Grace is a stay at home mom who says being overseas with the military gave her the freedom not to work without having to justify her decision to her family or anyone else. At the same time, with an MBA and successful corporate career in her past, she still believes it’s important for her to be a professional role model for her daughters. The following are excerpts from my interview with Grace, which is not her real name.
When we got married, my husband had just been accepted to medical school. So he did medical school through the military. So really there was a great benefit because we had an income during medical school. But I wasn’t a real military spouse until after his medical school. And after medical school our first assignment was at Beale Air Force Base.
My first impression of the military was, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
We arrived at Beale Air Force Base, and it’s brown and empty. And I’m like, “What have we done? Oh my God. I can’t believe we’re doing this.” There’s nothing here, and I’m a city girl. I’m going to shoot myself here. But, quickly I met some wonderful Air Force wives. One in particular shaped my experience as an Air Force spouse. She had met my husband the first day there, and she called me on the phone and said, “You have never met me. You don’t know who I am. But I met your husband during startup. Do you guys want to go to dinner?” And I was amazed. I was flabbergasted. I was like, “I can’t believe this. Who is this nut who is inviting me out to dinner? I mean how cool, but this is insane.” And it turns out that we’ve been friends ever since.
So we got friends right away, which was really nice. And then the rest of the time I worked like crazy. (Working for Hewlett Packard) was my first job after my MBA. I was earning more money. And I said, “Well, I can do this.” I proved to myself that I can be successful. And I had a cubicle mate who worked close to me. He was retired military. And he came over to me and said, “I can’t believe you’re in the military.” I said, “Why?” He says, “I have never met a military spouse like you.” And I said, “Really?” “Yes, I’ve never met an officer’s wife like you.””Well, what do you mean?” “Well, officer’s wives don’t work. They don’t have careers. They don’t do what you’re doing.” I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m different.”
I felt mixed (about that), because at that time I’d never really been a military spouse. I mean I never really lived on base. I never shopped on base. I never went to military functions. I didn’t have military friends except for that lady who called me up and other physicians’ spouses, who were working, too. So, sometimes I kind of felt proud because I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not what outsiders think of as a military spouse, some lady who stays at home and is fat and wears an ‘I love the Navy’ t-shirt.” So I felt good at that time of not being the typical military spouse. But I kind of felt that (what my co-worker said) was kind of an unfair shot, you know, stereotyping officer’s wives. Because I knew plenty of officer’s wives that weren’t snobby or stuck up.
I was but I wasn’t a military spouse because I didn’t do anything with the military.
I rarely went to base. I guess I must have gone three times a year to the base to visit my husband at the hospital. Where other military wives would take them lunch or take them dinner. But I commuted so long that I would get home at 7:00 during the week, and there’s just no way that I could go all the way to his office. A lot of the wives helped their husbands with the out-processing. And I just couldn’t…there’s just no way. And my husband at one point said, “These other wives are helping them do this and this.” And I said to him, “You know what, if HP was moving me to Europe, would you come and do my paperwork at my job?” He’s like, “No.” I said, “So why am I going to go and do your paperwork at your job?” But there is an expectation that was there.
“Tell me what happened when you moved to Italy.”
My husband and I love to travel. And that was one of the reasons that we wanted to go overseas, so we were very excited. And really, work was a secondary thought. Then my boss said, “Okay, just take the job with you.” So it wasn’t really much of a thought.
Initially it was fine. And I didn’t know I was pregnant yet, so that wasn’t really a consideration. It was just, “Oh, cool. I can work during the day, and then we can travel during the weekends and things like that.” So it was quite comforting to be able to take the work with me. You know pack up my boxes, and they paid for everything, which was really nice. HP sent everything out of my office to my new home. But that was stressful taking my job with me because in Italy, it’s like going from 100 miles an hour down to 10 miles an hour. And you’ve got an internet hook up, but no data going through. Since I work in finance you just can’t send those kind of files over the Internet. So yeah, I was kind of frustrated.
It was really difficult, you know. The electricity, for example, you couldn’t have three things going at the same time. You couldn’t have the dryer going with the computer going with the oven going. All your breakers would pop. So you can’t multi-task. And, you know, working in the States is multi-tasking, severely multi-tasking. So I just couldn’t multitask, and that was very frustrating. Getting used to that and going to Italian speed, that was hard actually.
