Bridging the Divide

Bridging the Divide | Whole Spouse

I’ve been feeling reflective lately about the state our country these days.  It seems like the only thing we can all agree on is that we are hopelessly divided.  And it feels like it’s only getting worse.  The more divided we feel, the more we stick to people like ourselves who will reassure us that we are normal and justified in our beliefs.  After all, it’s only human nature to avoid conflict.  Who enjoys getting their feelings hurt or being a part of those snarky conversations on Facebook?  Okay, maybe some people thrive on that kind of stuff, but most of us just want to get along and feel connected to other people.

While I am definitely not here to lecture anyone on politics, I believe that we as career-oriented military spouses can do some real good in this political environment.  As military spouses, we can help bridge the divide in our country because we are uniquely positioned to understand people and perspectives from so many walks of life.  We hear this all the time.  We live all around the world and get to know so many different kinds of people.  It’s a badge of honor that military spouses can and do connect with each other regardless of background or politics, and we are better for it.

But that’s not all.  Those of us who pursue careers outside the home have the potential to take this lesson a step further and teach civilians what it means to come together.  By getting outside our “military bubble” and interacting with other civilians, we can share what it’s like to be on this side of things.  Very often we may try to keep our military spouse identity hidden in the workplace, but in doing so we may be wasting an opportunity to bridge that gap in some small way.  We are unlike most Americans precisely because we are constantly being exposed to new people and different perspectives.  At the same time, the civilian world seems to be getting increasingly polarized, to the point where we cannot even agree on what real news is anymore.

One way we can help bridge this divide is by simply being visible in the workplace as military spouses.  By working in a professional capacity we defy the stereotypes on both the right and the left about the military community.  I interviewed one spouse named Grace awhile back who told me a story that really resonated with me.  Grace told me that one of her office colleagues was shocked when he found out she was a military spouse, believing that military spouses don’t work.  Although she was surprised by his reaction, Grace says, “I kind of felt proud because I’m not what outsiders think of as a military spouse.  You know, some lady who stays at home and is fat and wears an ‘I Love the Navy’ t-shirt.”

Grace and her office colleague might never have crossed paths in ordinary life, and he may never have given her the time of day if she was just another woman in an “I Love the Navy” t-shirt.  But because of their shared work, Grace changed his assumptions about military spouses, and perhaps opened his mind to other new perspectives as well.  I know one small interaction like this isn’t going to change the world or our political climate, but I do believe that being brave enough to share who you really are is the first step towards breaking down false assumptions and bridging the gaps that often divide us.


Beyond Silent Sacrifice: What you can do to make a difference

Beyond Silent Sacrifice: What You Can Do To Make A Difference | Whole Spouse

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The Naked Truth: Olivia’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Olivia's Story

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.

The Naked Truth: Katie’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Katie's Story

Katie is a pilot’s wife and former athletic trainer, who now calls herself a “married single mom.” Although she believes her role as a mom is important, she acknowledges that losing the professional part of herself has been a painful sacrifice. The following excerpt is from my interview with Katie in Germany.

I lived, breathed, and ate athletic training. My goal was to try to get the athletes as healthy as possible and keep them healthy. It was a high school setting, yet they were my kids. I took them underneath my wing and just made sure that they were okay. So it was neat. If my kids got hurt, I was hurt. It was rewarding to know the athletes could step on the field and know that they are sound.

I knew I was marrying into the Air Force. So I knew what I was kind of getting into. And he knew my job schedule. Because if it was cross country season I’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, be at school at 5:30 and I’d come home at 7:30 or 8:00pm depending on if basketball or football was going on. So I had long days as well. We kind of knew he had long days and I had long days. So it kind of meshed, it worked.

And that’s when September 11th happened and I was like, “Okay, my job is not as important as my husband.”

For three days I couldn’t get in touch with him. Finally he got a hold of me and told me to meet him at the house that weekend and we would pack. And then he would be gone.

At that time, while I was working at (the high school), the principal’s husband was prior military. So she sat down and talked to me a little bit about what it meant to be a military spouse. She said it’s a hard life and there are lots of sacrifices on the spouse. I kind of knew that, but I thought it wouldn’t be that hard because I had my own life. I still have my job, all the teams I take care of. I was like, “Okay I can do this.

I thought it would be pretty easy, which it kind of was, until you have a child. When we got to Charleston, I thought, “As soon as she is born I’ll get her into a school, a preschool, or some kind of daycare, and then I’ll go back to work.” But because of what happened September 11th, he was gone 2 weeks and then home for maybe 1 or 2 days crew rest, and then he’d turn around and go again for 2 weeks. So there was never an opportunity for me to put my feet back into that world. But you know I maintained my credentials. I maintained the CEU’s and I still have a passion for it.

My career got put on the backside.

I went up to the athletic training room there at Centenary College. And I would help out. I would volunteer but I didn’t get paid for it. It was so weird because I’ve never just sat. I’m always constantly going and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, it’s too quiet. I need to go do something.” So that’s when I would just go up and volunteer at the school. I did that for a couple of months, and then my husband was picked up for pilot training.

He said, “I’m going to become a pilot and I’m going to be gone. But you know you can still work.” I thought I would always get back in it because it’s a passion. I know there’s a few women who do it. My sister works and her husband works, but he comes home at night. He’s there on the weekends. We don’t always have that luxury.  With his unpredictable schedule it’s hard for me to work. It’s a challenge, and I haven’t gotten back into it.

My mom stayed home with us. And it was like, “What do you do mom? You stay home and take care of us. That’s not a big job.” But now that I’m a mom I look back and go, “Wow that was a huge job she did for us and a sacrifice as well.” Now I’m looking at my daughter and I’m like, “Oh, you think your mom is a slacker because she doesn’t work as well.” She doesn’t quite get it but she does get to some extent that moms do work.

It’s like I’m a married, single mom.

That’s the term I always use. I’m married, but I’m a single mom because he’s always gone. So I have to raise the two kids by myself. At first it was shock, total shock. And then I didn’t want to leave my children. The gears started switching. I didn’t want to go back to work because I didn’t want to leave this baby for somebody else to raise. So that’s when I told my husband I’ll stay home a year and then I’ll get back to work. And then the pace did not stop. It got to be where he was also deploying, so it went from 45 days to 90 days, and then 3 week TDYs. And then he’d come home for 2 or 3 days and then he’d go again. So my priorities are slipping, yet the desire was still there. I was like, “Okay, one day I can still do this.” That’s what I kept telling myself, “One day…” But when is this one day coming? (It feels like) it was a sacrifice, one worth making, but it was a sacrifice.

I lost a part of myself as a person.

Because that’s how I identified myself, that part of me I thought I was supposed to be, and that’s what I worked hard to do. And I do mean blood, sweat and tears. I worked so hard for that. So it is a very painful sacrifice. But then look what I gained. I lost that part of me but I gained two children. Two beautiful healthy children, and I have a wonderful husband. So I’m like, “Okay God, this is good. If this is where you want me, okay. But still can I have a little bit of that?”

