The Naked Truth: Roberta’s Story

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

Roberta was a midwife for 10 years when she married her Air Force husband. Unable to work in Germany, she is enjoying a break but also feeling “irrelevant.” She has been surprised that other spouses don’t ask about her career, and that her friends and family back home expected her to stop working. As a new military spouse, she is just beginning to make sense of her situation. The following are excerpts from my interview with Roberta, which is not her real name.

It was definitely fulfilling to do birth and patient care, and be with women and families. But the hours were definitely long and (I was) up a lot of nights. I think I spent more time complaining about how tired I was than enjoying the job. But I can honestly say looking back on it now that I enjoyed being a midwife. And I liked the family and birth parts of it. I felt like midwifery is a profession, not just an occupation. It’s something I studied a long time for, and at the 10-year mark I felt like I was finally doing it, and feeling like a professional midwife.

It felt like I was making a difference.

I was using my (Masters in Nursing) degree. I was finally at a point where half my loans were paid off. So I wasn’t struggling to just pay for my education, but rather feeling like I was also making a good salary, and just feeling like I was an accomplished single person. And then I was thinking about how to apply that further, education-wise and so forth.

I’m a very goal-oriented person, and how I feel about myself as a person is wrapped up in the accomplishments that I have made through school and work.

So when (my husband and I) met I definitely felt like my job was very important. If I were to put it on a linear scale, I would say it was probably an 8 or a 9 out of 10, you know, because it just sort of defined me. And like I said, with midwifery people see you as that profession, instead of just your job.

I saw it as a stepping-stone to the next thing, however. I want to continue to do birth throughout my life. But I definitely saw it as a jumping off point to the next thing, whether that was going to school or doing something else in healthcare. That was going to be sort of the ground work and then from there it would be the jumping off point. So I felt good about it. I felt very strong in my role. I felt like it was a good lead up to the next big jump, the career change (to) health policy, public health. I’m actually starting a program in the fall for my Masters in Public Health to be more of a policy analyst and seeing the big picture instead of just doing clinical care. Although I still want to do clinical care.

(At first), I think I was very excited about getting married and the process of us being together and moving. So that excitement I think overshadowed my ability to think through it. So I don’t think I had a concept of what it was really going to be like, to have to leave a job and say goodbye to people you’ve been working with for a long time. I can remember doing my last birth and being like, “I don’t know if I’m going to do this again. You know, this may never happen again. I don’t know.” And I think I was really sad when I had that moment, that realization.

I think I just wanted to continue to have that important role. It’s one of the most important events in people’s lives, and I get to be right there, doing it. I get to be a helper in the process of it and it’s really amazing. It can be a magical experience, a very spiritual experience, it’s just a strong life defining experience. I get to, even on my worst days, have this amazing experience. So, yeah, it was sad.

It felt like giving up something I really worked for.

I don’t think I fully understood it, and then I had to start thinking, “Okay, where is my next job going to come from?” (Then) it occurred to me that my possibilities in that field would be limited. Because I’m limited to whatever military hospital we are near, if you are near one that has midwives. So, when that occurred to me, it was like, “Oh, you know, I think I’ll be okay, and this will be rough but I think I can still do this.” It wasn’t until getting to Germany that I realized that it’s quite a competitive process. It’s one hospital with three midwives. You know, they need a person or they don’t. I think that was sort of a humbling experience. Because until that point I had pretty much gotten every job I had applied for. I wouldn’t say things have been easy. It’s always been hard work, but suddenly I was in a position where, it just felt like you’re not really that needed.

So here was my sort of naïve thought. I thought I would take a month off in September, and then in October I would start looking, sending out résumés, getting online and going through the process, making contacts and finding other people that worked at the hospital, that sort of thing. So that’s what I did, and it immediately began to be a very hard job hunt. And then it’s sort of weird, once you realize also how it’s sort of a blessing to also be able to not have to work. To be presented with this opportunity to do other things, whether it’s school or travel or have a baby or those sorts of things. Once I realized that it was an amazing opportunity, after a few months I stopped being so stressed about it. I just sort of accepted that it’s going to be hard to find a job, that I would keep looking but I wouldn’t be so stressed about it. So it’s been five or six months. (There’s) all this stuff I could have been doing and enjoying, (but) in the back of my mind I’m constantly thinking “I need a job right now, I need to pay my student loans, I need to do this…”

I felt sort of stressed. I felt like other people at home didn’t really understand, because they’re like “Well, yeah, you moved to Germany and now you’re following (your husband) around the world. Isn’t this what you thought it was going to be?” Their idea of what they thought I should be thinking was totally different than what I was thinking. And then it occurred to me, “Wow, they totally got it.” They knew that I will leave my job and now I’m with my husband and basically I’m on his career path. I didn’t get that until people were reflecting this back to me. I was like, “Oh, okay.” It just felt like they weren’t quite understanding my need to feel relevant. I wanted to feel like my job was still important, that my goals were still important, and I could do it. I could have this life as a military spouse but simultaneously have my career. Which I still think is possible. I just think it means changing certain concepts around in my head.

It was actually shocking to me when I first got here. And this sounds terrible, because it makes it sound like I always need to be validated, or I need to have people ask about my job, which is not how I feel. But, I did immediately notice (when) meeting with other spouses, people always asking “What does your husband do? What does your husband fly?” Never, “What do you do?” And that’s okay, but is it because the assumption is I don’t have (a job)? Or is the assumption because I don’t want to (work) or I’m not supposed to (work)? I don’t know.

I just felt sad. It just felt like I wasn’t important, like I just didn’t matter.

Like I said before, I don’t think it’s all bad, because I think it’s an amazing opportunity to find other things you’re interested in, a jumping off point for education. Had I not done this, I probably would not be in a Master’s program in the fall. And hopefully, when we leave here I’ll be prepared for the next career move, if it’s in the States or wherever we go. So I wouldn’t have had that, had I not quit my job. So it can go either way.

I don’t know if I can really pinpoint exactly what it was that made me have a change in mindset. I realized there were other things I could do. I just recently started (dog walking). It’s funny, my dad makes fun of me. I have a Master’s degree and I’m doing dog walking for people. I just decided to do other things with my time and also to feel like I’m contributing to the household. My husband doesn’t have a problem with me not working, and we’re fine on income and there’s no issue there. But I feel like I want to contribute to our household, or to paying my student loans, or whatever it is.

I feel like my self-esteem is such that I don’t feel like lesser of a person. I don’t feel any depression about myself as a person. But I definitely feel a little bit lost, like there’s no set structure to the day. I think I understand now what people say when they go into retirement, “Oh I really looked forward to it.” And then you get to it and you’re a little isolated. I don’t feel lesser of a person, but I definitely am experiencing emotions that I didn’t have before when I had a job and a structured life.

So that lends to a feeling of a little bit of laziness. I think the more you isolate yourself the more you tend to want to isolate. So if I’m having a day where I feel blah, I think I’m more inclined then to curl up and watch a movie on Lifetime. Also feeling sort of like a child that’s been locked in the house all day. And then your spouse comes home and has a completely different emotion, which is “I just got off of work and I want to sit here and do what you have been doing all day long.” So it’s just sort of this up and down rollercoaster of emotion. Mostly I think for me it’s coming from lack of structure, really wanting to contribute to our household and contribute to the world, and be relevant. I think as a person, you find other ways to do that. So for instance, volunteering at a hospital, I’ll be starting in a couple of months in that role. I never thought I’d do midwifery for free, but at least (I’d be) doing that same job. The salary I’ve found is not as important. I mean it would be nice, like I said, to contribute to our household, but I need to be doing what I’ve been trained to do, what my vocation is. To keep my brain stimulated and have a structure, and so I’ll be doing that and going to school. So you find other ways to feel like you’re continuing on the path you’re supposed to be on.

The way I see it, it will probably be a rough seven or eight years if I am working as a midwife, because I’ll be a new person wherever it is that we go to…You never get to gain a sense of seniority in one place.

I think you have to be flexible.

