than likely NEVER be stationed at amazing overseas locations, like Germany or Japan. As much as we want it and as amazing as it would be, Germany will likely never happen for us. There are a few AGR positions overseas, but not many.
When we PCS, we typically do not move from post to post. When you live on post, everyone knows you’re affiliated with the military. Even when you go off-post into the community, people ask what you or your spouse does for a living and you say he’s in the Army, they don’t give it a second thought. As an AGR family, it’s never that simple. I’ve gotten responses like, “Are you sure he’s active duty?”, and “Here? Is there a military installation here?” I’ve gotten the “Are you sure he’s active duty?” question so many times I want to scream every time I hear it!
AGR soldiers promote slower than if they were on active duty. I will never understand it, but that’s the way it is. You have amazing officers who are a year and a half behind others who have the same date of rank, simply because they decided not to go active duty.
Resources, though abundant, are not as easy to find. Moving to a large Army post, I was impressed by all of the resources I came across on a daily basis. From MWR events to the lending closet. From ACS to the FRG. Fun runs, spouse groups, the fitness and childcare centers on post, child and youth activities and classes. The list goes on and on! When you’re a military family moving into a community that’s mostly civilian you have to do A LOT more research to find resources applicable to you because the military community just isn’t as visible.
In my opinion, AGR soldiers and their families are stuck in a sort of gray zone. I sometimes feel like the people of Whoville in Horton Hears a Who yelling, “WE ARE HERE! WE ARE HERE! WE ARE HERE!” We aren’t quite active duty and we aren’t quite reserves. We experience the best and worst of both worlds. Everyone has their own opinion of whether being AGR is worth it, but just like any other job, somebody has to do it.
Is your family part of the Active Guard and Reserves? What would you add to the list?
Posted by Andrea Bitterman, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer
When I was first asked to attend the rehearsal for the PBS National Memorial Day concert, I was a little apprehensive. This was my first time attending an event with the intent of sharing my experience in a blog post. Luckily, my husband is a Navy Mass Communication Specialist and has attended many events like this, so I asked him to come as my photographer.
Little did I know, a fabulous group of military spouse bloggers was also in attendance they took me under their wing. The Capital Concerts staff was also AMAZING to work with and took great care of us.
I attended the afternoon rehearsals and saw Brian Tee and John Corbett performing the true story of two Korean War buddies–Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Joe Annello–who have remained friends for 68 years. These two are incredible actors and they were ON POINT! After their rehearsal, they met with our group of milspouses to answer questions and take photos.
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
They both gave “shout outs” to military families. Brian Tee, who stars in CHICAGO MED wished us a ‘wonderful and glorious’ Memorial Day, and John Corbett, who you may remember as Aiden on Sex and the City and Ian in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” thanked our group of spouses for everything we do.
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
West Wing actresses Allison Janney and Mary McCormack paid tribute to the contributions of female service members throughout history, and the ladies reflected on what the day means for them.
“We’re so grateful for the sacrifice that, not just the service members make, but the families make is huge,” Mary McCormack explained. “The least we can do is say ‘thank you.'”
Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band put on a great rehearsal performance for the crowd, as usual, I can’t wait for everyone to see them perform live!
Photo: Dominique Pineiro
In addition to these stars, General Colin Powell, Joe Mantegna, Graham Greene, Charles Esten, Cynthia Erivo, Leona Lewis, Megan Hilty, Alfie Boe, and the National Symphiny Orchestra will be featured, as well as Spensha Baker singing the National Anthem.
Tune in to PBS for the live broadcast of the 29th National Memorial Day Concert on the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day, Sunday, May 27th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. You can also follow the event on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Leave us a comment and tell us if you’ll be watching!
Posted by Vanessa Pineiro, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse
I have been an Army wife for a few years…well, it’s been a little longer than a few, but who’s keeping count, right?! I am seasoned Army wife with one beautiful little monster named Chloe, and a crazy fur baby named Alley, who I refer to as my first born. I had a plan to be a stay-at-home mom to my daughter until she started Kindergarten. Well, that happens this fall, so I started thinking about what I’d do when she went to school.
In December, I decided to think long and hard about a New Year’s resolution that would add to my life. I wanted to work hard towards a goal that I could implement now and in the future. After a few weeks (and a possible sooner-than-expected PCS), I decided to go back to work, so I knew I’d need to complete my resume.
Right now, I am an active volunteer at Army Community Services (ACS) at Fort Leavenworth. I work within all the departments with whatever they need. I also help with special events. While volunteering, I have been a huge advocate for their programs, which is how I met a woman named Deb Stone. Deb is a Navy veteran and the Employment Readiness Manager who hosts resume building and interview classes on our base. Each branch of service usually has someone who can assist with employment readiness. They are usually found at the Family Service Centers. The Navy’s is called the Family Employment Readiness Program (FERP), ours is ERP – Employment Readiness Program. The Air Force has an Employment Specialist also.
When I talked to Deb about all the things she does for service members and her families, I was blown away by everything I was missing out on!