My job, my career does not exist. My career is being an Air Force wife.

My career is being that spouse that is behind my husband taking care of the kids on the sideline, and making sure that when he comes home everything is taken care of, and there’s really nothing for him to do, except balance the checkbook. I cannot balance a checkbook to save my life. But I can do everything else. So that’s what my role is now. And it’s one I do not mind. I’m proud of my husband, and I’m proud of the military and what they’re doing. So it’s a small sacrifice that I can do for them.

I thought I was a strong individual, but it has made me stronger. Knowing that I can take care of a house, and all the things that break on it with my husband being gone. I can take care of issues that I never thought I would have to take care of by myself. There’s independence there, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.

The Naked Truth: Isabelle’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Isabelle's Story

Isabelle has an established contracting career in the GS system, and is a newly married military spouse. Saying the “grass in not always greener,” she talks about her decision to keep working even though she used to long for the opportunity to stay home when she was a single parent. Although she used the military spouse hiring preference to obtain her current position, she dislikes being seen as a “stopper” and thinks she will get a job “on her own” next time. The following excerpt is from my interview with Isabelle in Germany.

I married my husband right before we moved here. So this is our first duty station together. I met my husband about two weeks after I finished my masters’ degree, and prior to that had no time to date or do anything because I was working on my degree. I was a single parent. I was also doing what I do now. I’m a contract specialist for the government. At that time I was working for a DOD agency. And we met, got engaged very quickly and then he got orders to come here. I was looking for opportunities outside of the organization I was working at because I had finished my masters’ degree and was looking for something else.

So it was very quick. He got his orders in December. I decided in January to go with him. And then we were gone in February. So I didn’t have time to look for a job. And as a matter of fact, I was kind of looking forward to not having a job for a while, because I had not done that. I had my daughter when I was 20 and worked every day since then. And I was thinking, “Oh this is going to be nice to have a break!” So we got here and we went to the newcomers briefing, and Civilian Personnel had a table set up. My husband went over and he was talking to them about what I do. And they said, “Oh we have so many vacancies for that. Are you interested in starting to work?” And I thought, “I know how it is with the government employment process.” I thought, “Yeah okay,” knowing that it would take a while. But I got an offer two days later.

Well, I may have to start a little further back than that. Before I had my daughter, I was going to school to be a psychologist. That’s what I wanted to do and then got pregnant. So I got the first job that I could get that was going to make me any kind of money. And that was in contracting with the government. It was an internship. So time just went by. I got more experience in it, was being looked at as knowing what I was doing, and got promotions and it kept going and going. And I still hadn’t finished my degree. So when I had the time to go back to school, I really had to think did I want to start over entry level in what I wanted to do or keep going with what I was doing. And that was kind of an easy choice because as a single parent you don’t really get to make those decisions based on what you want to do.

So now that I have my masters’ degree, I thought maybe I can move into a different career, something similar, still something with business, not psychology, but maybe something a little bit more me. So I was putting in for jobs across the country, even across the world still thinking it’s just me and my daughter. But then we got married and came over here. I guess I could have not worked or waited to find the perfect job but I don’t think there’s a lot of perfect jobs at my level in the GS system. So I got into contracting again.

If I didn’t accept that job I could not use my military spousal preference again all year, so I took it. It wasn’t necessarily what I would have chosen on my own if I was the one picking where I want to work or what I want to do.

What was it like in those first few weeks before you started working again?

I had the idea of not working because since my daughter was born, I’ve worked full time.

And I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great. I’ll take her to school in the morning and then I’ll come home. I’ll make her snacks and I’ll pick her up from the bus stop.” I was very excited about that stay-at-home mom aspect that I’ve never gotten to do. And then when I started doing that I thought, “This really isn’t for me.” She’d come home and I’d have her cute little snack that I worked all day on and she’d say, “Can I go play over at my friend’s house?” And I’d be like, “Okay, bye.” So it wasn’t what I envisioned it was going to be.

(I thought) that we would spend time together and go for walks and we would bake. Just those things that you want to do with your children when you’re stuck at work and you think, “Oh, if I was at home this is what I’d be doing.” But the reality of it was she was at school all day. My husband was working very long hours and when we first moved here we only had the one car. So he would take the car and I’d be stuck unpacking boxes all day long, no TV, nothing to do, no friends. She’d come home, “Mom, I want to go play with my friends down the street.” And I could have been at work interacting with people. I guess that’s what I thought I was going to be doing at home. Instead of interacting with customers and people, I’d have my family to interact with. But I didn’t even have that.

I think I really realized who I am and who I’m not.

I had eight years wishing that my life was different, that I could stay home. And I think that really helped me realize that the grass isn’t always greener. That’s not who I am. It’s not like you see on TV where you’re in the kitchen with your daughter and you guys are baking and having fun. It’s not that way. So it really helped me to go back to work and not be wishing that I was at home. But that didn’t last long, because when I have bad days at work I think, “Gosh, if I was at home right now…”

Later on, I took an entire summer off because my son was born in the beginning of the summer. And for the first month I was like, “Oh, I want to do this. I don’t want to go back to work.” And then it got to that third month and I was deciding every day whether I should bathe. And my daughter is still wanting to go hang out with her friends. And I love my son, but all day long it’s just me and him, and I thought, “Yeah, this isn’t it. I need more interaction.”

It’s not like I need to be around people all the time, but I need to be around people sometimes. I need to have some adult interaction. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if my husband was not working such late hours or TDY all the time. But I would go three or four days and realize I haven’t spoken to an adult. And I need that on a daily basis. I need to have motivation to get up in the morning and bathe and brush my teeth and have a plan. And I think left to my own devices I would not do those things. If I didn’t have a reason, I would probably sit in my living room and play with my baby all day long, and slowly get fat and not bathe. I need motivation to do something.

I feel for the most part I’m accomplishing things (at work), and I think everyone needs to feel like at the end of the day.

I need to look back and say, “This is what I did today. This is who I helped today.” If I have a day where I think I didn’t do anything or accomplish anything, it’s kind of sad for me. So when I’m working, I feel like at the end of the day I have a story to tell my daughter at the dining room table, something funny to tell my husband. Otherwise you spend the day at home and it’s like, what do you have to talk about? Nothing, I did laundry today. So it’s a sense of accomplishment I guess.

It’s just that long term, if that were my life plan to stay home, I just don’t think I would feel like I accomplished much. Of course I would be raising my children and spending all day with them. And I hate to make it sound like I don’t want to do that. I absolutely enjoy the time that I spend with them. But I think going to work and spending the day not with them, means the time that I do have with them is quality time. Because when I would spend all day with them, it’s kind of like, “Well, we have all day to fit in all the fun stuff we could do.” And now we have three hours. So I make it a point to do what I can do with my daughter in that time or on the weekends. We make sure that we pack it full of fun things so that it’s quality time since we don’t have the quantity of time.