You have to take what you get and mold it to what your goals are, and be able to bend them a little bit…So to me it means flexibility. It also means you have to be motivated too. Which sometimes, given you’re circumstances in life, may not be easy. You can sort of think ahead, about having a baby, and that becomes your priority, and then you might be less motivated to find this job that’s already incredibly hard to find. So, yeah, it means being flexible, motivated, finding other opportunities. If it’s not something that’s exactly what you want, to look for something similar and being open to those opportunities that hopefully can lead to something good.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t feel less about myself. I just feel like I’m sort of floating out there, not really doing a whole lot. What’s the right word I’m looking for? Lazy comes to mind, but lazy is something you can control. This is something that’s sort of out of your control, so I guess I’m not exactly sure what the word would be for that. I just feel irrelevant in the professional world, not irrelevant in my life or other people’s lives, or anything like that. Just professionally. Like, I don’t really matter that much. This is my first experience. I’m only nine or ten months into it, so I’m sure that that could change as the years go by. But it is what you make of it too.

The Naked Truth: Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges – Nicole’s Story

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

Nicole has been a federal employee for 13 years, currently on leave without pay. She has steadily climbed the ladder, to the point where she began to turn down management jobs that were too stressful for her and her family. She’s enjoying a break in Germany, but is also at loose ends wondering if she can continue to advance while being a military spouse. The following are excerpts from our interview. In order to protect her identity Nicole is not her real name

I was an investigator with the federal government. So, I’d already been a federal employee for almost five years when we met. I loved it and enjoyed it. I was really thankful to have the job and my husband was very supportive. When we got our orders to go to Alaska I was a little apprehensive because right away I knew we didn’t have a field office in Alaska. So I started thinking, “Okay, am I going to have a job?”

Then of course when we got to Alaska, I thought, “Oh wow, just our luck, right?” But that turned out to be a really great career experience and professional growth for me, which is what facilitated my promotion down to Monterey. I went to our agency and said “Hey, look. We’re moving up there. I know you guys send TDY support.” I did a “points paper” explaining and justifying why we needed a field office up there. And with management support they allowed that. We moved up there and I opened up the field office.

I felt like okay great, I’m making a difference. I was really contributing to the overall mission DOD-wide because of the nature of what we do. And so, yes, it was great. I loved it. And sad to go, but then I got a promotion (with the move to Monterey).

I will say though that being a spouse, you make a lot of sacrifices.

I feel that you make a lot of sacrifices because my husband didn’t have a lot of flexibility with his job (in Alaska). Both our sons were born up there, and he was definitely able to help with dropping off and picking up at daycare. But I realized how much his career came first because he didn’t have the flexibility being active duty to say, “Here are my work hours.” The Air Force bottom line is you work when they need you to work, based on mission requirements. And I totally understand that. But thank goodness that I had the flexibility I did. So the thought went through my mind, “What if we were someplace else and I wasn’t able to take off?” That would be another challenge that we would have to address just because he didn’t have the flexibility. And he wasn’t in a position to say, “Well I’m just not going to go to work.” I mean as a squadron commander you just can’t do that.

For me, it’s a tough reality to swallow. It really is. Because that means his job is more important than mine.

And I know that he doesn’t feel that way, but the reality is he’s the one that’s in the Air Force. He’s the one that’s making a career out of it. And we even talked about did I want him to get out and then I would be the breadwinner and he would find a job elsewhere. But I said, “No.” No, I’m comfortable with the way things are. I don’t want to be the sole breadwinner. I’m independent, driven and ambitious, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to say, “Okay, yes. Let’s focus on my career first and then you can get a job that’s based around my career.” I’m also very old fashioned and like to let the man make the money.

(When my kids were born), I did not take a break with the exception of my three months’ maternity leave. And I’ll have to tell you, it was very, very emotional.

With my oldest, I probably cried the first month. I had twelve weeks with him and I thought, “I don’t know if I want to go back to work.” I really surprised myself, because I thought for sure I’d want to go back to work. But I cried that first month dropping him off and picking him up thinking, “Man, I don’t know that this is the right decision.”

But then I realized that I wasn’t really ready to give up my job. And seeing him thrive in that daycare setting, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any parts of his life. I didn’t work really long hours and I was nursing him, so every day for lunch I went and nursed him. Also, my job was really great with me because I told them I don’t want to travel this first year. They were very accommodating. So that made it hard too, that professional commitment and pride. And I thought, “Okay, they’re willing to work with me so I don’t want to just quit.” And that’s what I felt like I’d be doing is just quitting on my job and my career. And I felt like I had worked hard to get to where I was. I was really enjoying it. So weighing all of that I felt okay. I’m going to move forward and this is going to be fine and, and I did. And it was. But it was tough. I tried to go part-time actually but they said, “No.”

I felt almost guilty putting my work first. And then some of the spouses in the spouses’ group were openly against women working outside of the home. So there was, “Well I wouldn’t leave my son or daughter in daycare.” And that’s what I had to hear. I thought, “God, am I a bad mother for choosing work over my son or for putting him in a daycare?” But no, I wasn’t. It was the right decision. It was a good decision. And I’m happy about that. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it any differently at all. And I don’t feel any less close to him because of that time.

I feel like I’m a better mother because I have a professional outlet. I have something that’s mine.

Emotionally, professionally, I feel very fulfilled. And I think having that outlet helps me to be a better mother.  Now I went from being career professional to being career professional and a wife, then being career professional, wife and mom. And really it’s, mom, wife career professional, in that order. So I’d like to say I put my husband first but I think he and I both put our children first. And emotionally it was at times very challenging to fill all of those roles. Because sometimes I was just drained from work or travel or the boys maybe had a tough day. And then my husband came home and wanted attention as well, and I’m thinking, “I’m just so tired. I really just have no energy left to talk. I just want to go to bed.”

I think the biggest thing is either way my husband supported me.

He’s like, “If you don’t want to go to work anymore and you want to be a stay-at-home mom, you go ahead.” But then at the same time he said “You really want to think about that because knowing the way I know you, you may regret not working.” So knowing I had the option to stay at home or not was wonderful. At the same time he made an effort to get away from work when he could to make dinner or help with the housework. He’s always been very good at that. So that’s been great. And then the times when I went TDY, he was there taking care of the kids and trying to arrange his schedule so that he could do the drop-off and the pick-up, and just doing everything for the couple of days that I was gone. I don’t take that for granted. So that was another example of how he was just supportive.

So then my agency asked, “Would you mind stepping up and being the Acting Field Office Chief just for a temporary period?” Not that I was afraid of the challenge, but there was an hour and a half drive (to the field office).  So I thought, “Okay, I’ll bite the bullet and do this, because who knows where we’re going to move to next.”  I thought this would be another great opportunity.

I felt very confident I could do the job. But logistically it didn’t work.

I didn’t want to have to do that commute every single day. I just didn’t want to do it. I was worn out. I was pretty exhausted physically and emotionally and not feeling good about myself. I had gained weight, sitting in the car, eating whatever. I wasn’t eating healthy. And then I had a lot of time away from my kids. Sometimes I didn’t get home until 7:30 at night. My kids were already going to bed if not already in bed. And I hadn’t seen them in the morning because I was leaving the house at 5:00 to miss traffic. So I said, “No, I can’t do it anymore.”

I knew it was the right decision, but I was very disappointed because I essentially missed out on a really good opportunity to be a Field Office Chief, to be a manager. And during that time, my husband did everything. I would not have been able to do the job for even the four months I did had it not been for his love and support. He was the one that picked up and dropped off the kids, cooked dinner, cleaned house. He did all of that. And that was because at the time, he really had an eight to five job. So, I would not have been able to do that without his support.

(Then we found out we were going to Germany), and I wanted to go overseas. I really did. And quite truthfully I was so burned out from my job it was an easy out for me. I don’t have to make the choice, because there’s no overseas’ office. I want a break. I need a break. Yay! Let’s go.

But, getting back to the emotional side, I think I miss that professional fulfillment now.

I really do. I really miss working with great people. I really miss contributing to a mission. I really miss the challenges and the rewards. And then I have nearly thirteen years vested with the government. So my professional goal at this stage would be to get twenty. I’m on leave without pay, and I do want to continue working for the federal government. Ideally I’d like to stay with my agency. But if that doesn’t come to fruition, I’d better start applying now because the process can take a little while. In July my leave without pay is up, my one year.

