As a new year begins, I’ve been thinking a lot about the messages I received about my article, Silent Sacrifice. So many people contacted me with their stories and asked me what they could do to improve spouse employment. This made me stop short because I realized I don’t have a ready answer. How do we make a difference on such an enormous problem? Although there is no silver bullet, I do believe there are a few simple things we can all do to make a difference:
- Share your story: I strongly believe our most powerful tool for creating change is simply talking. By openly talking about our working lives and career desires as military spouses we help create a culture where it is normal and ordinary for spouses to have careers. Don’t save it up for your military spouse Facebook groups. Share it in regular conversations with neighbors, friends, and your military peers.
- Make your voice heard by policymakers: Don’t be afraid to speak out and tell your members of Congress and state level representatives that you expect them to work on this issue. Members do pay attention to constituent messages, and one thing we have in our favor is numbers. We also have excellent military service organizations (MSO’s) representing us on this issue. MSO’s like Blue Star Families, National Military Family Association, and the Military Officers’ Association of America (MOAA) are voices for us on Capitol Hill, so it’s important to remind them what we care about and that the current status of spouse employment is unacceptable. An easy way to contribute your opinion is to participate in Blue Star Families’ Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey.
- Take care of yourself: While I do see hope for the future, change does not happen overnight. So the reality is you have two choices – throw your hands up in despair and walk away from your career, or find a solution you can live with. The most heart-breaking thing I often see is the military spouse who refuses to make a decision but simply hopes for the best that things will turn out. Not a good career strategy or a satisfying way to live your life. Instead, take an honest look at your situation and figure out a way to reconcile career goals with your family and military life. And honestly, that may mean changing what your career goals are. But there is nothing more freeing than letting go of a goal that is unrealistic, when that is the case. Personally, I struggled to maintain a big-firm consulting career until I finally realized the toll it was taking on my emotional and physical health. Letting go of that path is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it has opened up whole new worlds I had never even dreamed about. And I can honestly say I have never been happier.
I believe in the strength of our community, and we do have the ability to make real change by simply opening up to those around us and speaking our minds to those in power. And at the end of the day, your most important job is to take care of yourself and your family. Find a path that you can live with and make the most of the military phase of your life. For this too shall pass.