How do you think being a military spouse is going to affect your career in the future?

Well it definitely it changes how I take ownership of my own future and even my current situation.

When you know that you’re short term, that I have three years here, for me it really changes what my goals are while I’m here. When I was on my own, getting a promotion was solely based on me and moving to another place was my decision. And now I kind of feel like those decisions are just kind of out of my control. So of course I strive to do the best that I can do on my job, but I don’t have that extra drive that this matters so much because this will change my career. On my own, I had done very well and people looked to me as being an expert. And then I come here and got hired as a spouse. They don’t even look at your resume. They make sure you’re qualified, and then you hit the list, meaning you’re qualified, and then they have to pick you.

Maybe it’s not this way everywhere, but I’ve heard from other spouses that are in the GS system that it’s typical. You come into work and you’re given the lowest duties no matter what your capabilities are because the expectation is

“She’s just a spouse. She’s a stopper. She stopped me from getting the person I really wanted.”

I’m not knocking the effort, because it is great that they make an effort to put a program in place to hire spouses. But knowing my experience here where I came in and had this experience, had this level of appreciation, and was really looked at as an expert in my last place, and then coming here and people don’t ask you a single question about your expertise. They just give you the smallest duty that they could possibly give you so that you won’t mess it up. It didn’t take very long for them to realize I know what I’m doing. But I feel like now every time I move, this is something that I have to prove.

Every time I’ll just have to prove myself and that is really going to impact my ability to promote.

When I came here, I had been a GS-11 for quite awhile in my old agency, and was being looked at for promotions. But I came here as a military spouse preference, GS-11. If I leave here as a GS-11 I’ll get stuck as a GS-11 somewhere else and have to prove myself. By the time I do, it’ll be time to move again, stuck as a GS-11 again. My mom was a spouse and my dad was in the military. She retired as a GS-7 because they moved sometimes every year during his career. And I never understood why it was so hard for her. A lot of times she just didn’t even want to work because she had to start fresh every time. And I get it now. I get it. But now I realize I have to take more ownership of my career. And that’s why I started looking external to my squadron. And hopefully when we move this time we’ll have more notice and I can start putting in for jobs that won’t even know that I’m a spouse. I’ll just have to try to get a job on my own. Honestly, I probably won’t use the spousal preference program again.

I think I’m at a level where I could get a job on my own. It wouldn’t be as easy. It certainly wouldn’t take two days to get an offer. It would take longer. But I would prefer for somebody to hire me looking at my resume and knowing what I’m capable of than to get hired faster just because of the spousal program. I do think that it’s great for entry level spouses because that’s how you’re treated anyway, as an entry level person that doesn’t know anything.

I guess I have a little bit of bitterness because I feel like I’ve already proven myself. I can stand on my own. And now it’s not me. It’s Sergeant X’s wife. That’s who I am now, even in my own career. And that’s so weird to me.

Yes, it’s just weird to me. It’s not a bad thing. I’m very involved in all the spouses’ groups. The second day we were here, I went to a spouse’s meeting and it was the same thing. “What does your husband do?” was the first question. “Who’s your husband?” Not, “What do you do?”

I’m not knocking it, you know. I’m very proud of my husband but it seems like military spouses, at least the one’s I’ve encountered, tie their identity very close to what their husband does, and who he is. But that’s not me. And it certainly doesn’t reflect where I’m at in my career.

(Being a spouse has) really made me question things that I thought I knew about myself, just what my values were.

I always just did put my interests first, my career first. And I’m very surprised at how easy it is not to do those things. People say all the time it’s weird that I’m following him around rather than him following my career, because I’m further into my career. My career is still important, just not as important as I always thought it was. And I know that one of the reasons my career was important was because I needed to keep making money to support my daughter. And it’s not so necessary now that I’m not living on one income.

I think I’ve realized that I’m more flexible than I thought I was. I have always been very much a planner. And now since so much is out of my control, I think a lot of that has been forced upon me, and you just can’t plan. How do you plan when you don’t know? Based on my personality, I thought that I would have had a harder time letting go of that control of my career, my life, my plans. And it’s just been really easy to just give that up.

It feels like a burden has been lifted off of me that I don’t have to make all the decisions. Now I can trust that some things are just going to happen whether you plan for them or not.

The Naked Truth: Heather’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Heather's Story

Heather recently achieved her life-long dream of finishing nursing school and becoming a nurse, but can’t find paid work in Germany. She is proud of overcoming the hardship of starting out as a teen mom, but is now frustrated that she isn’t able to work. She wonders if going back to school was a waste of time. The following are excerpts from my interview with Heather, which is not her real name.

I was in the Air Force. I was actually a single mom. I got pregnant at 16, had a baby at 17. And in order for me to join the Air Force I had to give temporary custody to my mom, because you cannot join the Air Force and be a single parent. So I gave temporary custody to my mom with the hopes him coming back with me once I finished tech school. I felt that the Air Force was going to better myself career-wise. I had gotten my certified nursing assistant license and I was a general receptionist for a couple years. I just kind felt like I was going nowhere with my career, so I decided the Air Force was probably the best for me. Plus I needed some discipline, so I joined the Air Force. Then I met my husband, and we knew the chances of us probably getting assigned (together weren’t good). And then it was just too crazy switching the custody back over with my first-born. At that point, I knew (my husband) and I were going to get married, and I just felt that the best interest was for me to get out and not let any of the whole custodial stuff take control. So that’s what I did.

(Being in the Air Force) was definitely a self-esteem booster at the time. But at the same time, I was separated from my son. It was always “service before self,” and I was like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not putting service before my kid.” That is what it kind of came down to. So I was using the Air Force as a stepping stone to further my career. I always knew I wanted to go into the nursing field, but being a single mom and trying to do it was just difficult. I felt like it definitely gave me the self-confidence that I needed though.

I don’t know if it was the discipline. I mean, my dad was retired military with 24 years in the Air Force, and so I was already used to the ways of the military. It just made me feel a little more at home. When I was in high school,that was the longest I had ever lived anywhere because all my life we moved every four or five years. So maybe it just made me feel a little more comfortable and relaxed because it was more structured.

Tell me what happened after you got out of the Air Force and got married.

Actually, I was pregnant and I still knew I wanted to be in the medical field. I always had that desire. So I started looking for work and I found a job at a radiology department in Washington, D.C. I did medical assisting there all the way through my pregnancy. And then, our oldest was five at the time. My husband was only a senior airman, and we lived in D.C. It wasn’t a good area of town, so we were paying for one to go to private school so he wouldn’t go to the horrible schools in D.C. So I was kind of iffy if I wanted to go back to work at that point, but I decided money-wise it wasn’t going be worth it for daycare and private school. I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom anyway so it was like, “You know what? I can put my career on hold and do what I gotta do.” So I never went back to work then at the radiology department after I had my baby.