Overall it’s been great and it’s been a much-needed break, absolutely. I’m very thankful. I’m very thankful that I didn’t have to work, and that my agency didn’t call me and say “Can you work now?”

Now I’m missing work, now that I feel like we’ve settled into a routine, and I know the boys are going to be in school next year every day. So now I’m focusing more on my job again. And I’m starting to worry about what I am going to do. So that’s kind of where I am now. And some days I’m like, “Well, what’s meant to be will happen.” And other days I’m like, “Man, I can’t believe after all this time and I’m going to have to swallow my pride and apply for a GS 9 or a 7.”

My hope is that I can stay with the federal government and maintain my grade, even a GS 11 or 12 would be fine. My hope is that I can maintain that and work to get my twenty years in. And based on where we are at that point in our life, and how the boys are doing especially, then I’ll determine whether or not I want to keep working or not. So that’s what my hope is, to have a fulfilling job where I can maintain my pay grade, while also being a great mom and making sure that the boys are developmentally and academically where they need to be in their life and are having the opportunities I had when I was that age.

Every day is just kind of an emotional roller coaster because some days I thank God I’m not working.

I really love this break. I really love all my time. I love being able to have lunch with my girlfriends and go to the gym and just be carefree. It’s like woo-hoo! I never had this before. But then other days I’m like, “I don’t want to go to lunch. I’m tired of the gym. I can work out on the weekends. I want to work.” So it’s been emotional that way, yes. And my husband continues to be supportive. He’s like, “Well, if you want to go back to work, great. But if you don’t that’s fine, too.” At the same he’s like, “You’re not going to apply for a GS 9 are you? You’re a GS 13. You don’t need to go back.”

To have a career, not just a job is something that’s very challenging as a military spouse.

There’s what you would like and then there’s here’s what the reality is and what you can get. And a lot of times those two things don’t jive. So, I feel like I’m stuck settling. I’m stuck settling for what’s available versus what I really want.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s certainly one that I expected, because when we met and when we married, I knew that was going to happen. I really did. But knowing it and experiencing it are two different things.

Knowing what I did back then, I would still do it all over again. It’s worth the sacrifice. It really is. It sucks some days, for lack of a better term, but overall I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like my husband will finish at twenty and then at that point in time I would like to go to a place where my career can soar. And I know he would be supportive of that. So you know what? If I have to put my career on hold right now I will. Now that won’t stop me from trying to move forward. But if it doesn’t work out, then it just doesn’t work out. It’s not meant to be then that’s just the way it is.

The Naked Truth: Dee’s Story

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

Dee is a recent high school graduate, newly married to her Air Force husband. She feels lucky to have the opportunity to be in Europe and enjoys working at the Exchange so she can keep busy and have people to talk to. Dee is also in school, and would like to be a teacher someday. The following are excerpts from our interview in Germany. I have not used her real name.

We were high school sweethearts and then he decided to enlist in the Air Force. It basically started from there. We graduated in May and he left in June. I went to see him graduate in August where he proposed to me.

Actually the reason why we got married was a personal family situation. In August, I got kicked out of my house by my father and my husband felt bad for me, but it was kind of like a win-win situation. I kind of wanted to get out of there. So when he came home for Christmas break in December we went to the courthouse and got married, but eventually we’re going to have a real wedding. I still have my dress. We got married and he left for Germany in December and then I had to stay back because we had to get the sponsorship paperwork done.

I went to college for two semesters right after high school, summer and fall semester. And then I had to stop to get ready to come here. I had a part-time job at Dollar General for about a month and a half.

When he left it was very stressful for me. I was living with his parents which would be my in-laws. I was living with them when he was in basic training, so it was a really stressful environment because his mom was there and she had all those mixed feelings of a mom.

I also had no idea about the Air Force, and it was just totally new to me.

My eyes were wide open for the whole entire time. It was an exciting time because of all the stuff that was happening and graduation too.

(Without the military) I wouldn’t be in Germany. I mean a lot of people don’t have those kinds of opportunities in life. That’s just what I think about all the time. So, I mean it’s exciting.

The first day he told me that I was going to be able to come here, I went to the post office and got my passport that day. I was really excited. I’d never been out of Ohio for my 19 years of living, so I was just really excited.

We had nothing, like absolutely nothing when we started out so I was making lists and trying to get everything together. Trying to go to garage sales to get everything we could. And I mean we had nothing, so it was just trying to work and trying to get all the money I could so we could try to start.

It was exciting (when I first got here) because I hadn’t seen him in six months. Same thing with graduating from tech school and from basic training, you get used to not being able to see him.

But I didn’t have my driver’s license at that time and I really had no idea what I was going to be doing. So I was sitting at home with nothing to do for probably a good three, four months because I really didn’t have anything to do. And I didn’t have any friends yet.

I felt alone and I was really getting angry.

Not really angry, but stressed out because I guess those were the couple months that I was aggravated with him. And I was still trying to understanding the Air Force. We had a couple fights and I wasn’t used to his schedule yet. Their shop is open 24/7, seven days a week so it’s one of those rotating things. Sometimes you’re on night shift. Sometimes you’re on day shift.

I really didn’t get to see him that much. Obviously in the Air Force you don’t. But I didn’t know that at the time. So I guess I was missing him.

Right now we’re fine because I have a job and he has a job.

So we’re getting along great. We pass each other sometimes, but it keeps you busy. You don’t have to think about it that much.

I really wanted a job so I could help out and pay for bills and. And he was like, “Go ahead and do what you want.” We have two cars now so we have to try to make that work with bills. So I tried and tried for three months and then finally I was like, “I just need a job.” So I went to the BX and I really didn’t care what kind of job I got. But I enjoy my job. We make it work. Our days off are not on the same days at all, but I like it because it keeps us both busy. I don’t have to sit at home anymore and think about all the things that are going on around me.

And then I started school in January. I’m feeling better about myself because I have a lot of things to do. I feel like I have a purpose because I’m pursuing a degree I’ve always wanted to pursue, and I’m able to contribute to our bills and everything, and I’m able to help out basically now.

I’m around people all the time. This is going to sound weird, but I was excited to get my job because I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to at home except for my husband. I was excited to get the job because I’d have people to talk to when you’re working. I could talk to somebody about what’s going on in my life instead of just keeping it all to myself, because I like to talk. I like to be around people.

This is going to sound weird too, but I like to be around kids and I see kids on a daily basis, working in the infant’s department. I mean it’s not exactly being around kids but I can get that feel for it I guess. I enjoy it.

I would like to teach in an elementary school environment, K through fourth grade or fifth grade, but no higher than that. Because little kids, they don’t know anything when they come to school. And you have the opportunity as a teacher to teach them something new, and they always have a smile on their face when they learn that piece of information. It’s just exciting, seeing them learn.

We’ve talked about (what he wants to do). We’ve only got as far as extending a year in Germany, so we really don’t know where it’s going to take us. He’s talked about if he gets his school done in the time he’s in the Air Force, then he might not be in any more. But that’s up in the air right now.

I think it would be interesting if I could teach for DoD schools on base. I guess it’s a totally different environment because you have to be lenient on them because they’re moving a lot.

If he continues in the military, that would be great. We’d have more opportunities to travel. That’s one of the positive things in the Air Force. Meeting new people that are in the same environment, I guess you could say.

People say on the news that Air Force wives have a very big impact on the country. I guess they’re serving too because they’re living in a high stress environment too.

It feels for myself that I am making a contribution to my country in a small way.


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: Kendra’s Story

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

Kendra is an Air Force veteran trying to make sense of her troubling military experience as well as her current role as a “dependent” military spouse. Kendra begins her story by talking about her experience enlisting in the Air Force when she was 19. The following are excerpts from my interview with Kendra.
I really enjoyed (the Air Force) until the war started, and then I wanted out. Because, I guess when you’re 19 you don’t think about joining the military as there might be a war. I didn’t anyways. I just thought of it as a job. And then when the war started and we were loading bombs and loading food, and then downloading bodies. For me it was just too much, at the age of 19, to handle emotionally.

