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Dear Young Military Spouse, We Need You (A Perspective from a Spouse of 27 Years)
I’ve been a military spouse for a long time. In fact, for so long—well over half my life now—that it’s hard for me to remember much about life before the military! Though sometimes it seems like I got married yesterday, I’m now considered a ‘seasoned spouse,’ a mentor, an advisor. But if I dig a little bit, down deep inside, I’m still that brand new military wife.
I recall vividly our first assignment as a newly married couple. I remember our first PCS orders, my shock at learning that we had to move (Yes, I was naïve!), and my hope that we could negotiate with the Air Force about where they were sending us (hahaha). I really did ask my sweet young husband if he could tell the powers-that-be something along the lines of, Not right now, but thank you. Please check back with us in a year and we’ll let you know if it’s a good time for us to move then. (insert laughing face)
You, young military spouse, probably know much much more about military life than I did all those years ago. You’ve got social media for one thing. And Google. I had an old creased U.S. highway map and an encyclopedia to look up facts about our new state, with my imagination to fill in the details until we arrived.
As we made the several days long trek from our base in New Mexico across the country to Ohio, we stopped at a hotel one evening and I cried over feeling homesick already. There was no texting my mom or friends, no calls back home (because, long distance bills). We were alone, just the two of us. My poor little Airman husband helplessly watched me grieve–I’m sure questioning his sanity at uprooting this small town girl to travel the world with him.
So though I’m “seasoned” now with multiple deployments, over a dozen moves, and several overseas assignments under my belt, thinking of those times brings back a wave of memories and I hope I never forget those feelings. It’s not so far away, after all. And when I meet a fresh new young spouse, with a look of bewilderment in her eyes, I’m taken back, too. Because we’re not so different, you and me.
Frankly, I am on my way out and you are taking over the reins of military spouse-hood and all that entails. Long after my husband has retired and we are nestled into our forever home, you’ll be the one still PCS’ing, forging a new life every few years, volunteering, hosting deployed events, and passing along your hard-won knowledge to other, younger spouses.
I hope you’ll hang in there. I hope you won’t let the perspective of a few jaded old spouses keep you from becoming involved. But most of all, I hope you’ll come to appreciate the richness that can come along with military life. Because we need you.
Young Military Spouse, Here’s What I Appreciate About You!
Your Excitement and Enthusiasm
There are some events I’ve grown accustomed to, whether it’s exploring a new part of the country or a military ball. Your enthusiasm reminds me that some of the same old-same old feelings I have could use some tweaking. Things that seem like an inconvenience or just one more event to go to, like formal banquets and military ceremonies, are cast in a new light when I remember—because of your excited reaction—that most people don’t get these opportunities.
Your Ideas and Perspective
Just because we’ve always done something a certain way in the military spouse world doesn’t mean it needs to be that way forever and ever, amen. In fact, there’s a lot that could probably stand a change or fresh look. Young spouses remind me there are different ways to be involved in my community, reach out to new spouses, and accomplish big undertakings or volunteer work. You remind me to be adaptable. You have some great ideas and I’m thankful when you share them.
You Reminding Me How Hard This Is
I’m so used to a life of transition that sometimes I forget how difficult it can be. That it’s ok to admit it’s hard and not just suck it up. Tell me you’re having a hard time, what difficulties you’re having fitting into the community, so I can give you help or simply a listening ear. When I get so caught up in the busyness of life that I forget what it was like when we first began, I’m glad you’re here to remind me.
Your Willingness to Listen
I know that you’re smart, driven, and capable! But I ask you two things—be willing to listen to those who might know a thing or two and learn to ignore the naysayers. What do I mean? Don’t write off my (or other older spouses’) advice because we don’t understand what it’s like to be a young spouse or times have changed.
We had phone trees and you have Facebook. But we older spouses have been where you’re headed, and while the world has changed, so much is the same—the feelings of being lost in the bigger military world, the stress of separations and deployments, raising military kids, what it’s like to move overseas. We know. And we can be an amazing support to you.
On the other hand, please ignore the jaded old spouse who wants to have a contest with you about ‘who had it worst’ or who only spews negativity. You’ll learn to spot those spouses. Give them a wide berth because their input will not be valuable to you.
Young military spouse, I’m often asked what I have to offer by way of advice to younger spouses. But for now, I’d just like to thank you for all that you teach me on a regular basis. You’re amazing!
Jen McDonald is an experienced editor and writer who’s been published in numerous national publications and several books. She’s the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, a book for military spouses born from nearly three decades of experience. She’s currently the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising.
Jen and her amazing Air Force husband have lived all over the world and are the parents of four grown children, including one who is also serving in the military. Find her at jenmcdonald.net, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88.