Though the functions and types of services/classes offered may vary from installation to installation, most will have a person dedicated to assisting spouses (as well as contracted civilians, transitioning service members, retirees, and veterans) in all aspects of job hunting.
Deb told me about classes and one-on-one consulations that focus on career exploration, federal and civilian resume writing, cover letters, interview preparation, even how to work a job fair. Employment Readiness Managers also refer people to employers in our local community and refer to the appropriate point of contact wherever they are moving next.
I made an appointment with Deb to help me with my journey back to the workplace. We are working together as a team to polish up my federal and civilian resume. When it comes down to it, no matter whether you’re a new spouse, or you’ve been married a while (like me!), you can always learn something new. If you’re thinking about going back to work, or you need to spice up your resume to be ready when the next opportunity comes along, consider meeting with the Employment Readiness Manager on your installation.
I have been lucky enough to utilize this program, and thanks to people, like Deb, I’m ready to tackle the next adventure!
Have you ever used the Employment Readiness resources on your base? Leave us a comment telling us about your experience!
Posted by Jessica Richardson, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer
I graduated undergrad in 1998, worked for six years and then my husband (who is active duty Navy) and I decided to start a family. For reasons that worked best for our family, I stayed home for 12 years with our children. Around 2014, during a particularly challenging sea tour, I started a Master’s program online; I needed an outlet and something for myself.
However, I quickly figured out online school was not for me. Finding time for class wasn’t the problem. I missed the interaction with fellow students and listening to lectures. In the winter of 2016, when we found out we were heading to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., I started thinking about applying to a traditional in-person school. For the first time in six years, my husband would be on shore duty and maybe, just maybe, it would be possible for me to attend school in person at night! I looked into schools in the area and applied to George Mason University.
I was accepted into GMU and was excited and nervous all at the same time. Would I be up for the challenge? Would I feel out of place because I was older than most of the students? Could I balance family and class?
Fast forward two years and I just graduated with a Master’s of Public Policy! I am not going to lie: there were times that I wanted to quit. There were nights when my husband would call just as I was about to leave for class and tell me he wouldn’t be home on time, but we military spouses have amazing support systems and I “phoned a friend” and worked it out. Leaving my kids at night was the hardest part because I had always been the one to put them to bed. But we all gained something from this experience. My kids would have taco Tuesday and mac-and-cheese Thursday with Daddy, and he read the bedtime stories. My oldest, who is 13, really stepped up to help, which filled me with pride.
I gained such a personal satisfaction going back to school. I always wanted a Master’s Degree; to me, it was a huge feeling of accomplishment. My middle son asked me often why I wanted to go back, and all I could say was that it was important to me. I hope through this process I instilled in my children it is never too late to follow a dream and hard work pays off.
So, what’s next? I am not sure. I work for the National Military Family Association part time and plan to continue to do so. At this point in my life I am looking for a job that fits into my family life and where I can feel like I am contributing to a greater good. I want to know that my time is going to a cause I believe in.
If you are thinking of going back to school, whether undergraduate, graduate or just to further professional development, I would say go for it! There are many different education pathways out there and you can find one that fits your personality and needs. Whatever you choose, you’ll have plenty of people in your corner, rooting for you–even NMFA (hello, military spouse scholarships)!
Have you gone back to school? How did you overcome the challenges you faced? Share your experience with us in the comments!
One of the things on a deployment checklist for the active duty service member is establishing or updating a will and a power of attorney. These legal documents ensure that if something happens to the service member, the law knows who to contact, who had authority to make financial and medical decisions, and even who gets custody of the kids (if there are kids), especially in the case of a divorced family.
But how many of us spouses have these documents in place in our own families? It’s so easy to be focused on our spouse that we make ourselves the secondary concern. Not because we think we’re unimportant, or others treat us that way, but because the list of things that need to be taken care of. The lists are long and sometimes on a short time table, leaving the spouse staying home to put everything towards the military member in the forefront. The reality that there could be a time where we’re in the hospital, injured, sick, or even the worst possibility death, doesn’t always sink in.
These scenerios couldn’t have been any more clear or real like they are right now as I lie in a hospital bed.
When my husband left for deployment, I had been living diagnosed with seizures for barely eight months. Yet with the medicine prescribed, I’d keep living the life I had and didn’t ever bother to think of putting a plan in place in case I needed to go to the hospital.
With four kids at home, my main concern and focus was on their needs. Getting them to and from track practice, birthday parties, after school clubs, even what seemed simple at the time (boy scouts and music rehearsals) was now not so simple. All those commitments my kids had became more difficult to juggle because now I needed to figure out who could help, how much they could help, and the extent of time others’ help would be needed.
I had no plan in place. After calling my doctor to explain what was going on, she wanted me at the emergency room immediately. But all I could think of was not freaking my kids out. Their dad wasn’t here to fill the role of taxi driver or dinner chef that I play everyday. The last thing I wanted was for them to feel afraid and alone. For my kids, my diagnosis was incredibly scary because all they’ve known their whole life is that my mom died from a seizure the month after I graduated high school. Last year when I was diagnosed, they connected ‘what if that happens to us?‘ My doctor was aware of my situation and savvy enough to know I wasn’t coming until I had a plan in place–a plan I should have developed 4 months ago.