I had a really hard time with it actually, I went to therapy and struggled really bad and tried to get out. But it didn’t work because we were in war, and I had a 6-year enlistment. I think it made me need my husband more, because you don’t have family or anybody else do deal with the emotions. And I think at that age it was just too much to handle. And I was in a male-oriented job, which is not necessarily easy either, so it just made you feel kind of confused. Because why were we helping people and then hurting them? Just confusion I guess for that young of an age.

Even when it wasn’t fun, the thing that I liked the most about the military was the camaraderie, the friendship of it. I grew up a military brat, so I was used to that way of life. People moving, people from different areas, it just felt normal. But, long hours and too much grown up issues when you’re 19 was the hard part.

(Also), in our career field in the military, there are three types of women. There’s the lesbians, there’s the women who sleep with everybody and then there’s the bitches. And I was considered the bitch because I was married. I didn’t flirt with anybody and I worked hard and believed in the rules and tried to make everybody follow the rules, so it didn’t go over so good. Because there was the boys club and I wasn’t part of that. It made work difficult.

I was like the outcast girl.

They would tell the other airmen that they don’t have to listen to me, but yet they would put me in charge. How am I supposed to be in charge if you’re telling them they don’t have to listen to me? So that was a big push to get out. I don’t know…I really don’t think women belong in the military. That’s bad to say but…

It’s such a boys club, if you’re not one of those three types…. I mean that’s pretty much the only role you can be in. If you’re the hard worker, you’re not going to get anywhere. Either you have to be flirting to make the guys happy or be like one of the guys. There’s no room to be a secure strong woman and not be flirting with the guys. And this is a perspective from a male-oriented job. I don’t know what it’s like to work medical or MPF in the offices or something. Because we had a shop of 90 people and they were four girls. There either needs to be more women mixed in there or a men-only career field. Because we would be out on the flight line for 12 hours a day and you would call over the radio saying you have to go to the bathroom. And because the guys would just go in the woods they wouldn’t let you come back. Or if you did come back, you’d get yelled at, so it was a big mess.

What happened when you got out of the military and PCS’ed to New Jersey with your husband?

It was pretty stressful and lonely because my husband was on grave shift. So if I was home in the apartment during the day I had to be super quiet and I couldn’t really go too many places because I had the two dogs and it was summer time and I couldn’t leave them in the car. But I couldn’t leave them at home because they might wake him up. So, I would go for walks and stuff, but, just he kept saying, “Oh enjoy your time. You don’t have to work, and you’re free. You can do whatever you want,” And I’m like, I have no friends. I have no way to meet friends, because when you PCS if you’re active duty, you automatically know people when you go somewhere. Because you go to your shop and you get introduced to everybody. But when you’re the spouse, this is my first PCS as a spouse, you know your husband and you don’t know anybody else. I get jealous of people who have children because at least you have your kids to take with you to the store or something. So it was pretty lonely. It sucked.

It went to be being like you didn’t matter anymore.

Because after using your social security number for 6 years, then all of a sudden your social security number doesn’t count. It’s his social security number. And then not being able to do anything on your own without him. You go and try to do something and they’re like “Well you need your sponsor.” I’m like, “What do you mean I need my sponsor? I’m right here and he’s on grave shift. Why can’t I do it without him?” Like if you needed your ID card renewed or if you needed to get your car registered. It takes your identity away and puts it on him…I’d been the military spouse, but I’d never been the military dependent spouse.

(It was frustrating) because he didn’t understand. My husband was like, “Oh you have all this free time and you can do whatever you want.” And you’re like, “Well I want a job, that’s what I want to do.” And then they’re like “Oh, why do you have to go to work? You don’t have to go to work.” Like, I’m gonna sit in the apartment all day?

I’ve been on my own since I was 16 and I’ve had a job since I was 12, so I’ve always supported myself. To just sit at home and have him support me, that’s not what I want for myself. He doesn’t understand that because he’s more than happy to support me. But that’s not how I fulfill myself I guess. I need to have a job.

Kendra is crying now…

I’ve taken care of myself for so long that it’s scary to let someone else do it. And it’s my job to do it. It’s not his job to do it. If you don’t have a job and he decides you’re not important and leaves, then what? It’s easier to take care of yourself. Always take care of yourself. Good grief. I’m a big crybaby too.

I felt lost for a while, just trying to find which direction I wanted to go. It made things between me and my husband weird, because he expected a wife now. Because before, I worked more hours than he did. So he did the laundry and the dishes and the cooking. Now the roles were reversing and I’m not a stay at home wife. I don’t like doing that kind of stuff. And now he expected that because he did it when I was busy. Now it’s my turn, but that’s not what I want to do. I’d rather be out of the house and working and bringing home the money. Let someone else do that.

It wasn’t fun. There was a lot of fighting and the PCS was a lot more stressful than when we were both in. Because he would go to the in-processing briefings and doing the claims for the broken stuff. And he would come home and I’d ask, “What did they say? Well what about this? Did you ask this?” Because normally I would do that stuff because I’m much more detail-oriented and I ask a million questions. And he’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And it caused tension between us because he wasn’t doing it the way I would do it and I couldn’t do it anymore. That was definitely weird.

Kendra held a few jobs during the assignment in New Jersey, including dog training and retail. She was “really excited” when she found out her husband got order to Germany, returning to the base where they first met.

I wanted to get a job, but it wasn’t as important as when I was in the states because I don’t mind traveling around by myself, going places. So I didn’t need the friendship factor. This was familiar. Going to New Jersey was not familiar. For me, going to Germany was coming home. So, there were no nerves or anxiousness. I was just ready to come back. I figured I’d just travel around and wait till I got a job.

(I started teaching with) the Head Start program for the Army. You teach them the basics of Germany, like how to ask for something to drink, and where’s the bathroom. And then on Friday’s you do the field trip down to Kaiserslautern and give them a little tour around. I really liked it, and I’m pretty sure I was good at it.

I discovered I really like teaching.

I really like to see them progressing. I have a weird obsession, passion with Germany and I like to share the positive influence of that because a lot of people don’t want to come here. And I think that it’s really important that the first impression you get (is positive). For some people that can make or break their tour. If they know the best places to get coffee and where to buy groceries and cool places to take their kids, I think it makes it easier for a lot of people to transition. So, I basically got to teach German and talk about how cool Germany was. But unfortunately I stopped doing that.

It was just getting in the way of trying to travel and making plans with my husband. And then they needed an education counselor for the Army. And I had subbed for them a couple of times to try to make up more money. I had enjoyed it, going in there and helping people pick colleges and figuring out their life plan. I thought that I would be making a difference for the Army guys and helping them out. So then a full-time job came open, and I thought, “At least I’ll know my schedule and still be doing something that I enjoy.” Maybe not as much, but I’ll still be doing something I enjoy.

But then it just got… Okay, before I say anything bad…my Daddy’s Army but the Army is definitely a different breed than the Air Force. They’re very open with what they’re going to tell you and their language is not appropriate for speaking to strangers sometimes. We had to call a few first sergeants in and tell them, “We’re afraid this guy’s going to come back and hurt us.” This guy came back from Iraq after a year and his dad had passed away, and the way he was screaming at us, we’re like “We’re just education counselors.” But he was so angry and yelling and cussing over something. Between that and sitting in an office, there would be 8 hours a day I would just sit there and stare at a computer. And I’m not an office person. So no interaction with people. And if you did, it was someone coming in to yell at you because their stuff was messed up. You get a few of the nice guys that are maybe going for their bachelor’s or master’s and they are understanding and nice about it. But the bad out-numbered the good in that job. So that’s when I started looking for something else to do.

(I applied to go back and do) the same thing I was doing in the military. I liked the job that I did in the military. It was just the military aspect at that age was not ok for me. And come to find out, I have anxiety issues and all this stuff that I discovered now that I’m older. Maybe had I known that when I was younger, I could have handled the situations better. So I found that job, applied, got the interview, got the job. That was four months ago.

