What I’ve Learned as an Army Wife

Motherhood

January 11, 2019

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I share my husband with every citizen of this country.

That’s an intense idea that’s hard to wrap my head around sometimes. It’s easy to fall into a trap of selfishness when I haven’t seen him for days, or when I’m more used to falling asleep alone at night than with him. I didn’t exactly sign up for that—but I fell in love with a man who did sign up for it, and I certainly wouldn’t trade him for the world.

Our whirlwind life started in a very whirlwind way. Our story could be its own book, but I’ll give you the highlights:

When I met CJ, I was working for a non-profit and traveling a lot. It was my dream job.

One Christmas, I headed to Atlanta to hire a team to approach people while they were Christmas shopping and talk to them about giving back for the holidays.

My last night there, I was at Lenox Square Mall, finishing up with my most recent hire before flying home to Seattle for Christmas. She was nervous about what to say when she stopped someone. I told her she could shadow me for one last conversation, and then I would have to head back to my hotel.

**cue slow-motion shot with dramatic music**

I turned to say hello to the next person walking by, who also just happened to be a tall, super-handsome, blue-eyed creature straight from the heavens. He introduced himself as CJ. We talked for about ten minutes and my trainee slowly stepped back as our conversation developed.

I remember thinking to myself as we talked:

  • He’s in the Army. (Red Flag #1)
  • He’s deploying in three weeks. (Red Flag #2)
  • I’m flying across the country in the morning and will probably never see him again. (Red Flag #3)

Long story short, we should own a part of Apple right now for the number of iMessages sent and Facetime calls made over that deployment. I didn’t see him after that first conversation at the mall until a year later, at his homecoming, when I had packed up my life in Seattle and moved to Clarksville, TN, to start the rest of our lives together.

Since then, we have gotten married, moved a couple times, collected a few more degrees, changed jobs and had two super rad mini humans—our two-year-old daughter Lenox (named after the mall) and our little man, one-year-old Casten.

When I moved to Tennessee, I was already used to a fluid life away from home, but the military was different and being married was different. Sometimes I feel like CJ and I share the same soul—he knows what I’m thinking before I even think it. It might sound weird, but since I’ve found that synergy with someone else, I feel incomplete when he’s gone, which is obviously much more intense than just being “used to moving.”

When we first got married, CJ had just taken his first command. This is an extremely demanding time in an officer’s life, with late hours and an insane training schedule. Most months, he was only home half the time, if we were lucky.

In our almost four years of marriage, we have moved twice (next move coming in June) and CJ has left for too many field trainings and schools to count, for as short as three days or as long as two months at a time, and usually at a moment’s notice. Not to mention the ten-plus times that CJ moved prior to our marriage.

I’ve never minded moving because I get bored easily, but now that we have kids, frequent moves and solo parenting can be a great challenge. I felt like I really hit a huge learning curve when I had to navigate being a mom without the help of close family or friends who could watch the kids for an afternoon or stop in for a chat and a glass of wine.

No one knows how isolating military life can be unless they’ve done it, and certainly not everyone is cut from the same stock. I felt like I was dealt pretty good cards when it came to my ability to adapt and overcome, but let me tell you, it’s both exhausting and rewarding.

Here are a few key things I’ve learned as a military wife:

1. You’re not alone in loneliness: Seasoned military wives can be really good at networking and building strong friendships in their new stations, but it’s worth noting that making friends can be hard as an adult. I’ve reached a point in my life where I have a few people I can count on who understand me and where I come from, and it’s challenging to break free from that comfort zone. The reality is, we’re not alone in these feelings.

2. Assumptions can hurt: I’ve found that there are a lot of preconceived ideas and stereotypes about military wives and service members. Some of these are hurtful assumptions and others are positive and inspiring. Either way, I’ve found that no two families or situations are alike, and it’s so important to be gracious in our pursuit to get to know others. We don’t know what anyone else has gone through or has had to do—especially within the confines of the military. It’s best to be delicate and always practice compassion.