It was hard at first because I had always been independent.

I mean at the age of 16 I always paid my own car payment, paid my own insurance. I got a job right at 15-1/2, as soon as I could in Virginia. So it was kind of hard for the first time to have somebody pay my bills. You know what I mean? And my husband would be like, “Look, you’re going to have to understand we’re married now and what’s mine is yours and vice versa.” It just was the best thing financially for us. And emotionally I felt good because I’ve always been the independent one, and for once somebody was taking care of me.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but my husband had his career, and was working on getting his Bachelor’s degree. I’m like, “Gosh, if anything were to happen and we would not be together, I don’t really have any skills.” I felt like he was getting his education but I was the one staying home, just with mommy skills. So I think probably right after we were in Okinawa, I said, “Okay, I’ve got to do something with my education. I gotta go back to school.” I don’t want to say it’s a jealousy thing, but maybe I’m envious. You’re envious of their career.

So I started doing my pre-recs for nursing in Okinawa. And that felt good. That was like, “Woo hoo! I’m doing something for me finally.”

I got to do this, and then in Florida I finished the rest of my pre-recs and got accepted into a nursing program there. But the thing you’re worried about the whole time is, “Okay, I hope we don’t get orders, hope we don’t get orders.” And then, before I even finished, this assignment came open in March and my husband was like, “Should we put in for it? It’s my dream job.” We wanted to go back to Germany. He was stationed in Germany before we had met.

I was like, “Well, am I going to be able to get a job?” That was my top priority. I worked my butt off for this. I want to be able to work. And I actually called Landstuhl from the states and inquired and they were like, “Well, it might be tough. You might have to volunteer first, but try to get as much experience there.” So we put in for the assignment with the hopes that we would get it and I just kind of left it in God’s hands and figured if it was meant to be, we would get it. If it wasn’t meant to be then we would stay there until we got another assignment. And then we found out just two weeks later.

So then I graduated and it was like, “Okay, well we don’t leave till September what do I do in the meantime?” So I ended up taking a job and not telling them we were PCS’ing because number one, I needed the experience, and number two, I didn’t know if we were going to get the clearance for our son because of his past medical history. So I figured I’ll take the job because our orders could get canceled.  I had a job at a hospital in Tampa. I was very excited about it. As soon as we definitely got the orders and got the A-Okay, I just let them know and they were fine.

Having that job, that was good. That was the first time I had a paycheck in 10 years.

It had been 10 years since I had worked. I mean, I know that his money is our money but it was like my first paycheck. So it was good. It was definitely rewarding, and ever since I can remember I knew I always wanted to be a nurse. So I was like, “Okay, this is a real thing.”

Now I’m volunteering on the mother-baby unit (in Germany), and it took months to get on there. It just kind of stinks. You have this dream all your life and something you want to do, and we were finally at the location we want to be, and I can’t get a job.

You’re giving all this education and experience for free, but there’s only so long you want to do it (because) you’re not getting paid. I just remember one of the Colonels coming in and saying, “This hospital wouldn’t run without our volunteers, and they save us a hundred and something million a year.” That’s great and all, but they’re in desperate need. They need more nurses to come forward but they don’t have the positions. They don’t have the funding to do it. They would just continue to take volunteers. Somebody said to me the other day, “Well why do you even volunteer? That’s just less of a chance for you to get a job when they’re getting all this free work.” Well, I need the experience. I need the continuing education. So I guess it’s double-sided.

What is it that you want to get out of working? Why is it important to you?

I think self-gratification. It just makes you feel better as a person. You feel like you’ve done your share to help someone else out. I feel bad for my husband too because he makes those little comments like, “I wish I could stay home.” I’m like, “No you don’t! I wish I could work. I’ll trade spots with you. I’ll go in and you stay home for the day.” I want to be able to contribute even though we share everything. I want to be able to have extra money. I want to be able to have a savings account. I want to be able to not live paycheck to paycheck, which is what we’ve done for ten-plus years. And that’s a big thing. And of course, you’re in Europe. You want to be able to travel and go places and do stuff. It’s the chance of a lifetime here. Oh my gosh, I wish I had a job!
I may have to go back to just being a receptionist somewhere. You go to school for all these years to try to finally get your degree, and then it’s like, well there are jobs at the CDC. You feel like you’re almost taking a step down, but what do you do?

It definitely makes me feel like crap, having something and not being able to use it.

You work hard for something and then it just kind of sits there and collects dust, which is what I feel like my education is doing. It’s funny because I remember when I was at orientation, I met a couple girls that said, “If I can’t get a job here I’m just going back to the states and then I’m just going to come see my husband every couple months.” And I’m like, “I’m sorry, but that’s not happening.” Where the Air Force sends my husband is where he sends all of us. We’re going together as a family, and that’s what you have to do. You have to make do and it’s his career. I’m following him around and trying to just kind of fit in where I can.

It stinks. I told my husband joking, “Okay when you retire in the next couple years, you’re going to follow me. I’m going to take jobs all over the United States and you’re going to have to follow me and find a job wherever.” He jokes and says he’ll be a stay-at-home dad.

He’s definitely good and he’s been very supportive. But, yeah, who knows? I’m sure I will be the sole breadwinner in the beginning, once he retires, because he’s still working on his education. I have to give him the little kick in the butt to get this done. And he’s kind of undecided. He’s like, “I’m not like you. I wasn’t five years old and knew I wanted to be a nurse. I’m almost 40 and I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

How has this experience in Germany impacted you?

It definitely is a blow to your self-esteem once again because you start getting proficient in something and you have confidence, but you can’t do what you set out to do. It definitely makes you feel horrible. (Heather is crying.) You want to do something better with yourself. All my life I’ve always not wanted to be labeled as the teen mom who’s not going to amount to anything. I’ve finally gotten over this huge label and then you really can’t do anything with it. So maybe I shouldn’t even have went to school. Maybe it was just a waste.

The Naked Truth: Grace’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Grace's Story

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.


The Naked Truth: Serena’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Serena shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

Serena is a young newlywed, whose husband enlisted in the Air Force for financial stability. She is relieved that they are no longer struggling, although frustrated that she is not realizing her goal of working as an editor. At times she is uncomfortable that she is letting her husband “take care of her,” but then says she is realizing she can find other ways to contribute to their family. The following excerpts are from my interview with Serena, which is not her real name. Her story begins when she and her husband are fresh out of college, working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get by.

Union Mart is a gas station, and I worked there for eight hours on weekends. I didn’t really like that either. But I ended up (dropping) Union Mart, because I had the library job by then, and then I kept the bookstore (job). So then I was down to two jobs and that’s all I kept. And then my boyfriend (now husband) had the pizza job and a library job. So we had four jobs together just to make ends meet. We were barely making it at that point. So that’s one of the huge reasons he decided to join the Air Force because we knew it was just a lot more secure.

