“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” — Mother Teresa
At the beginning, there’s plenty of information on what to expect as a new mom. New parents anxious to keep their children healthy nurture their children and set up good routines. They gobble up baby books and their advice. After some time, moms become pros at handling the nitty gritty of the daily grind that raising children demands.
Moms affiliated with the military — either active duty themselves or are married to a spouse who is active duty — hurdle an added layer of culture, expectations and pressures.
Despite the stress, these women show extreme resilience and contentment. According to recent Army family life survey results, 68 percent of spouses would prefer their spouse to stay in the Army until retirement. Almost 60 percent say they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their lifestyle.
Military moms face unique challenges, however, that other moms might not experience.
Take, for example, if you are a military spouse:
1. Employment difficulties. Maintaining a profession is extremely challenging for spouses, especially while overseas. Frequent relocations and a lack of positions available in ones field can create a gap in ones career. Positions that are available can’t be obtained either due to ones position on priority status, or the job is not a good fit. Of course, language barriers are present as well. Many families require dual incomes to support their budget. The loss of employment is also psychological, depriving a spouse of fulfillment, self-esteem and community. This problem can then lead to marriage difficulties if a sense of resentment develops.
2. Loneliness/unstable community. With multiple relocations coinciding with a family’s assignment, it is easy for spouses to be isolated. Many spouses don’t feel they have one friend whom they can trust. Busy work schedules often take front seat instead of regular dates, and spouses create a sense of over independence that only makes life more burdensome. Many spouses focus all their energy on their children to the detriment of their own physical and social health.
3. Lack of child care. Overseas assignments have restricted child care options. The programs are almost always full with a burdensome wait list. Many child development centers or school age programs cannot accommodate children with special needs. Spouses often spend money on finding suitable child care or simply give up. This leads to more isolation, burn out and stress.
4. Deployments and psychological single life or parenting. Research shows the more times and total length of absence a parent has from the family unit, the more negative problems they experience. Being resilient before, during and after deployment requires significant amount of self advocacy on a spouse’s part. If a spouse is unhealthy (mentally, physically, socially), often resources that can be helpful are not utilized.
5. Unrealistic expectations. Social pressures to conform to one model for marriage, household duties and parenting are more intense in the military. Spouses often feel scrutinized and judged by their peers or the chain of command rather than supported.
These hurdles do not have to trip spouses up. There are a few key ways to thrive as a military mom:
• Make child care a priority. Even if your child is on a wait list, sign up for child care. If you can’t get your toddler into a base preschool, look into private options. Creative solutions may be private care (au pairs overseas may be more affordable than you think). Create your own child care cooperative, swapping child care a few days each week in an organized fashion. Spouses with child care resources tend to report more feelings of satisfaction and less stress.
• Use deployment resources. Locate your community service programs, and show up for deployed family events. They are so much fun. They provide an evening out, free meal and companionship. It is so nice to chat with other spouses going through similar circumstances.
“The most important advice I give friends who ask me how I handle long separations and the single parenting that goes along with it is it is OK to ask for help,” said Becca Beeedlove-Berry, a resilient mom and spouse who has weathered multiple deployments, full time employment and raising a child with special needs.
• Use mental health resources. Stressed or just need a sounding board? Go to behavioral health, your PCM, the chaplains or a trusted friend. Something’s come up and not sure what to do? Call the Army Community Service office or the Airman & Family Readiness Center. Chances are they will know where to direct you, and if they don’t, they will find out. A great program is the Military Family Life Consultant program. They offer master or Ph.D. level providers to address any active-duty member, dependent or Department of Defense civilian concern.
• Create your own “village.” Every base has family readiness groups (Airman & Family Readiness Centers for the Air Force) full of folks and programs to help out. Join local groups online, and find people with similar interests or passions. Join or create your own meet up clubs or a church. The best cure for loneliness is to stay busy doing things you enjoy.
“It may sound corny, but spouses clubs and unit spouses groups work. No one else gets you and the (unique) demands on your time and family like the other families in the same unit going through the same thing. (These local groups can be) the best mutual support network there is,” said Vickie Ireland, who has been a key military spouse for more than 20 years.
Plus, these groups provide word of mouth resources for your local area (best places for child care, hairdressers and home goods):
• Ask about the local resiliency/wellness program. Most bases have one. Many have relaxing atmospheres (massage chairs!) and programs. For example, wellness centers have nutrition classes, metabolic tests and stress reduction training. Day trips, seminars and conferences are also commonly offered.
• Get engaged. Many spouses find that volunteering, leading an exercise class or getting involved in a local cause can create a sense of home away from home. There’s nothing like civic engagement to provide a sense of purpose and skill development. Look beyond the base to host nation and economy opportunities to become engaged. In Germany, newcomers are expected to go and greet their neighbors. Go and introduce yourself, or hold an open house.
• Use your “Freak Out Friend” when needed. Spouses need a go to a person other than their significant other to vent, bounce ideas off of and assist with daily living dramas. Basically, this is the “safe place” person who you trust will be strong when you feel weak. This is one of the most important asset for anyone to have.