Military Spouse Challenge: How do you measure up to a civilian spouse?
Military spouses face unique challenges in their marriages and their daily lives. Most people don’t have to move every 3 years, or live without their husband for months at a time, or put up with all the crazy schedule changes that we have all come to accept as ‘normal.’ No, military spouse life is not normal, and some days are ridiculously hard. Sometimes we seem to keep score and throw down a military spouse challenge to civilians, when we say things like, “You miss your husband when he is gone for 1 night? That’s cute. Try being married to a military man!” But sometimes, when I need inspiration and encouragement, I think about my Mom. She had nothing to do with the military. She met my dad in college, and he has been a professional Engineer ever since. Yet her life as a civilian wife and mom was far from easy. She faced all kinds of challenges in her marriage and daily life, too. And she overcame then in an awesomely strong and positive way that has made me into the strong military spouse I am today! There are some ways that her life was easier than mine, but other ways she had it way harder (like no Internet! Ahhhh!) So in honor of Mother’s Day, I will do a tribute to my Mom. Let’s play a military spouse challenge game! This is a look at how our lives parallel each other, and it what ways we have traveled separate paths. Also, it’s a fun evaluation of whose life has been harder.
Dating and Marriage:
My mom met my dad in college. They dated long-distance for a few years because of grad school and jobs, and finally got married when she was 25 (which was considered ‘old’ for her generation). They had 5 children together, and have been married for almost 40 years!
I met my husband the summer before I started college. He didn’t join the Marine Corps until we were engaged, and we dated a total of 7 years long distance because of college and deployments. Interestingly, I got married at the same age as my mom–25 years old (which is considered young for my generation!) We have 4 kids and have been married almost 9 years!
Who had it worse? Well, both had long distance relationships forced on them for a few years, but my dating time was longer and involved 2 military deployments. So… the military spouse. (3 points to the civilian, 7 points to the military spouse.)
My Mom and dad bought their first house when they were engaged. They moved into it when they married, and still live there! It’s a farm that has provided some income, but has also been a huge investment and a lot of work to fix up and maintain the property. They also owned another house for a few years, because of a new job and different schools for my brothers. But they have maintained the same property for almost 40 years now.
My husband and I bought our first house at his 3rd duty station. We only lived there for 3 years before PCSing… but we still have it as a rental property and just live on base wherever we go. So in our 9 years of marriage, we have lived in 4 different houses. Each has been in a suburban area or on base, with a fenced in yard, and no farm crops or animals.
Who had it worse? My parents have the same house, while we have moved frequently. (4 points for us). But their property has always been a huge amount of work, while we have enjoyed base housing and free maintenance repairs. (4 points for them). So… it’s a tie.
My Dad traveled somewhat often for business. His company built chemical plants all over the world, and whenever the construction was finished, someone would have to fly out and monitor the plant start up for a few weeks to a month. He did that several times a year, for most of my life. He also had numerous shorter trips lasting 1-3 days, where he would pitch a job at a new location, or drive out of state for meetings and conferences. During that time, my mom was usually on her own with 5 kids. If he was international, there weren’t many phone calls because of the expense. But he did call from hotel rooms every few days, and she always had a number to reach him.
I have been through 6 deployments with my husband, 3 of them during marriage and with children. Each time he is gone for 7 months, with all the prior training and work-ups in addition to that. So he has been gone for years of our marriage, probably about 1/3. Of course during that time I can’t call him, but we do have email now, which wasn’t available until this current deployment. When he is gone, I am usually on my own, with 4 kids now. And of course I worry for his safety, since all the deployments until this one were combat deployments.
Who had it worse? No brainer on this one. Deployments are waaaaay worse than business trips! 1 point to the civilian for trying her best. 6 points to the military spouse,
Distance from Family:
My mom ended up living near my Dad’s family, but not close to any of her 5 siblings. Her father lived with her briefly, when I was little. We celebrated every holiday with a large gathering of my dad’s family, and drove to see my mom’s side rarely. My mom had in-laws close by for occasional rides to school or help with the kids, but mostly for emergencies, nothing regular.
I have not been able to live close to family for our whole military career. The closest was a few hours’ drive, and the farthest was when we were stationed overseas in Spain for 3 years! Now we are still on the opposite coast, and have no family anywhere nearby to call up in an emergency.
Who had it worse? Almost a tie, because distance is distance. (2 points to the civilian for distance). But I think the overseas station trumps all. (6 points for 6 time zones). So… the military spouse.
My mom was very isolated during most of her marriage, because she lived out in the country, far from our schools and most social activities. She made friends with other moms from school, and with ladies from church. Some of her best mentors in early marriage were older women who were neighbors and had already raised teenage kids. They helped my mom a lot by babysitting the kids and teaching her the ropes of motherhood.
I have made new friends at every duty station, and now have friends literally all over the world. This is a blessing, because I have met so many wonderful people… but it also means that I have a hard time developing deep, lasting friendships with anyone. However, the Internet (specifically Facebook!) have made it easy for me to meet new people, get connected to interest groups, and to keep in touch despite time zone differences. I have also been lucky to be always surrounded by women my own age and at my same stage of life, where a new spouse is barely 10 years younger than me, and a ‘seasoned spouse’ is barely 10 years older.
Who had it worse? My challenge is making and maintaining friendships (2 points), my mom’s challenge was finding people in the first place, and getting along with the same people for 20 years (2 points). The military community is very open to new friends, and the Internet makes it easy to keep them. (-2 points for me). So I think in this case, the challenge goes to the civilian spouse, 2 points.
Support and Resources:
My mom had very little official support from the community. She could pay people to babysit or clean, but there were no programs or free services in place to make her life easier. (5 points, 1 for each child).
I, on the other hand, have TONS of support from the military. There are free classes for budgeting or resume writing. There are military discounts at local stores, attractions, and restaurants. We get tax breaks on deployments pay. I have qualified for WIC vouchers at the grocery store ever since we had children. And this base has many free giveaways from local churches! So, -4 points to me, 1 for each child.
Finally, I have to give credit to Mom for learning how to cook without Pinterest, how to maintain a small business without LinkedIn, and how to raise kids without Facebook or Twitter! She had a phone that was attached to the wall with a cord, and was a long distance number from almost everyone she knew (because we lived on the state line). So, 5 points to Mom for no cell phone or social media!
If you were keeping score, that was 19 points for the military spouse, and 22 points to the civilian spouse! You could argue that it was because I threw in the points for my mom’s technology deprivation in the 80’s. So maybe a modern civilian spouse would come out slightly lower than a #milspouse. But the point is this– both jobs are hard. Civilian and military marriages each have their challenges. Instead of focusing on the hardships of military life, military spouses need to recognize the great resources and opportunities that this life makes possible for us. So stop throwing down the military spouse challenge to everyone you meet! And if you must keep track of points in your head, then don’t forget to recognize their efforts with a point here and there for doing their best. And finally, give your Mom the honor and respect she is due on Mother’s Day. I could not be such a strong military spouse if I didn’t learn everything I know from an amazing civilian spouse!
How many points do you think you would earn? In what ways does your life measure up to your mom’s?
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