I’m just kind of in that limbo not knowing when I start, feeling frustrated because I quit my…I still could be making money and have more time on my resume for the other job. Now I’m just staying home again, waiting.

I’m nervous because I’m a job person. When I got the GS job people said, “Oh you’re set for life, a career and you’re good.” And I’m like “Oh God, I think I’m stuck.” Like I already felt stuck just from the saying “You’re going to have a career.”

But I think I’m over that now, because in three years we’ll PCS and if I don’t want to go back to a GS job I don’t have to. I can do something else.

I think because I’m such an indecisive person and I’ve moved around my whole life, I’m used to every two or three years it’s gotta change. So, we were in Jersey for four years but I had two different jobs. I changed my degree three times. It’s just that I don’t like it to stay the same. I’m so used to change that I don’t want (one career). I don’t know, it just feels stuck. Which most people are like, “Oh I’ve been friends with this person for 20 years.” I’ve been friends with my husband, but that’s the longest friendship (I’ve had).

When you move every 2 or 3 years I get to experience new people, new things and new jobs. I like that.

I’m also excited because now that I’m older…guys (at work) can’t intimidate me the way they used to, and the rank structure doesn’t matter because I’m a civilian. As long as I do a good job, they can’t do anything to me. They can’t talk to me the way they used because I’ll be like, “Oh no, I don’t think so.” And I don’t know if it’s because I’m not military anymore and the rank structure doesn’t matter, or if it’s just me being older. Like “Nope, not gonna let you do that.” I think it’ll be good. (Kendra begins to cry again.)

It seems like you’re still kind of emotional about it.

Yeah, because I’m scared that it will be the same. Because it’s still the military, it’s still the guys’ club and everything. But, it always seems like the civilians get to be different. You don’t have to be in that club because you don’t need their approval to progress in the ranks or get the good shift or not have to suck the poop out of the plane, you know. You just do your job, and as long as you do your job, you’re good. And someone might actually see that you do a good job and you might actually get promoted, as opposed to the military, you just get more work if you do a good job.

I hope it brings back that feeling of doing something, making a difference, helping people get on to the next duty station. I love when people come back from TDY’s and you work in the PAX terminal. You get to see the families reunite. That’s my favorite part because you helped bring them back to their family and you get to see that. But it’s also hard to watch the goodbyes. It’s a reminder so you don’t forget the war and the people that are down there.

There’s still so many people that are deployed and fighting, and people don’t think about it. Even military people don’t think about it. Depending on what their job is, you know, if they’re working MPF or at the dental clinic, why would they be thinking about those guys that are still going down there? Especially Air Force, because we don’t go as often, or they don’t go as often. Working with the Army was a big eye opener that their way their life is completely different. I have a good friend, and her husband was gone for training for 6 months, came home for two weeks and was gone a year. That’s crazy. We complain about 6 months.

What’s important to you about having this job?

I think it gives me self-worth I guess, which I’m not sure if that’s okay or not. Without a job, because I don’t have kids and I don’t like playing the stay at home wife role. So it kind of defines me, gives me something to get up for. Because without the job, I can clean the house, but if you’re home every day and there’s no kids to mess it up, it’s clean every time you wake up, you’re like “Okay, clean the house and walk the dogs and did everything and it’s only 9am.” So it gives you something to get up for. You make friends at work and you have that camaraderie and I think that’s important, especially when you’re overseas because you don’t have the family or the life-long friends. But at work you have that. And since everybody’s so transient all the time, you get closer faster I think it’s good to have those relationships.

I try to fill my time, but it’s like I don’t fit in with the moms because I don’t have any children. I don’t have anything to input, like “Oh my kid did this or this” and I’m like “I went for a walk with my dogs.” So at least with the people at work, you have work to talk about. So you have that commonality, and I don’t know, it’s easier to fit in. Right now, I feel like I don’t fit anywhere.

I think that’s difficult for women because you’re supposed to have the kid part. And if you don’t have the kid part, what do you think you’re going to do? You know, one mom was like “Oh, I wish I had free time or whatever like you do,” and I’m like, “Everybody says that until they have the free time. If you didn’t have your kids and you were just sitting at home what would you do? You have to feed three people every day, you have to clean up after three people. To have one person, it gets really boring.”

How do you think being a military spouse has impacted you?

If I was working and my husband was working normal jobs I think I would get really bored, just because it would be the same. Same thing day after day and year after year, you maybe get your one vacation a year or whatever. But here, every weekend you get to travel, you get to go somewhere and see something new.

But I know it causes some strife between me and my husband and he perceives it too. My job isn’t as important as his job because I don’t have to work. He makes enough money that we could live comfortably with me not working. So, I think he does get probably jealous sometimes of the guys whose wives do stay at home and just cook and clean and be that wife and be content with that. I would love it if he stayed at home, and cooked and cleaned and did everything. But I wouldn’t expect that.

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.

The Naked Truth: Joanna’s Story

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

Joanna has been a military spouse twice, and describes her journey from an abusive first marriage to a successful career in nursing, while finding the “perfect” man the second time around. She is fortunate to enjoy a good fit between her career and military life, now that she is working in the DoD system. Her story begins in the days of her first marriage when she worked part-time as a seamstress to help make ends meet. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Joanna’s real name.

I had my own business as a seamstress. I did uniforms and I had a lot of people that I’ve met and I had contact with. It was really nice because I got to do it out of my house and always had money, which was always nice. Especially when you’re eking between paychecks, it was really nice.

I saw myself number one as the mom and spouse, and number two as the worker. And it was kind of nice being able to contribute to the family income, as well as making sure that my house was nice and my kids were taken care of, and I was not missing anything there.

(But), I was in a very abusive relationship… I picked a day, and I sat him down and I said, “I’m going to leave you and this is the reason why. I can’t deal with this anymore.” My kids saw him hit me. My kids definitely saw him treating me terribly and that’s not who I am. And I let myself get that way. That’s not right. And it’s a shame that more people don’t stand up for themselves. At that point, I’m like, “You know what? Screw you. I’m standing up for myself. I’m done with you.” I put the money away, set up a place to stay, set up a job, and got the hell out of dodge.

I was poor. I tell you, I was dirt poor going through nursing school with three children under the age of five. And my mom even said “Why am I going to help you? You’re going to fail anyway.” But I think she did that to piss me off to the point where I would say, “I’m going to prove you wrong lady!” I proved everybody wrong. I got out of a nursing school with a B average. I aced not just my exit exam, but my boards.

I felt a strong sense of accomplishment and I felt very proud of myself, because that’s a hard thing. If you ever went through nursing school, that’s a bear…And I was able to prove to my kids. I know that they’re young, but I was able to show my kids, “You know what? I don’t have to sit back and collect welfare and collect food stamps, and just be.”

I did something with myself. I got up and I fought.

(Then) I was in the nursing part of the rehab (center) where you’re really doing intense nursing. It was fabulous. I really loved it. It was awesome…I mean it was fabulous because you had that sense of worth. You were worth something. You did something. You accomplished something.

You know, coming from a place where I was told for seven years that I wasn’t worth spit, it’s kind of nice. To actually have that worth and know in my heart that I was worth something. I mean I accomplished three children. I accomplished raising those children. I accomplished a house. I accomplished all the things that go along with being a military spouse, and helping others, and making friends, and making money and being the best spouse I was able to for that person. But it’s quite an accomplishment when you see it literally on paper. You have a license in your hands. You get to have letters after your name. Nobody can take that from you.

(And then) I met the best guy in the world, to me anyway. He’s awesome… But the decision to marry him was very easy to be honest with you. It was probably one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had in my life, because he was perfect. And he accepted me. And he accepted the package that came along, which were my kids…The decision (to move to Ohio with him) was very easy. I’m not opposed to moving. I feel it’s an adventure.

It was very important for me to work and to bring in money so I can be a contributor to the household.

My husband did make enough, but I felt like a leach if I wasn’t working. I know it sounds really bad, but there’s no reason at all that I would be staying home. What would be the logic behind that when I’m an able-bodied person that is able to go out and do my craft?

