Olivia’s husband is approaching retirement after a successful 30-year career in the Air Force. With 11 assignments under her belt, and a new job with each one, Olivia wishes she had been able to have a career rather than a series of jobs. She reflects on her working life and what it has meant to her.
I don’t think that I’ve ever had a career. I have a job and there’s a big difference. I have nothing invested anywhere, except in my family and my marriage. When my husband gets out of the military he’ll have done 30 years. He’ll have invested his entire life, his retirement, his everything. He has a connection there. I don’t have that. I have a connection to the military by being (around the) military every single day of my life. My father was a Marine, then I was Air Force, and then I married him. But I’ve never had a career.
It wasn’t until later on in our life together did it hit me when I would leave jobs that I really liked, because I’ve had a few. I can honestly say I’ve been very lucky. 99% of the jobs that I’ve had I really regretted leaving. There are a couple I was ready to go after a while, but I stayed for the money. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to work everywhere I go because I’m so diverse in my skills. I’ve had to be. I’ve learned to be. I don’t have the education though because I left college to go into the Air Force, and I’ve never gone back.
I’d always worked. Even in high school and college, I’d always worked. I’d always had that sense of freedom, having my own money, not feeling so dependent.
And I think that was a big thing. I didn’t have that sense of guilt for being at home sitting there, feeling like I wasn’t doing anything while he’s out working so hard making all the money for the house. I was able to contribute, knowing that if we go out and we spend money, it’s not putting a strain on our finances because I was contributing too. And that’s important to me.
When we went to Izmir, I had an 18-month old and a 3-1/2 year old at that point. I met a lady there and she was a GS employee. Her husband was Army and they had a 3-1/2 year old who needed a babysitter. So I said, “Oh, well until I get a job I’ll watch him.” He was a terror, a holy terror. He broke our sliding glass window with his head, and it didn’t faze him at all. That’s when I told my husband, “I can’t do this. I am so miserable here. I’m literally stuck in the house with three kids all day long every day. I can’t do this.” He said, “First off, you need to quit babysitting him.” So I did. They found childcare for him.
And he said, “And then you need to get a job. You’re happier when you work.”
I didn’t want the girls in daycare because it was way too expensive for two in daycare. I got a job working at the NCO Club as one of the head cashiers from 5:00 to 9:00 in the evening. (My husband would) get off at 4:00 and come home. We’d switch places and he’d take care of the girls in the evening. He would feed them, bathe them, and get them in bed while I went to work for four hours. And it seemed to make a world of difference.
I had that sense of independence. I didn’t feel trapped.
I didn’t feel completely dependent upon him. I had adult interaction. I had adult conversation. I was my own person again. I took care of the kids during the day and took care of the house, and then I was my own person for those four hours a day. It made the year and a half we had left there fly by, and it turned out to be a great assignment. But I was miserable for the first six months.
There is a difference between being a military spouse and a dependent wife.
You picture these women who go to the commissary and they’ll throw a fit about something stupid. Or they go to the clinic and demand to be seen because of who their husband is or what their status is in the community. It always seems their entire life was negative, and it all revolved around their husband, their status, their position, and their job. And it was never about them. They didn’t seem to have their own identity and I never wanted to be a dependent wife. I wanted my own identity. I wanted my own sense of self-worth. And the first six months in Turkey, even though I was helping another military family take care of their child, I didn’t have a sense of self-worth.
Not that I’m thinking a stay-at-home mom is bad, because there are absolutely wonderful stay-at-home moms. And their whole purpose in life, or their whole world revolves around their home, their spouse, their children, and that’s perfectly fine for them. That’s just not fine for me. And I realize that. I recognize that and I’m happier when I’m working.
(Olivia later worked as a school secretary and nurse in England.)
In England, it was more something to do, something to keep me occupied so I’m not sitting at home not doing anything. I can’t do that. That bothers me. I think if I didn’t have those jobs, I would’ve felt more useless. Being at home, especially when the kids were older. You get up, you clean the house, you make the bed, you do the laundry, and then what? What’s left? I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies so to spend all day knitting or spend all day writing a love story… I would literally be sitting there bored stiff. And I’ve done that a couple times. Then I went out and got a job.
I don’t think I know anybody who wants to sit there and feel useless.
I mean I’m certain that everybody wants to feel like they have a purpose, like there’s a reason for them to get up every morning. I just needed something more outside of the house for me, to keep me occupied, to give me a sense of self-worth, and not financial worth. Everybody wants to feel needed. I mean once the house is clean and the kids are in school, they don’t need you anymore.