(I wanted) more security because part-time you don’t have any benefits, no health benefits or anything like that. So it was hard. I didn’t really go to the doctor because then you had to pay out of pocket. (I just wanted) to have a little bit more money so we could have more than $100 left over for the month, to live comfortably. I mean that’s the majority of what I was looking for.

I guess it was a little bit frustrating because I wanted one job. I wanted a 9 to 5 job, come home, relax, and not have to worry about your job. But I was also really, really too busy to do anything. So I didn’t have a lot of free time either, even on the weekends when I was working at Union Mart. It was frustrating because I couldn’t go home and spend time with my boyfriend. I had to work. And we didn’t have a car at the time. It’s 10 miles from where we were working, so you had to take the bus. But the bus system wasn’t that great. There were only specific times you could go, so he would go sleep over at his brother’s house sometimes during the week so he could work at the pizza shop. So there was a lot of time we couldn’t spend together. I didn’t like that. So it was a little bit frustrating having way too many jobs.

When I went to college, I thought, “Hey, I’ll actually find an editing job when I get out of school.” No. I was just happy not to be working at McDonald’s. I mean I wasn’t quite happy, and I definitely wasn’t content, but I was okay with working in the library at the time because I thought eventually I’ll get to where I want to go. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. And at this point I’m not even sure I want to be an editor anymore, but at least I was doing some freelance. At least I was doing something.

I never really wanted to be a military wife.

I didn’t grow up in the military or anything like that, but my mom moved a lot when we were kids, I didn’t really want that for my kids. I guess by then I was okay with moving because I’d done it so much, but I just wanted my kids to stay in one place, make lifetime friends, something stable.

I was in love with him, and I’m not going to break up with him because he joined the military. That’s just silly. So I was okay with him joining. I supported him either way that he went. And actually it was a very smart decision, and I’m completely okay with it now.

I don’t have to worry about my health now. Before he joined the military, we had no coverage. Now I don’t have to worry about not calling the doctor because I don’t have money, which is a huge relief. And he makes enough money to support both of us. We don’t have to work four or five part-time jobs together to get $100 left over a month. So I’m not worried about food. I’m not worried about anything like that, which again is a huge relief because I’m no longer stressed about it. The only thing I worried about was finding a job, which I don’t even have to now. So, I feel like I’m getting to be lazy.

(When we got to Germany) I looked for at least six months trying to find jobs. I mean, it is really important for me, because I’m used to being independent.

I’m not used to relying on anybody, and it was actually hard to sit at home as a housewife and not work.I feel like I should contribute somehow.

Because my mom, she took care of her four kids all by herself. She worked to support us, and it’s just weird to rely on him. I’m getting used to it now. I know you can do it now. But to begin with it was just like, “I need to work. I need to help contribute.”

Being independent was important (to me). My mom taught me to be independent. She also hasn’t had the greatest luck with men, so it was new to be married. I’m not used to a man taking care of me. I need to take care of myself. So I wanted to work, and then it took a while for me to be okay with him supporting me, which he is now. So at the time I was like, “I really need a job. I really want to work and have more money so that we can travel and stuff like that.”

It was nice but at the same time, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I was used to fending for myself. Like even in college I paid my way for college. I mean I’m still paying my way for college because of loans and stuff like that. I didn’t have any help. So it’s nice to be able to rely on somebody, but at the same time it was weird.

The whole (job search) is frustrating. I looked at USA jobs. There’s actually not a lot there. At this point I started even looking for a library job here. But every time I’d go, it wouldn’t be on there and they never had anything with editing or writing or communications. It was always secretary, which I guess I could be okay with, but it mostly was retail at the BX. I mean, I don’t view it below me. I don’t. I just don’t like to work in retail. I’ve had the experience. I didn’t like to work with food. And I definitely didn’t like waitressing.

Yeah, I mean, this is stuff I would definitely do it if we didn’t have the money. I would definitely work there. But I knew that he could support me and I really wanted to work in a job that I would enjoy. Because if I worked in a job I don’t enjoy I wouldn’t be so happy and it wouldn’t be good. So I kept on looking at those places thinking, oh, maybe something will pop up. Never popped up. And then I just don’t really know where to look for my career field here. So it is very frustrating. I started looking online just for more freelance (jobs) and I applied to a few. I didn’t really get them. And then after a while, I just stopped looking. It’s just frustrating. Every now and then I’ll go to the library (and ask), “Are you hiring yet?” I guess it hasn’t become as important to work now as it was, but I still would like to if I can.

Well, I’m okay now with him supporting me.

Before, I felt guilty for not working because he’s supporting me. But I’ve gone through that, and I talked to him about it. And he’s okay with me not working because we’re not struggling. Whereas before I had to work the part-time jobs, before we got in the Air Force because we were struggling. So he’s okay with me not working and I got used to being at home. And we’re planning on having kids soon and I know that I want to be at home for my kids. I don’t really want to have them in daycare while I’m at work for eight hours or whatever like that. So that’s why I was kind of looking more for freelance too so I could be at home and do it. But we’re still not having kids yet, so I could still work. But it’s not as important because I know my life’s going to be changing towards children and stuff like that.

If he wasn’t okay with me not working, I probably would still be very adamant about looking for a job.

I still want to be independent but marriage isn’t really about the separate people.

It’s like you working together, so it’s not like I’m not contributing in my own way. I mean I still contribute at the house and in our relationship so I don’t have to work to make it a contribution. So I’m just growing up.

I think part of the problem is I don’t really know what I want to do anymore. I was looking so long for an editing job. I actually want to edit fiction (for a) publishing company. I edited manuscripts and it was okay, but it’s not what I really liked, and I wanted to get into fiction. But right now I don’t really know what I want to do. I had a goal, but I don’t know anymore. Do I still want to be an editor? Do I want to go back to school? I enjoyed accounting, but I don’t want to spend another $30,000 to change my career field. And at the same time I’m getting back into writing, and I’m enjoying that.

I think the problem here is I don’t know where to go to find my specific career field. I don’t know what website to look at or where to go to find these type of jobs. And that’s the biggest problem. If I was in the States, there are so many different websites you can go to find stateside jobs. But here I only knew of two websites, and neither one of them had my career. So I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know where to look, so I don’t look anymore.

I think it’s probably a little bit more difficult to be in the Air Force looking for my job. I mean, for writing, if I can get the freelance (work), it wouldn’t make a difference if I was in the United States, Germany, wherever they take us. If you can get freelance jobs it doesn’t matter where you are. But if you’re trying to find an actual location, work in an actual company, it’s more difficult because you’re constantly moving. I mean we haven’t moved yet, but I know it’s coming.

Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Because originally I didn’t really want to be a military wife, but there are some perks and there are some downsides. And I think the perks probably outweigh it, you know? It’s not a bad way to live. It’s not like I thought it would be originally.

I feel like I’m getting to be lazy. Because I’m not working anymore, and he was deployed for six months and I don’t drive. It mostly comes down to not being able to drive. It’s not as easy to go out. So I’m just staying at home and playing on the computer. And I read a lot. I have been getting into writing lately, which is good, so it’s getting a little bit better. But I’m just not doing as much, so I feel lazy.

(I feel) stir crazy, stuck in the house, and I just want to go out and do something, even volunteer work. Some of the volunteer work here seems like it should actually be a job. The post office and the commissary, the baggers, I mean I am very grateful for them volunteering but at the same time…I guess if I could find some more volunteer work I’d probably do that too, even if I can’t work.

The Naked Truth: Lisa’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Lisa shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

An aspiring pilot from the UK, Lisa met her husband in flight school when she was 19. Since then, she has moved 7 times during her 12 year marriage, making significant career compromises along the way, but never giving up on her dream to fly. The following are excerpts from my interview with Lisa in Germany.

I was 19 when we moved and I got married, so I probably wasn’t thinking a great deal at all in some ways. But my career plan at the time was to fly commercially. So one of the attractions was really to finish my licenses, qualify and fly for a living. And my husband had this expectation that he’d do another 10 years or so and then he’d retire and I’d be making enough money to keep both of us. Of course that really didn’t work out. When I arrived in California, I couldn’t work. I didn’t have the paperwork, the work permit and that sort of thing. I spent most of the time that I was there was focused on the training, looking towards being qualified to fly for a living.

I think we’d been there about eight months when I got the work permit. And as I started looking around there wasn’t (much). I could have worked just to have some money. It would have been retail, that sort of thing. Also knowing that we were at least half way through the time we were going to spend there. We were only there for 18 months.

It was hard in the sense of independence.

I’ve never liked the idea of not working and therefore being dependent for money, for things for me. My mother’s always worked. My grandmother always worked. It’s just something that I’ve got a mental block about. I’ve never really been comfortable with it so that was difficult. We didn’t need money to maintain a household or anything like that. But it’s an independence thing. I’ve always had an issue with not being able to work at the times that I couldn’t.

I went back to school, and that helped because that was me doing something constructive with my time rather than just sitting at home really doing nothing very much but keeping house, which is fine. I don’t have any issues with people that choose to do that. It just doesn’t work for me. And I felt I’m just sitting in a house all day and not sitting and watching television all day but I just didn’t feel like I was being productive.

I grew up in quite a socialist background. So I feel that if I’m going to be getting something from the Air Force…you get all your medical care and everything like that taken care of…that I ought to be putting something back in some way. And of course if you’re working, whatever you’re doing you’re paying taxes or you are contributing in some way even if it’s not a direct route. You are contributing back into the system.

(When we went to Alabama) I took a job bar tending in a restaurant, which I loved. It was a lot of fun. It was very easy. I mean it was not something I had to put a lot of effort into, but I could earn a bit of money. If I decided I wanted a new pair of jeans or something I didn’t have to think about it. It gave me that independence to do that. So it was regular bit of income that gave me something to do while I was still studying at home in between. It was a little bit strange when my husband’s colleagues came in. An officer’s wife bar tending is probably a little bit strange to some people. But I was enjoying myself and that was more important. While we were there I did actually finish my commercial licenses for the FAA. And I did start flying for money, but it was (only) four or five hours a week.

(When we got to Florida), I started flying full-time. We could be gone from 6am on a Monday morning to 10pm on a Friday night, and we’d fly every day in between. So that was almost the ideal. That was really what I wanted. I mean it was tiring. It was hard work, but the flying itself was fantastic.

I suppose at a very basic level I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of an aircraft without a smile on my face at the end of the day. I suppose some of it’s independence, some of it’s the achievement of a challenge. And it’s just simply fun.

I wasn’t making a lot of money. I suppose by flying hours I was probably just about making minimum wage. But it was another step closer to where we thought we wanted to be. It was an achievement…that I wanted to keep going.

(Then we) left for Paris and we knew it was 18 months. We assumed it was 18 months and back to the States. So, knowing how complicated and expensive and difficult it was, I had decided that I was not going to try and get European licenses and try to fly. So I decided that I would just find something else to do for 18 months until we go back to the States and I’d pick up more or less where I left off. As it turns out, some years later, we are still here (in Europe).

And were you still thinking that your husband would be done in a few years and you would be the breadwinner?

I think that was probably changing a little bit, partly because he wasn’t showing that many signs of wanting to retire and get out. And I wasn’t progressing in experience quite fast enough to be in that position for him to be able to retire completely and do nothing, if he wanted to do that.

(Flying) was still something I always thought I would go back to one way or another. But I was prepared to supplement with a second career or a parallel career at the same time to supplement. I suppose I was realizing that it wasn’t going to be absolutely everything in one career forever. It wasn’t a dramatic thing, it was sort of a slow realization. So I don’t think it was a huge impact emotionally. It was just sort of an acceptance that things don’t always go the way you planned when you were 19 or 20 years old, and life puts other challenges in the way. And you sort of deal with everything as it comes along and adapt with it.

After the Paris assignment, Lisa’s husband deploys for a year and she returns home to the UK. Then they moved to Belgium. She describes the employment she found with an aviation contractor in Belgium.

I suppose I saw it as a little bit of a compromise. It wasn’t flying but it was still in the right field, so it was still experience, and it was still relevant. So it wasn’t quite real, but it was close enough. It was still something that was interesting. I suppose in many ways it was the first job that was a genuine salary. We actually did live off my salary because (I was paid in Euros) and then you didn’t get into the issues of converting dollars into Euros.

That was a real achievement. It sounds ridiculous, but at 28 or 29, that felt grown up, I suppose. That was real independence and productivity, being grown up and adult work that wasn’t just part-time. It wasn’t working for minimum wage. It wasn’t working just for expenses. This was for real. And that was good. It really was. It was a real contribution to things.

Being just the stay at home wife, housekeeper, potentially mother was never, ever going to be an option for me. I just couldn’t do it. So in some ways that never changed, and this filled that in probably the biggest way than anything else had because as I say it was a real salary. It was real full-time work, 8-5, Monday to Friday, every day. So that really did feel like a proper achievement.
When we (got the Germany assignment), my husband came down to Ramstein first. My husband moved down here in March. And we agreed that he would move. I would leave our house in Brussels and take a small apartment, and I would basically commute weekly to start with. And we would try that for that for a year to see out the end of my contract year.

Well, I was okay with it. He was not.

We’d given it a good shot and decided it just wasn’t worth the stress. I was driving back up Sunday nights. And so I didn’t even have a whole weekend down here. I was leaving before five in the evening to get back up there. And so we just decided it’s not worth it for us to go through that. And so I simply resigned.