And I have this fear of being poor because I was so poor for so long. And looking back, seeing that person that had to sell her jewelry, I never want to get in that position again. So if I’m able-bodied I’m going to go out and work. I like to work. It’s fun. I really enjoy it. So that’s my reasoning.

I took a pay cut. I took a huge pay cut, but I felt it was worth it because I got to be with just an amazing person who’s not just a great husband, but a great father.

I maneuvered enough that I worked two 16-hours and an 8-hour shift in three days. So I was able to do all of that and then be home the whole week with my kids and my family, and take care of what needed to be done, which was nice. So unfortunately, we didn’t do much on the weekends, but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were the days that I worked, which was nice because it kept the other days free.

What happened with your next move to South Dakota?

Looking for a job actually was very easy. I fell into the job that I had wanted. I started working (at the base hospital) very soon after I got to South Dakota, which was nice.
It’s amazing when you’re that close (to work) how much time you have. I’d be to work at 7:15. I’d leave work at 4:30. I’d be home by 4:33. My kids were home. It was great. I was able to have my little flow and everything worked well. And so I worked there until my husband deployed for a year and change, which was hard, very hard. But we got through it. And I was just exhausted. I was just tired because I didn’t just work. I did Officer’s Spouse Club. I was on the board for that. I ran a support group. I went to school. I volunteered at the thrift store. What else did I do? I took care of the kids. I took care of dogs. We had two dogs at that time. And I was still volunteering as like a quasi-key spouse.

But I loved what I did. I really did. I loved helping the community. I loved the part that I got to help the military community. And not just the active duty, and the dependents, and their children. I got to help the retired people. It was kind of neat seeing the retired people coming through. I said, “Wow, what they’ve seen.” It was very gratifying.

And how were you feeling when you moved to Germany?

I learned German in high school. I took four years in it, and I always wanted to go and live overseas. I think that would be quite an adventure. So, I always think of our moves as little adventures.
Literally, we got here, and within a few days I went to (the hospital) with resume in hand and said, “I’m getting a job.” Had my paperwork and they said, “Where do you want to work?”
When I had worked originally, I had worked with someone I called Salty. That’s the only way to describe her. She was downright mean. I won’t lie to you. I cried every day when I left work. I said, “I just want to quit.” And I had gotten finally into the government system and (my husband) said, “If you quit now, that kills you for the rest of your life for a government job. Just stick it out.” I just was miserable…Eventually Salty got orders and she’s gone now. Thank God, she’s gone.

I see myself a little bit stronger obviously because I survived that really hard first year. That was the hardest. And my husband didn’t cave to me saying, “I am so done.” It’s funny because I go to work every day. I get there before 7:00 in the morning, even though my shift doesn’t start until 7:30. I don’t usually leave until about 5:00 and my shift ends at 4:30. Sometimes I don’t take lunch, because you have somebody who needs help. You’re there and it’s really nice…I’m very proud of what I do.

It’s hard when you have to start from scratch. That’s why I’m happy I’m in the military system now. I can transfer and I’m not going to be at the bottom of the totem pole anymore.

The only thing that is bad about working, I will say, is the fact that a lot of places have this misconception that officers’ spouses shouldn’t work. It’s an old way of thinking. Very depressing way of thinking because what are they going to do?

I’m getting this perception because a lot of things that I wanted to do are catered to women who don’t work. I wanted to join the Officers’ Spouse Club here, (and they said), “We have night-time meetings.” Only one. I can’t take time off to be at your meetings in the morning and I’m sorry, but people do have jobs. I do key spouse. “Well why don’t we have it at lunchtime?” Because I work and sometimes I don’t get lunches. So it’s all of that in my face saying, “Why do you work?”

It really upsets me and I have now boycotted the OSC, which I know I shouldn’t do, but I’m very annoyed with them telling me one thing and doing another. It’s very frustrating for me. There’s people who like to participate who can’t because they work and I’m one of them. I love doing that kind of thing, and I love knowing people who are outside of my work. I love the people I work with but I don’t have any real friends here. And I kind of miss that. I don’t have that anymore because by the time I get home from work, and doing everything I need to do, run around the kids. I’m tired. But the thing is if you want to have something that’s supporting the military and supporting the spouses, why don’t you make it so everybody can attend and not just a select few? That’s the thing that upsets me.

How does being a military spouse influence you?

My dad being in the military, growing up that way, having him going away. That’s all I know and I don’t know any different. It’s odd to me if you don’t put a uniform on every day. I guess I’m not normal. I like that I can support my husband and I can support the lifestyle that we do. We have this certain lifestyle and we move and we pick up and make a life in 15 different places. I’d get bored if I had to stay in one spot.

Life is an adventure and I think it’s really cool that I can be married to someone who is helping America stay free.

And growing up, my father was a huge influence on me. My dad was a Vietnam vet and retired from the Air Force reserves a few years ago. And having that patriotic way of thought for something bigger than you is kind of neat. It’s really a neat thing that my husband gets to defend my freedom as well as a lot of people’s freedoms and be part of something bigger than I am. And the funny thing is he can go and get a job wherever in the States, get paid double the amount, but he chooses to be in the military because he likes it.

The Naked Truth: Andrea’s Story

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

Andrea reflects on her transition from the workforce to being a stay-at-home mom. She says it was difficult at first, but once she started believing that she was doing something important and “not failing,” she felt good about it. The following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Andrea, which is not her real name. She begins by talking about the job she held as an admissions counselor before becoming a mother.

(When we moved to DC), it was, “Yeah, I’m definitely gonna work.” We had a lot of bills left over from (my mother-in-law’s) funeral. So we had a lot of debt that we had to deal with from that. (I also cared about) making friends because we’re going to a new place and I don’t know anybody. So yeah, (I wanted to work) to make friends, to get out of the house. Finances was probably the number one. Otherwise I would have just gone to school.

I was an admissions counselor (for a university), so I was helping people get enrolled. And a lot of our enrollments were actually military members. So for me that was great, because I could actually talk to them and understand what their concerns were, probably the same concerns I had. And, you know, I was still doing school. So in the beginning it was awesome. Here I am doing school, and it was free. And again, it’s the social thing I was really enjoying. And I was really good at the job. I was really able to enroll people and get people going. So I thought.

(But then) I wasn’t really making friends, so I was sort of depressed a lot. Being able to talk to a lot of military members, over the phone, from all over the states, all over the world, was kind of fun. Because I’m talking to people who are sort of in the same situation. They’re in a place where they don’t know anybody, they’re not really liking the area, so they’re just sort of doing it because they have to. Which I found to be very good for me, at least. It helps me stay out of any funks, and keep going. But I wasn’t too happy really, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like (my husband’s) job and the hours he was working. (With) his commute, by the time he got home he would eat and go to bed. It was horrible. Weekends were just spent cleaning the house, because I was working full-time, and he was working full-time. We really weren’t doing anything. We weren’t traveling. California was great for all that stuff. We weren’t doing that now in Virginia. It was just sort of a day-to-day routine, at that point. So it was just “blah.” I wasn’t depressed or anything like that, it was just “blah.”

The job was stressful. At first, I thought it was a stellar company, and then it turned out it was not as good as I thought it was. I want to say 98% of the students I dealt with were military. And, while the college was viewed by the Department of Education as a real school, it didn’t have any of the national accreditations. So, I’m starting to hear back from students, “Hey, I tried to transfer this to another school, but it’s not transferring because it doesn’t have national accreditation.” At that point now I’m feeling bad, because I had gotten military people to sign up for classes that will get them a degree if they stay with us. But if you were looking to get a real education, or transfer it to another school, nine times out of ten they’re not going to transfer. But to be true to myself and have integrity, especially when it came to other military members, I’m going to be forward and straight up. So I struggled with that for a while.

Integrity comes first.

Integrity will always come first, and I will never, ever deliberately mess over a military person. Never. And, so I didn’t. I told them, “This is what we can do. This is the place that I know it’s going to transfer over to. But if you want to go to a nationally accredited school, you need to check with them first. Because I’m telling you, they may not take them.” I would tell them everything from the beginning, and then my sales numbers started to come back down. And so work got a lot more stressful.