(After several more moves and jobs, Olivia found herself in New Jersey as an empty nester.)
By that time both of my children were gone. And it was hard for me at first. I didn’t want to be at home when we went to New Jersey because the day after my youngest went to college, we packed up and moved to New Jersey. I got a job so I wasn’t sitting at home all the time, so I had something to occupy my time. And it wasn’t for the money. It was for something to do. And within three months I was promoted to one of the managers and got a huge raise. That was the hardest thing I ever walked away from when we moved here, because I never thought as an uneducated woman I would ever make $50,000 a year. It was so good!
(Now in Germany, Olivia has an administrative job and explains what work means to her now that her husband is approaching retirement.)
Before, I had something at home to keep me occupied but it wasn’t fulfilling enough. Now, I don’t want to go back home and sit there and do nothing. I want to be busy but it’s more important for me, even though I’m not happy in my job, to make the money knowing that in a year we’re going to be retiring. So right now we live off of my income and we bank his. And we put money away for a cruise this summer with our girls. One last trip before my daughter gets married and we’re paying for the wedding. But we have been able to pay for their colleges, both of them, and we’ve paid their cars off, so they’re walking out of college with no debt. That’s important to us. So now I’m back to working for the money. I’m not back to working for the satisfaction of working.
My husband and his career truly are the most important thing to me, because it’s had to be.
He has risen to the highest rank he can rise to an enlisted member. He has a Master’s degree, and by him getting that I helped pick up the slack at home. I took care of the kids a little bit more. I did all the running around. We sacrificed as a family to get him where he is, but it’s been tough too because I’ve had some really good jobs that I really, really loved. But I feel that his career has been more important above and beyond anything else. If he wanted to try a new job, we would go. There have been times when I’m really happy in my job and I’m having to leave a home that I love, a job that I love, my friends, my church, my family, so he can fulfill his adventure. That’s been tough. I think that’s been the hardest. And maybe that’s a reason why I do work, because I want there to be something else that is just me outside of the home. Because he has his something else. He has his career.
I always had my own self, sense of self-worth and my own sense of independence.
And I had my own little work world. I had my own life. And that was important to me. I was me. I was my own person. I wanted (my girls) to see the importance (of my working) because it taught them a sense of self-independence and a sense of self-worth, and I always taught them you are your own person. What you do with your life is your choice. And you can either choose to be with someone or you can choose to be by yourself, but you need to make sure you can take care of you. Don’t rely on anyone else to take care of you because when you start relying on somebody else to take care of you financially, then you get stuck with somebody that you’re not meant to be with. And you have no way out. Always have a way out.
I think it’s hard for me justifying why I work because there are so many women that don’t.
And I don’t look down on them for working, but the higher my husband went in his rank and the more prestigious his position became, some women couldn’t understand why I worked. Like when he became the command chief, and they introduced me to the president of the enlisted spouses club. I had never been involved in the spouses club before then, and I was going to be their advisor. What was I going to advise them on? I had never, I didn’t even know where the spouses club was, because the military was not my focus. It just wasn’t. It was where he worked. I had a whole other life outside of the military, and I was happy about that. And she came up to me and she says, “Oh I’ve heard about you. I hear you work full-time.” And I’m thinking out of everything they could have told her about me, that was the one thing she focused on.
Just because I work outside the home doesn’t mean I’m not involved in my husband’s career. When we moved to New Jersey, one of the ladies asked him, “Well, is Olivia going to work when she gets to New Jersey?” And he said I probably would, because I’d always worked. And she said, “Well that’s too bad.” She says, “Maybe it would help your career a little bit more if she didn’t work.” How much more could I help his career by staying at home waiting for him to come home?
Thank God I have a husband who doesn’t want me to be submissive.
He wants me to be my own person, have my own individuality, because I’m not happy when I don’t feel that. I feel like there’s something missing in my life, because it’s my own little piece of life. And if that’s missing I don’t feel whole. I don’t feel complete. I feel like I’m not doing what I’m meant to do on this earth. I needed that and he recognizes that, and he’s tried really hard to make these moves as easy as possible on me.
Sometimes it’s hard. I always give him the analogy that when you have an assignment change, you pick up your coffee cup on your desk and you set it on the next desk, and you’re there. I have a house I have to pack up and unpack. I have children I have to pull out of school and deal with them leaving their friends and the church and leaving everything behind and getting them settled in a new home. I have to deal with all of that while you go off to your office. I’m there dealing with all of that.