I didn’t want to do it. I loved the job. I loved the people. Again it was sort of facing reality. It didn’t quite come down to it’s the marriage or the job, but there was a potential that it was going to go that way, that it was just not sustainable. It was easier for me possibly because my parents did it when I was growing up. My father was gone four days a week. So for me it was fairly normal. But my husband was adamant. “I did not marry you to live in two separate cities for four or five days every week. That’s not what I wanted this life to be.” I didn’t really want to do it but it was, again it was sort of pragmatism and facing reality.

But my team boss came back to me the next day and she said, “If we can rewrite the contract to allow you to work from home, will you stay?” And I said, “Right, I’ll stay! You just tell me what you need from me to rewrite the contract and I’ll take it.” So she called the company and said this is what we’re proposing and they said, “Great, fine.” So now I drive up there four days a month. I do two days every two weeks and just work the rest from home. And that was the deal we came to and it’s worked fantastically for…a little over a year it’s been.

Looking back on all this, how do you think being a military spouse has impacted you and your career?

You are very much on your own if you want a career. Maybe it’s easier if you teach or you’re a nurse or something that’s easily transferable. I don’t know. It’s been a challenge. I would like to have been further on in a career. I probably would have been if we hadn’t moved, but that’s reality. And if you marry into the military, to a point you just have to accept it. You can fight the system but the system is not going to change for just a few people…If you marry into the military, it’s not a stable life.

The Naked Truth: Felice’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Felice shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

Felice is a newlywed trying to make sense of her two new marriages, one to her husband and one to the military. Her current unemployment weighs heavily on her, and makes her feel “defeated.” She is struggling to find a way to stay positive and keep her own career a priority. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Felice’s real name. The following are excerpts from my interview with Felice in Germany.

I’ve always been the type of person who gets my self-worth or self-fulfillment from achievements… I grew up in a two-parent household where both my parents worked. My mother was a nurse and she ran a hospice. She was the director of a hospice. And my dad worked at a national laboratory, and he did all the budgets. So very highly educated people, very busy. They had five kids and they both had to work. My mother loved her job, absolutely loved her job. And then she came home and raised her five children. And that was something that was instilled in me from such an early age. I’m the youngest of five children, and when I was born she went back to work. My whole childhood, I always saw my mother working. So worthiness for me comes into play because I saw that she did everything, and she loved her job. And there were times that my dad would say, “Well you know, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to.” And she would look at him like he was crazy. “I have to work because this makes me feel good about myself.”

So having that as a mentor…

Worthiness to me is based on achievement.

My mother achieved a lot and still had the family and still had all of that…So I felt like I should always work because if she could do it, then I could too. And always be the best of the best of the best. Because I felt like that’s when you get recognition. Being in such a large family, you get recognition when you stand out.

I’ve always been on a path of high outward achievement, but now I’ve had the time to step back, because I’m not working, and say, “What do I really want?” And to be honest with you, I don’t know. I was very nervous from the work perspective (when I got married), but I decided in my head that it’s okay. You’re going to marry this person. You are not going to pass this up (when) you don’t know what’s next for you in terms of work. So I thought, okay maybe I’ll come here and get a Masters degree so at least I’m furthering myself or doing something. Or maybe it will be amazing. I’ll find a job and all of that. But again, until I’m living it, until I’m in the situation, you can try to warn me and talk to me about it a hundred times. My husband does that very well. Here’s every single situation that could ever happen. And of course, I was listening to him at the time but until I’m living it on a daily basis I couldn’t always make those connections.

The biggest thing that is really difficult about being here (in Europe) is that it’s the double-edged sword of time to travel and not work versus what’s going to be on that resume when I go back to the states next April and it has nothing on it. I come from HR, I come from recruiting, and if I saw that resume I would put it to the side. Because realistically I’m not going to put down that I’m a military spouse or that I moved based on being a military spouse. Because as a recruiter, (you know) that person is leaving in 3 to 5 years.

This is not just marrying someone who has a job. This is marrying the military. And this is a very hard thing.

In my opinion, it is two marriages because there is something that dictates where you are going to live and what if that area of the country doesn’t even do what you do? You know? I don’t know. Or (if) the job doesn’t pay what you were making, that’s another difficult scenario as well.

What’s my self-worth if I’m making $8 an hour when I was making $55,000 a year?

I went for an interview (when we got here), and I was very over-qualified for the job. It was a front desk position, really not handling a lot. The position paid $7.50 but they said they would give me $8 an hour. There was going to be no time off for the first 90 days, just like any normal job. But they knew I was over-qualified. I mean, I had done more than what the director of the program was doing at the time. And I kind of felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want her to feel like, “Who’s this person who knows more than I do?”

So I really tried to dumb myself down. Even though it showed I’d done all this stuff on my resume. And I just was like you know, “I am willing to take an entry level type position.” That was a question they asked me. So I went for the interview.

I felt pretty good, but I brought it home to my husband as well. This was the first time I’ve ever asked someone else’s opinion on my work stuff, which felt uncomfortable, but I said, “Now we’re a team. So I guess this is a decision we both make, you know?” And he was like, “I just don’t know how you can feel good about that. I mean you were making this amount. Now you’re going to make $8 an hour, and we’re going to lose all our flexibility. You’re not going to be able to travel. What if you don’t have the same days off as I do?” And I bought into it. I said, “You’re right. We’re here to travel. This is our time.” We just got married, all of that. So I bought into that, and I was okay with that. And then I got the call for the second interview. And I know I would have gotten the job, but I didn’t accept the second interview.

And then as the months have gone on, of course my husband and I travel. Of course we do that. We’re doing 3-day weekends, that type of thing. My husband moved from a position where he was working in one area and then he was actually promoted to be an exec to a commander. So now he’s much more busy. Now he doesn’t get home till 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Now he’s not even home. And here I am holding off not getting a job, regretting not going for that second interview, and if I was offered the job, not taking it. Because really, was the 10 days of travel that we’ve done in the last 5 months worth it for me not to be working?

It’s hard. There’s resentment towards my husband that isn’t his fault.

This is his job. This is what he’s doing. But then I’m watching Oprah or I’m watching Dr. Phil and I’m saying to him, “I already saw that this morning.” And he’s like, “Must be nice to watch TV.” So then you have this power struggle of saying, “But I listened to your advice. And you decided with me that it wasn’t a good idea to take a job because we would lose on our flexibility. But now I don’t know when you’re coming home from work. And I’m alone all day, and yes I can go have lunch with people, and live this weird lifestyle.” I’m not putting down anybody by saying this, but I’m like the lady who lunches. You know? I don’t have any responsibilities. I don’t have anything to do. I don’t know when my husband is coming home from work, so sometimes dinner is made, sometimes it’s not. I get to it when I get to it. I clean our house, but I don’t get gratification out of cleaning my house. That doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving to my relationship. Also the factor of money, none of this money is mine anymore, in my head. This isn’t money I brought to our marriage. And that’s really difficult. I want to buy something and before when I was single and working, I just bought it.