I stayed with them until I gave birth to my daughter. I was working for them, and then I was going to start working from home. Except my daughter initially had a lot of health problems. And I just wasn’t able to keep up my job from home. So I resigned.

(I was) kind of sad, because I really did enjoy talking to people all day long. I had some guys in Korea and Afghanistan, who would use their minutes to call me just to chit- chat, because they knew that I would be bright and sunny and made their day better. They started with a stupid question about school, and we’d just talk for 20 minutes. I felt bad leaving them because I felt almost like I was abandoning people. But that was how it was.

I wanted to see if things settled down with my daughter, maybe I would be able to pick up again with that company, or maybe find another one where I could work from home. Just while she was little.

But then we moved to Germany.

But, (my daughter) just kept having all these little (problems). For the first six months, things just weren’t quite right. So we just kept going to the doctors, back and forth. At six months she had a really bad problem that she actually was hospitalized for. Three months later, she had a really bad episode where she went catatonic. And we went back to the hospital, but this time they found out that it was an obstruction of the small intestine that had to have surgery. So she had surgery, and all of that. And by that time, I just never did make it to a point where I felt good enough to get someone to help me watch her, or put her into daycare. I just didn’t trust anybody else to raise my kid at that point.

It was frustrating. It was lonely. I missed talking. And then when you do get around to your friends, the only thing you have to talk about is wet diapers. It was very frustrating for me. I’ve never not been able to talk to people before. Because I was the middle of five kids, I don’t know how not to interact with people. I didn’t really have a whole lot outside of my house or my daughter going on. So I started doing play groups, and things like that. But it’s just not the same. You don’t get breaks from the baby, you don’t get breaks from the family. And you’ve got nothing to talk about with a real person anymore. All you know how to do is sing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song. So it was really frustrating for me. I hate to call work my time, but it is. I missed having my time.

And then of course, you go through “Am I a bad mom because I feel this way?”

The first six months I just thought I’m one of those over-paranoid moms. I need to just back off with her medical stuff. There’s nothing wrong with my kid. Stop being a hypochondriac for your daughter. But it was just sort of sad, because I’d lost all of those connections at work. I wasn’t social. I didn’t like it very much, being a stay-at-home mom.

But at six months, when I knew I was right (about my daughter), it changed everything. Now I’m like, “No, I’m a great mom. And you want to know why? Because I’ve known this for six months and you doctors didn’t.” Then I felt like a good stay-at-home mom, and this is a real job too. I just don’t get paid. So that sort of changed my attitude about it. That’s when we started doing play groups, and I was socializing more, and that made me feel better.

Tell me more about what you were thinking when you arrived in Germany.

Well, my daughter was getting older. She was about one and a half. (I thought I’d) put her in the CDC a few days a week, and maybe I can find a part-time job somewhere. I hadn’t necessarily thought of going back full-time, but definitely part-time. And then we got here and we found out I was pregnant. I was like, “So, that might not happen.” Because I definitely don’t want to be working the first six months of his life. Maybe I can still find something I can do from home, but those are more elusive than reality just yet, for me at least. Especially not having finished my Bachelor’s that makes it harder.

You look around, and your only options really are on base because I don’t speak German. And the options on base are very slim because of the fact that all military wives are here. So it’s a lot more competitive to get a job on base, at least one that you actually want to have, unless you want to work at the BX or the CDC. I’m not saying anything negative about those jobs, but those are different hours. You can’t really plan, you don’t know you’re working Monday through Friday. It could be any time and scheduling things is just a lot harder. Especially when you’ve got a family and you’re looking at deployments. And then I just forgot about working through the pregnancy. I’ll worry about that later when I can actually do it.

Once I realized I was a good mom, being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the worst thing in the world anymore. I can still talk to people on the phone. I can still do play groups. And to be honest, that’s pretty much it. Now I’m an at-home mom. I’d love to have a real job at some point again. Right now it’s just not an option. I don’t feel negative about it. I’m actually happy with that decision for now, because I don’t feel like I’m a failure. I don’t anymore. I did the first six months with my daughter, but at this point, I don’t feel like that anymore. I don’t like to fail. And so as long as I’m not failing, I feel good about it.

With my kids, I don’t feel like I’m failing, because they’re getting everything they need from me. I’m teaching them things, at least my daughter anyway. I’m teaching her ABC’s, colors, so it is a job in itself, because now I’m a teacher. Okay, that’s cool. I’m not failing, because I am staying social. I’ve got new friends here. We’ve got play groups on Thursdays. We get together and do lunch with our kids, so I’m still being social. So that’s the failure part. With my daughter, I thought I was failing because I’m always taking her to the doctor and not being listened to, which makes you question yourself. If I’m not questioning myself, I’m not failing, because there’s nothing to question. And so, the realization at least for now while they’re this little, I’m not going to work. It just puts the question to rest for now.

And then I can go back and do some classes here and there online, which is what I’m doing now. That will help me get a job later, especially when it’s this competitive.

I can’t wait to go back to work. I love my kids, I love being an at-home mom, but man, it’s time to myself! I know that’s sounds silly because it’s a job, but it’s time to myself that I don’t have right now. And then I’m contributing to my family too. I can’t wait until they’re old enough, or at least the baby’s old enough for the CDC, or they can go to the German kindergartens. Then I have those hours where I can go have a real job or something. That would be great.

I know a lot of companies, when they look at your resume, they look for the gaps. They look for how long you’ve been with a company. You know, making sure you aren’t going to leave after three months. And being an Air Force spouse can just throw a damper on it, because you do have gaps where you didn’t work because of a move or a deployment, or whatever. Or you’ve got these short-term jobs, because maybe when you got to an area all you could get were these short-term jobs. So it sort of throws a whole new spin on the working thing. For me, I kind of like it, because I get to try everything, because you never know what you’re going to get when you get to the next station. But it sucks because you can’t look long term with a company that’s past three years. Long term for you is getting a job immediately and working three years. So you never really do climb that ladder. You never really do get that permanence that you need when you’re trying to plan retirement and things like that. So once he retires, then maybe I look at a job where I can be more permanent and feel more meaningful for a company. But, because you know it’s three years, it’s a temporary job.

You never really try to go too high up in a company because you know you’re not going to be there.

I’ve never really had a permanent place to call my home. Having that permanence gives you roots a little bit. And then you know the same people for more than three years. You know the same people, day in and day out. You build these relationships. And, in the military, you build these relationships very quickly, but at the end of three years, you build new relationships. And sure, you still love your friends that you made at the last one, and you sort of keep in touch, but it’s not the same. Every time, you find new ones. It would be kind of nice to have just one permanent thing in my life.

The Naked Truth: Charlotte’s Story

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

Charlotte has been a military spouse for 3 years, and recently moved to Germany for her first overseas PCS. She is now an unemployed engineer wondering how she is going to fit career into military life. The following excerpt is taken from my interview with Charlotte. In order to protect her identity, I am not using her real name. Here is Charlotte’s story in her own words…

I never ever thought I would do anything but get a job. In my family, my mom works and my dad’s a farmer, so growing up I always worked. I have always had jobs ever since high school, through college and everything. Now I kind of feel like I’m a bump on a log because I don’t have any children yet either. I should be making money and saving up for the future. I don’t want to be vain or anything, but I made good grades in school, and I felt like I was a smart enough person that I should be working. I should be using my brain rather than feeling like it’s atrophying, like I kind of feel like it’s doing here. Yeah, I just wanted to work.

(Working gives me that) satisfaction that you have something to do with your day. The (engineering) projects that we did were good. My boss was involved in financial aid type stuff and rehabilitation projects. So I feel like we actually did good for the community because we would help them get government grants and loans for low to moderate income areas. And there was some satisfaction in seeing a neighborhood that was kind of lower end, flooded all the time, and that you could smell their sewer. A project might take a while but eventually they had this nicer area and then their property value probably went up. So, yeah, there was that feeling of satisfaction. It was just a feeling that you had something that you’re doing with your life. I mean I want to work. I want to have that feeling I accomplished something at the end of the day.