In my world, being an independent person and reaching out for help is equal to pulling my eyelashes out one by one. In fact I’d rather go through labor again with no drugs–that’s easier for me. But my kids need and deserve for me to check my pride.
I reached out to two girlfriends. One could drive me to the hospital 45 minutes away and get my kids to and from, while the other could step in for anything else that came up, or in case the first couldn’t help at anytime. As soon as I arrived, I went straight into a room. My doctor left notes of my medical history and recent developments. What I thought would be one day, at most, turned into three days and I still don’t know when I’m leaving. But what I do know is that I now have people and have developed a small plan.
My plan will need some tweaking. It will need another person or two, and it’ll need things like remembering to leave a credit card behind for my older kids to use in emergency situations, like this, and it’ll even require me to finally get a power of attorney, advance detective, and update my will.
This was a great wake-up call for me. It’s okay to be independent, its okay to be strong, it’s okay to be self-sufficient, but it’s not okay to not have a plan in place. Someone needs to know what to do with your fur babies, what to do with your human babies, even things such as where a spare key is hidden or how to get ahold of your deployed spouse.
You may never need someone to jump in and bring you to the hospital, or take your cat to their home, or pick your kids up from soccer, but in case you do please put together a plan.
Do you have a plan in place for yourself? What advice would you give others who don’t?
Posted by Joanna Bradshaw, military spouse and mother
Military life demands a unique approach to friendship. Time spent at a duty station is typically not only brief, but also fraught with challenges. Most military spouses and significant others are looking for support systems, and that means friends.
The very things that drive spouses to invest in friendships are also the things that prompt them to make friends differently than others. When you’ve always got a countdown clock in your mind’s eye, you see people in light of the brevity of your stay at your current street address. When you’ve got a separation with your spouse looming, you know you’ve got to make relationships count.
Here are three ways the world would be a different place if everyone approached others the way that military spouses are prone to:
The World Would Be More Gracious
In a world full of mom-shaming and “dependa” jokes, it can feel tempting to take sides in the interest of finding solidarity. Take a one-minute scroll through Facebook if you don’t believe me.
But military spouses who make friends with other spouses have clarity when it comes to the challenges of their peers. You can knock on any door on your base housing street and be greeted by someone all too familiar with all the things in military life you struggle with the most.
Now, imagine a world where even though the specifics aren’t known, everyone approaches everyone else with the assumption that they’re dealing with some heavy stuff and that heavy stuff inevitably has an impact on how that person navigates the world. What if we understood that often when people are failing to present themselves well, it’s because there’s something in the way of their ability to do so?
The World Would Be More Attuned to Individuals’ Strengths
Most of us don’t assess relationships based off of what we need. We click with people, and it’s only later on, sometimes even in retrospect, that we realize someone impacted us because of specific things they added to our lives.
In my own experience, virtually all of my friends have contributed to my well-being in specific ways. I have a seasoned military spouse friend who taught me early on how to approach the post-deployment funk a couple can find themselves in, so when I found myself there, I was ready.
I have a friend who went out of her way to make the PCS that separated us easier for me. She hosted a goodbye dinner party. She bought patterned packing tape. She gave me a moving playlist to jam to. She filled my car with snacks, tissues, and Febreeze (I had the dog). She stayed up until the early morning hours helping us clean the house the day before our move-out inspection. She waved goodbye from my driveway when we pulled out for the last time.
I have a friend who runs. She participates in marathons. When I wanted to lose weight during one of my husband’s deployments, she helped me learn how to run well. She taught me how to pace myself, how to buy the right shoes, and how to land correctly on my soles. I lost 30 pounds during that deployment, but not only that, I learned firsthand one of the benefits of running is its mood-boosting abilities. When she taught me to run, she also gave me a tool to combat the depression that can accompany hard duty stations, hard PCS’s, and overall hard seasons of life.
The world would be better if it were more adept at recognizing that virtually everyone has something to contribute. You shouldn’t need to see what someone’s gifts and abilities are beforehand to treat them like they’re worthwhile.
The World Would Be More Discerning
A downfall of making friends fast and furious is that you inevitably will make relational mistakes. You will create a rapport with someone and then realize belatedly that they’re not a good influence. You’ll fall into traps you wouldn’t have if you had taken more time.
Because of this reality, military spouses become increasingly skilled at recognizing the telltale signs of problematic people early on. Additionally, because spouses don’t have time to waste and need a solid support system, the ones I have known are more likely to move on from problematic relationships instead of lingering.
If everyone saw the science-backed reality that our friends are highly influential and that investing in the right ones is worthwhile, less bad behavior would be accepted and more good behavior would be required.
Not all military spouses and significant others employ these tactics, and none of them are perfect friend-makers; there’s no formula to ensure relationship success with anyone. But military spouses do face situations that make them more likely to recognize and embrace the people in their community who are worthwhile, even if they don’t seem to be on the surface. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best qualities of military spouses.
Posted by C.N. Moore, military spouse, parent, and writer
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