It’s our money, and my husband doesn’t feel this way, but I feel that I have to be telling him what I buy. And I don’t like that. I have so much guilt about it. Where really he’d be like, “Honey, I don’t care. That’s fine.” But you know the $100 pair of Coach shoes I bought? Do I really need those? And why do I feel so guilty for not telling him I bought them? He sees the Discover bill. It’s not like the guy doesn’t know I buy stuff, but I have this guilt because I’m not contributing.

I’ve never been in that space where I didn’t support myself and it’s really hard on the esteem for me.

Because like I said, I base things on achievements. Cleaning my house is not an achievement. I’m not saying there aren’t things for me to be doing. I just kind of feel scared, which I’ve never felt before.

(I’m scared that) I’m not going to be awesome at (what I do), or that it’s not going to work out, or I’m going to fall in love with something and as soon as I get in a rhythm and feel good, we’re going to get orders and go somewhere else. And it’s also building connections with other women as well. You build these connections and then, “See you later.” So how much do you really give of yourself? How much do you really invest in relationships with other people?

And how do you not complain? My husband has taken an oath to do this.

This is a very honoring position, what he’s decided to do with his life. And here I am spending my 8 hours a day complaining about it. I chose this. I really own my choices, and I’ve been that person where I commit to something full force. But like I said, I have controlled everything in my life. Now I literally feel like I have no control.

I’m compensating for not being busy by buying things. (My husband) had told me this a while ago. Before we were married, he’s like “Yeah, some of the guys come to work and they complain about how their wives just spend all this money.” And I understand why now. Because they have nothing to do. And they need to validated, so when they see something they want, or it’s a trip to the PX, it’s somewhere to go. I thought, “God, that’s so lame.” Now I’m that person.

And I think what’s difficult too, is that I am newly married.

So this is a formative time for my relationship and here I am in shock mode.

Oh my gosh, this my life and how will I ever have a job? How will I ever do this when everything right now is based on him? So it’s coming together as a couple, but it’s also like I said, the two marriages. Realizing this thing is the military, that’s the marriage.

I’ll ask my husband how his day is, and I know he appreciates that. But when he asks me about my day, I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m like, “Well I didn’t do anything today. I sat on the couch all day. God, I’m totally worthless.”

I hope I can get back in the workforce and be where I was at. Because I don’t even feel confident to be where I was at.

I don’t feel confident to ask for $55,000 knowing I’ve been out of the workforce for a year. I don’t feel confident because from my perspective in the HR area, and recruiting area, I have a massive gap on my resume. So, I hope I find a job. Or maybe I’ll just go back (to school), so I can avoid putting that resume together to try to get a job.

I decided I was going to get a Masters while I’m here. And I go in to talk to them about it, and I tell the lady, “Here’s my $40 application fee.” And she said, “Well when’s the DEROS date? When do you leave?” And here’s where I get defeated. She said, “You can’t do the program. You have to complete the Masters while you’re here. It’s only an overseas program for counseling.” She’s like, “Sorry, that’s the policy.” So how are you really helping me, you know? You’re totally defeating me. I go over and above to see what I can do to make exceptions. There will be no exceptions made. Okay. Well now I’m not going to get a Masters while I’m here. Great.

A door is closed. And it makes me want to give up.

It’s this whole new life that I don’t control a lot of it, in my perspective. And my thought pattern is I just need to take the bull by the horns and just make it happen for myself. But when I try to do that, like I said, I get this defeated attitude. I don’t know where that’s coming from.

I feel like I’m the only one who can make it happen for myself. It’s not my husband’s responsibility to make it happen for me. It is my responsibility to make my own happiness that I can share with him. I told my husband I don’t think we’re going to have kids for 5 years. Because what do I have to bring to the table? I don’t have a job. I don’t know what I’m doing. I want my children to be proud of me. I want to have something so when they do go to school, I have my own thing going on. I need to figure that out. I need to go to nursing school if that’s what I’m going to do before I have a child. And I remember when I first came here, and all the women I met had children. Either their husbands were enlisted or they were officers but they immediately had children when they got in. And I said “Oh, I feel bad for these ladies. All they’ve known is kids.” But then that thought came into my mind the other day. Well maybe I’ll have a baby. No, you don’t have a baby to chart the course because you don’t know where the course is going. You have a baby because you’re ready to have a baby. But I can kind of see why some people made those choices. So of course I’m not going to bring another life here. But then I’m thinking to myself, “Well, what else am I doing?” And that’s kind of the crazy soliloquy that’s going on in my head, because I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to over-think and over-analyze every single thing. And then my husband will come home and say, “God, you look so stressed out.” Because I’ve been thinking about crazy things for the last 8 hours for this entire week, every single day.

Or I feel obligated to get up in the morning with my husband when he has PT. I’ll get up at 6:30 in the morning, because when we first got here, I was sleeping in till noon. Then he would come home and be like, “Oh my God, why is your hair wet?” Because I basically just took a shower 15 minutes before you came home. I didn’t do anything today. Now I try to get up and I try to stay up, (even if) I don’t have a plan today. So it’s just weird. I’ve never been this way.

I’ve never been like, “Oh my God, how am I going to fill the day?”

If I don’t have anything, he knows I’m on the couch all day. That’s not healthy for me. That’s not mentally healthy. I don’t have anything, so I’m kicking my fins trying to stay above water, because I feel like there is no control.

Well I’ve expressed this to my husband too. I know I felt more confident and had more self-worth when I had a job. So I don’t have a job, hence I feel this way. It also has other factors too. It’s not just being a military spouse. It’s being a new spouse. It’s all of those things.

I’m (not) just going to be living for my husband. That’s not who I am. I can’t just take a backseat on my own life because his job dictates these parameters or whatever. And at the same time, I want to be a good spouse and I want to be supportive of the person who is supporting us financially. It must be hard to be the one who goes to work every day. I try to look at it from his perspective too. I’m sure there are days he doesn’t want to go to work.

My hope is that we can come to an understanding that I’m going to be working and that I’m going to need to have something of my own. Because that’s obviously going to affect our relationship if I don’t have something of my own. It already affects our relationship now. And military spouses are the reason people stay in the military. We are a retention piece. So if we are not happy, we make the military member unhappy and maybe they’ll get out earlier. I don’t want that for my husband. I want him to have the most amazing career. I want him to do everything he possibly can.

I do want everything that he wants for his career. I want him to want that same thing for me though. And I don’t know how that’s going to work.

I feel like you have a lot of professional women who are marrying military members who have their own things going on. How do we keep that for them? How do we do that? That’s something I’d like to see how it goes throughout the years. I hope there is more support for those people, myself included.