But we said we wanted to go to Europe. We’re young, we don’t have children. We love traveling. And my husband said, “Charlotte, it’ll be hard to get a job.” I said, “Okay, whatever.” I’ve never, ever not gotten a job that I applied for, until here. So it was kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, whatever. We’re going to live in Europe. I don’t care.” So we put Germany as our number one. And then by this time my bosses knew that I was going to be moving. I was with my co-worker guy on the road doing a project thing when my husband called. And I was just kind of like, “Ahhh! I’m moving to Germany.” I was thrilled, thrilled to be here. I love being here… and now I can’t find a job.

It’s not working out like I thought it would.

I’ve been applying, applying, and in the meantime I got the substitute teaching job because it would give me a little bit of money and just to keep me doing something during the day. And then we found out my husband was going to deploy so I was like, “Oh my God! What am I going to do on a deployment?”

I got a call the other day about an energy engineer (position). And I was like, “Oh, this will be cool. I could do that.” And so I had gotten the email that said, “We’re referring you to the hiring official.” That happens all the time and then they send me another email that says, “We didn’t pick you.” (But) I got a call. And I was all excited. But then he called to ask what my DEROS date was. Everyone says they’re not supposed to ask you that. And I’m like, well what am I going to do, tell them they’re not supposed to ask me that? I kind of have to answer the question. So I told him and we’ve been here a year and a couple months now. So are they going to be like, “Well, we’re not even going to look at her because she’s out of time?” So now I’m wondering should I even try anymore because I’m only going to have another year and a half here?

Do I give up? I don’t know.

I’ll just apply for anything to stay busy, secretary, whatever. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like you know what, forget those things. We’ve only got a year and half left (in Germany), and if it’s not going to be professional, or in my degree program, or what I studied, or put me towards getting that PE, I’m not going to try anymore. So I’m kind of just focusing on that. And I’m at a place right now where it may not happen. I might just have to accept it and quit complaining that I get to travel and have fun all day.

I still kind of cry to my husband every once in a while, “I’m stupid. Nobody thinks I’m smart. I can’t get a job.” And he’s like, “It’s not that, it’s Europe.” I’ll talk to someone and they’re like, “I can’t get a job either.” And I’m like, “Well you’re really smart. I don’t see why you couldn’t get one.” And then I feel better. So it’s kind of like a roller coaster ride. I’m just really worried that I’ll go back to the U.S. and…are they going to think that I wasn’t smart enough to get a job or qualified enough? Or are they going to think I was lazy by taking a three-year break? Are they going to think you’re behind other people your age who have their PE by now?

And then we’ve talked about when we get back to the U.S., probably starting a family. And I know they can’t not hire you, but in my last job we did some outdoor stuff. You know I had to go climb down manholes and stuff like that. So I’m afraid that I’ll get a job, then I’ll get pregnant, and they’ll be like, “Thanks a lot!” So I’m wondering if this is it. Was my three years in Georgia going to be my whole career? Am I never going to find a job again? Was I on a roll and then did it end? Am I just going to be a mom now? Which is not bad, but in my mind I always thought I’d be a working mom, because my mom was.

I guess the attitude in my house growing up was (looking down on) the ladies who lunch. My mom would always be like, “Oh, the tennis girls…” because she’s still at work. She probably was a little jealous because she had sisters or friends whose husbands made a good enough salary where they didn’t have to work, and could be full-time moms, and they were happy. But my dad was a farmer and my parents couldn’t afford it. And my parents sent us to private school and they made a lot of sacrifices. So my mom is in her fifties, and she still works, and I don’t work. I’m her daughter. I’m a lady who lunches now. So there’s a little bit of me feeling like I need to tell my mom, “I promise I’m still looking for a job. I don’t want you to feel disappointed in me.”

It’s just how I was raised. You work.

I’m not as confident (now), because I feel like maybe they’re not picking me because I’m not smart or qualified enough. And then I’m wondering if I’m forgetting stuff. Yeah, like sometimes I’ll be in the grocery store and I’m trying to add up something. I’m like, “Oh God, I can’t do basic math in my head!” Just things like that. I feel like I’m not using that part of my brain as much. I wonder, am I getting…not dumber…but am I just kind of getting out of that mindset? And will I get back into it if I get a job again, or would I be behind other people?

I think you have to have something to show for your life. I don’t know. I just feel like God put us here to work. I feel bad. There’s people out there who don’t have what I have. I feel like I’m undeserving of everything that I have if I don’t work for it, and so I just kind of feel bad that I have all of these things, and this wonderful life, and I don’t even have to work for it now. And other people would love to have this and they work hard.

I just feel like what’s life about if it’s not working or helping others? I feel like if I had children, maybe that (is) helping someone else. You’re accomplishing something. You’re raising a new person. That would be satisfying….But what am I accomplishing by not working? I don’t feel like I should be able to just do whatever I want just because my husband makes a good enough salary that I don’t have to work.

I feel really kind of up and down lately because I’ve been thinking I don’t want children for a while. I want to put it off, but some of our friends are starting to have children. And I told my husband, “You need to just pray for me to have a change of heart about children because I don’t know how I feel about them.” So in the last couple of months he must be praying for me. (Now) I’m like, “Well okay, it’d be kind of cool to be a mom.” So now there’s this factor on the side where I’m like, “Hmm. Would I work? Would I work full-time? Could I get a part-time thing? Could I do that?” I don’t know.

I feel like my hopes and dreams are a little bit in flux now because I don’t know what I want to do anymore. It’s really fuzzy.

I just kind of think God will put his will in my life, and if he has a job for me then I guess it’ll happen. So maybe I haven’t gotten a job yet because of other reasons. Maybe I had to learn some stuff about myself and make these friends so that I might be more open to being a mom later. I don’t know how I feel. But I have to think about it so much more than I ever used to, which is kind of annoying. Because I had a job, I was good, I was be-bopping along and now it’s like, “What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What can I do? Maybe I’ll apply for this job. Maybe I’ll do this later.” So I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m really a grownup yet because I don’t know what’s going to happen.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I don’t think my husband did either…. Whenever we were in (Georgia), my husband was in the Air Force and I worked here. And that was how it was and I wasn’t involved in any of the on base stuff. It wasn’t ever a really big factor. I hadn’t shopped on base. I didn’t do my grocery shopping there. I didn’t go to the doctor on base because I had been working at this job before we were married, so that was my primary insurance. So it wasn’t really a major factor except that we lived in Georgia instead of in Louisiana, near our families. And since we’ve gotten here, it’s just so much more. I’m on the base every day. I shop there. I go to the doctor there, go to the library there, and the way I’ve made friends is through spouse clubs. So all of a sudden, I’m this Air Force wife, when before I was but it didn’t really matter. It was just my husband’s job.

I feel like I’m more defined by my husband because he’s the bread winner, and he’s the one with the job. It’s his career that we’re following, and I’m here for him, which is kind of annoying, (but) I mean it’s not a big deal.

But I’m like, “I had my own thing before.”

Sometimes I’m a little snooty,“I’m not like y’all. I’m not just a spouse. I have my own thing.” I don’t need to be defined by my husband because a lot of people are. That’s rude, but I think that you need to work. You need to have a goal. You need to be in school. You need to be doing something. And if you’re not, and you’re just what I am… I’m kind of something I didn’t want to be. I’m just a spouse now, because I don’t really have a daily purpose.

I’ve also kind of come to the conclusion that these women who are like me, are not just mooches or they’re not out getting their nails done every five minutes, like I had in my mind when I worked. (I thought,) “How are these girls getting their nails done at 10am and chilling at Target?” Some of them were probably like me. They want to work, or they work and I don’t know it. I’ve kind of learned that I’m not a nice person for thinking that way about people. So it makes me (see) everybody has their own thing, and what works for me probably doesn’t work for another person.
I hope that I will get a GS position here, and then everyone says once you’re in the system you can transfer. So I’ll just try to go back to my old-school way of living and I’ll get a job. But now I know that there are resources at the base and ways to make friends. I’ll try to be a little more involved. I think it’s probably almost a good thing that this has happened to me, because if I can learn something from it I’ll be a more rounded person rather than (feeling) like work is everything.