When people say a stay at home mom doesn’t have a ‘real job’…

This one is for you, stay-at-home mom. To the one who gets up in the middle of the night every time the baby cries. To you, who spends the day doing dishes and laundry, sweeping Cheerios off the floor, cleaning up body fluids, and reading the same book again and again. I have been there, in the trenches–going to bed exhausted every night, and yet still feeling like the house was a mess and I had nothing to show for my day of work.

This is for you, because you need to hear about the conversation that helped shape my role in our military marriage when I was a stay-at-home mom.

This conversation shaped our military marriage

When the phone rang, I jumped to answer it. I put the baby in the crib, gave the toddler a snack, and handed the preschooler a book while I held the phone tight to my ear, trying to speak slowly so that the two-second delay would give my husband a chance to speak on the other end.

“I’m so glad you called!” I said. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks here.”

“What happened?” my husband asked from the other side of the world.

“We are still working on potty training,” I sighed. “It’s slow going. Our daughter makes a mess almost every day. Last week she also pulled the entire curtain rod out of the wall just before dinner. Oh, and our son has been sick, he threw up twice yesterday. The baby is ok so far, but he still wakes up three times every night to eat. I’m so tired.”

I’m sorry, honey” my husband said consolingly. “I know this isn’t easy, but you’re doing a great job. Our kids are so lucky to have you for their mom. If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t had an easy month either.” He then gave me some of the highlights from Afghanistan– his base was surrounded by Taliban fighters, they were being shot at almost every day, and the only hot meals he has eaten in months were from MRE packages. That put things into perspective quickly.

During that deployment, he was only able to call me about once per month because he had to walk several hours to get to a satellite phone. It may sound like our monthly check-in phone call was full of complaining, but it was actually much more than that. Each one of us got a chance to share our burdens with the other. And we ended the call feeling supported, encouraged, and loved. Our military marriage let us affirm each other, even on opposite sides of the world.

Never once did my husband tell me I didn’t have a ‘real job.’ He never told me that his job was harder. In fact, he told me several times that he would not want to switch jobs with me. Think about that for a moment… he would literally face bullets rather than the amount of body fluids and crying I dealt with every day.

My husband would rather face bullets than do my job of caring for our babies. #milspouse Click To Tweet

It was because of that call that I knew how much my husband valued me as a stay at home mom. I thought about that conversation many times during our next few deployments. In our military marriage, we each make sacrifices. He loves me and appreciates the work I do…even if it is ‘just’ around the house and taking care of kids. Over the years, he has always supported me and encouraged me in my role, whether or not I was able to find paying work.

Need encouragement for your military marriage? You’ll find support for the common challenges of military life in my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses.

author with Open When book

In military marriage, if you argue whose job is harder, you both lose

The division of work is a challenge in any marriage, and military marriages are no exception. Sometimes, military life makes it more challenging. My husband has done five combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m a stay-at-home mom to our four children (and now also a professional writer). Both of us are really good at our jobs, and neither one of us ever wants to switch places with the other.

Sure, there are days when he is facing bullets and I am cleaning toilets. Are those jobs equal? Absolutely not. There were other times where I was pregnant and exhausted from growing and nursing our babies while he was sleeping in. Again–not equal.

But marriage is not about equality. Marriage is about loving another person with your whole heart and body, so much that you will do anything for them. I know my husband loves me that way–not only on the days he is deployed, but even on the days he is being lazy on the couch. Similarly, he and the kids know that I love them every day–whether or not the laundry has been folded. It doesn’t matter whose work is harder. All that matters is that you keep working to your best ability and caring for each other every day.

In a military marriage, it doesn't matter whose job is harder. Don't compete with your spouse. Click To Tweet

Who has the toughest job in the military?

I have seen service members play the ‘military card’ at home, arguing that because they have such a physical job, they shouldn’t have any responsibilities around the house. On the other hand, I have seen military spouses claim that being a wife is the ‘toughest job in the military.’ These can only be partly true.

When spouses claim they have the toughest job, they are referring to all the time spent waiting, not knowing, being a solo parent, and being told where to move next. Yes, that job is hard. When service members claim that they have the tougher physical job, they are right–only the military can have mandatory weigh-ins for their employees and fire someone for being out of shape. That job is also hard. Does it matter whose job is more challenging?

If a military marriage gets caught up in this debate, both spouses lose. Because while they are each partially right, they are also both very wrong. You are not in a competition with your spouse. You are in a marriage. And a healthy marriage allows each person to do what my husband and I demonstrated during our monthly phone calls from Afghanistan: Each one of us gets to share our burdens with the other. In the end, we feel supported, encouraged, and loved, no matter what we are doing. If each person uses their talents to their best ability, then your marriage will thrive.

How do you and your spouse show respect for each other’s jobs in your military marriage?


  1. momheathers

    You titled this right…Toughest Job–Military Marriage, marriage is a job, in the sense each person has to work at it daily. And there will be times when each person will perform above and beyond and times when each person falls way below “average”. I am guilty of both. We both are. We came to a balance of he would use his 35 minute commute home as his down time so when he got home he could help me, since he knew he would be “attacked” by 5 kids excited to see him. Then after a bit I would “tag him out” so he could relax and we would all come together for dinner. Finding that balance and understanding is key and is hard but very worth it to the marriage. Marriage isn’t a competition, like you said, both jobs are tough acknowledge that and that what you see as very hard in your own job and in your spouse’s may differ than what they see….and that is okay!

    • Lizann

      Hey, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! I love the tagging out idea. We should use that with our 4 kids.


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