I do have to say my boss was very disappointed (when I quit), because he bent over backwards to get me set up and help the military out and to continue my job. When I sent everything back it was an expense for the company, and it was disappointing for him because it just didn’t work out. And so I did feel guilty because you’re breaking some kind of trust, you know. But in the end you’re like, “Okay, I’m in Italy now. Have fun.” And I found out I was pregnant, so it was going to work out. And working on base never even really seriously crossed my mind because I didn’t feel at that time that there would be anything available that I would want to do on base, at a level I would want to work at.
I really don’t regret stopping working.
It was my choice. So it was actually kind of liberating, because I don’t have any pressure to keep on working and put my kids in daycare. I don’t have to justify that to anybody. And in the States, there’s a lot of working moms who look down on stay at home moms. I didn’t feel I had to justify that to anybody and that was really nice.
I know maybe this sounds strange but it’s easier to justify not working (overseas).
There’s really the mentality in the United States, or at least in San Diego, that everybody works. And there are very few stay at home moms. At least I didn’t know any really. So, I didn’t have to justify it to my mother. I didn’t have to justify it to the rest of my family and tell them why I wasn’t working, why I wasn’t sticking my kids in daycare. And would I have felt strongly enough or guilty enough to go back to work even if I didn’t want to? I don’t know. That’s not a question I ever had to face. I might have. But then I went to Japan. And then we went to Ramstein.
And it’s only until now, where my kids are bigger, that I’m thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I’ve decided I’m not going to go back to corporate America because I would minimally be gone 7am to 7pm. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to do a third career. I haven’t decided quite yet. I’m looking into teaching. But I’m not sold on it yet, so I’m still thinking what I should do.
“What would you get out of going back to work?”
I think feeling good about myself, a little bit more, again. Also being a role model for my girls. Having a mom who works is good as a role model. But I just have to be careful. I want to balance. I don’t want to just go back to work to earn money. I want to go back to do something that I will like.
Sometimes staying at home is boring, you know? Housework is just absolutely boring. You know housework and doing the same routine things, and then driving kids around as a taxi service all the time. At the end of the day you say, “Oh my God, I have done absolutely nothing today.” Though if you’re with me I’m always in the car. I’m always doing something. I’m always doing something else, but I feel at the end of the day like I’ve done nothing.
And making your own money is always nice. When I stopped working I was very clear with my husband. I said, “I’m not going to be working, but the minute that you make me feel bad about not earning money that is the day I will go back to work and put your kids in daycare.” So since then he’s like, “No problem.” And he is 100% behind what I’m doing. So that has never been an issue. And I always say, “My money is my money and your money is my money.” That’s always been our motto in our life. And he’s been really cool and supportive about it.
I think just getting out of the house would be nice, spending time for myself with other people who are not children, and talk about different things. That would be really nice. Maybe it’s nostalgic. Perhaps, I don’t know. Maybe when I get to work I’ll be like, “I don’t want to talk to any of you guys. I want to go home with my family.”
“You mentioned wanting to be a role model for your girls…”
Well, I think it stems from the fact my mom has always worked. She has a PhD and a couple of Masters, and I think she associates a lot of value to education and that status. So if I’m not working, some of that role modeling isn’t there for the kids. If they choose not to work that’s fine. But I want them to have that role model of going to the university and not feeling bad about being a corporate person if they want to do it, or a doctor or a whatever, and have that as something normal. Not thinking like, “I should stay at home or be a mom or not go to school because I just want to stay home.” I think it’s really important to be able to choose, because I see a lot of wives that have children before they finish their education. They’re kind of stuck and they don’t have education.
So I want to make sure that (my daughters) are prepared for that. I think that seeing your mom work or study is a good thing, because it’s a good pattern. It’s good role modeling. And just seeing me cook and clean and shuttle kids back and forth at this age, it’s not something that I want them to do and not have the opportunity to do anything else.
Well, I have to say I do feel now like a real “military wife” because of not working and being in the military.
I do feel like our family right now is a military family. So, you look back at the comment that my co-worker made, and it fits me. I don’t work. Hopefully I’m not stuck up, but I don’t work.