3. Stay connected: When CJ is gone training or deployed, we rely heavily on Facetime and messages. But it also helps to connect when we’re not talking, so we’ll do things like journal or read the same book or play ongoing online games like Scrabble or Pictionary.

4. Find support: Finding support is different for everyone. Sometimes you’re stationed closer to family, and other times you’re out in the middle of nowhere and have to start over. We have yet to be stationed within reasonable driving distance of either of our immediate families. When you’re kid-free, you obviously miss your family, but once we had kids, it became a different level of “missing.” They say “it takes a village,” but military families almost never have that village. They have to create it on their own, and I’m definitely still learning how to do this successfully!

Instagram has been an unexpected source of support for me. I can tap into it when I want to or just ignore it if I’d prefer. Having two young toddlers, working from home, maintaining our set schedule, and trying to stay on top of things like grocery shopping and cleaning can sometimes make the idea of a playdate seem daunting. I always face this internal struggle: Do I make the effort to invite a potential friend and her kids over to play—possibly help create “the village”? Or do I stick to my schedule, get a lot done, get my workout in, and have happy, napped kids? I’ve learned to ignore the pressure to do one or the other, and I try to roll with each day as it comes.

5. Celebrate EVERYTHING: Whether it’s my husband’s return home from a nine-month deployment or my daughter peeing in the big girl potty, we celebrate!

6. Restore and refresh: For me, self-care looks like saying a quick little prayer in the morning with my almost always cold cup of coffee, getting in a good workout at naptime, having a movie night with CJ, or enjoying the occasional pint of Halo Top ice cream. Self-care is different for everyone,but I promise you, it’s necessary. You are the ANCHOR—a happy mom is a happy home!

7. Your dreams MATTER: I always loved kids and knew I wanted to have them eventually, but I  was never the girl who fantasized about having kids. When I became a mom at twenty-four with a lot going on personally and professionally, I guess I was shocked that life had caught up with me and it was actually happening. I remained steadfast in pursuing my personal goals, and of course now I can’t even think of my life without my children.

I had Lenox in the middle of grad school, and then had Casten fifteen months later while I was working full-time. Since July I’ve been working from home, and it’s empowering to know that I didn’t have to choose between pursuing my goals and having a family. I remember having several pep-talks with CJ where we both decided that it’s OK for us to have both, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we love our careers more than our kids. When I have moments of “mom-guilt” I remind myself that my dreams now include wanting to form my kids as hard-working, dedicated and confident members of society, and that there’s no better way to do this than to show them through our example.

8. Rely on your tribe: Our kids obviously rely on us, but I think being so isolated has taught me that it’s OK for me to rely on them too. They bring me so much happiness, and sometimes I feel like the simple conversations I have with Lenox are more positive, encouraging, and motivating to me than many conversations I have with other adults. My relationship with my kids is a source of encouragement and joy.

It’s also important to build a best friendship with your spouse and to have practical and realistic expectations for each other. CJ is my ride-or-die teammate. Even when we aren’t in the best of moods, we both know what the other one needs and, after lots of practice, we can depend on each other to provide that.

9. Take advice with a grain of salt: When it comes to your parenting foundation and forming your child’s character or supporting your family—be cautious with the advice offered from others. Trying to fit into someone else’s mold or standard of how you should parent or how your kids should develop is dangerous and often disappointing. I have found that following my maternal instinct concerning my family is the only thing that has brought me peace and satisfaction.

If you are a military spouse, I am with you, I understand you and I hear you. If you’re about to be a military spouse, have confidence and excitement about this adventurous life; it’s difficult, but extraordinary. If you are a member of a military family, I know your sacrifice and I thank you. If you are a citizen of this great country, remember that behind our military, are spouses and family members who are often forgotten – support them, love them and never hesitate to thank them!

Comments +

  1. Linda Gray says:

    Great entry!

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