What Have You Learned as a Military Spouse?
It never ceases to amaze me.
In one room full of people there can be so many different personalities. Over there we have "The Marketer"--with a firm handshake and quick to give a business card, she has branded this social gathering her personal networking event.
By the buffet we have "The Dad"--while holding a plate heavy with bite-sized goodies, he delivers unsolicited advice with the line, “You know what you should do...”
Positioned for the best Wi-Fi signal, we have "The Social Media Guru"--smartphone in hand, she can multi-task browsing premium MilitaryByOwner listings, cropping her latest Instagram selfie, and liking that adorable kitten video on Facebook.
Much like this mix of different people, I asked a bevy of military spouses, “What are a few things you’ve learned as a military spouse?”
Follow along with these 9 answers from my assorted friends.
1. It’s okay to be homesick.
"Just try not to let those thoughts of the things you miss consume you. Come up with little ways that may help you feel more at home. Maybe a favorite comfort food recipe? Or watching the sports team from your home state? Perhaps reading your hometown newspaper online? Recall those good times from back home while making new memories wherever you may currently be.”
2. Don't sweat the small stuff.
“The hours my husband works are different from day to day. Of course, the night he comes home late is the same night I’ve worked hard making a new recipe. Now my gourmet dinner creation has turned cold. As frustrating as it may be, is it worth pouting and being ticked off? No! I try to keep everything in perspective. A friend told me 'Shake off the little stuff' which is a good reminder for a scenario like this. An unexpected curve ball is simply not worth getting upset and raising my blood pressure over!”
3. Look outside yourself.
“When a military spouse or family is in need, sometimes it’s good to ask, 'What can I do to help?' At other times, it may be more useful to simply show up and pitch in wherever you can.”
4. Step outside your comfort zone.
“No matter if it is a squadron activity or a spouse gathering, if you are anything like me walking in to a room full of people may feel intimidating. But I am meant to be there. At that point I am reminded to channel my inner Sasha Fierce or Kanye West and own it! Feeling empowered helps chase those nervous butterflies away.
I tend to look for someone in the room with a friendly smile and politely ask how they are doing. Nine out of ten times that person and I are in the same boat, feeling awkward or uncomfy due to not knowing any familiar faces in the crowd. By stepping outside of my comfort zone and starting a conversation I may be fortunate enough to make a new friend.”
5. Get out there!
“When you’ve unpacked and feel settled at your new address, consider joining a small social group. Not just online but in person. If you tend to be shy, like I sometimes am, it may take a leap of courage! But motivate yourself to leave the house and meet with others. Find something that interests you, such as
- neighborhood parent and child play dates
- lending a helping hand in your child’s classroom or with a school activity
- engaging with others at a Bible study or book club
- taking a free class to learn more about cooking, gardening, painting, pottery, etc.
My fit friend seeks out 'stroller strider' groups or running clubs. I prefer volunteering with an animal rescue group or gathering with other spouses for “wine tasting Wednesdays.
It may be refreshing to have an outside perspective if you gather with others who are not involved in the military community. At other times, you may prefer to be around fellow military spouses who understand the random nature of this unique lifestyle. Even if you may not meet your BFF at a get-together, you most likely will find the social time rewarding. You may even walk away learning something new or gaining valuable volunteer experience."
6. It's not a competition.
“From the military spouse side of the coin, I can honestly say every deployment stinks. It just does. I’ve learned to never compete with another military spouse on the topic of deployment struggles. There are no 'winners' with that game. Instead, I try to stir polite conversation, allowing the fellow spouse to share about their experiences. I sit and listen. Rather than chime in, I've learned to chill. Maybe I'll even glean a few suggestions from their deployment survival saga that may ease my next round of flying solo?”
7. Stay flexible.
“Having something scheduled on the calendar fits with my Type A personality. By making plans, I feel like I have a moment of control. I feel more knowledgeable and prepared with a defined course of action. But, nearly every day, this military life proves that making plans is overrated! It may sound cliché, or you may have heard it a million times, but it still rings true--in order to enjoy this military life, you MUST learn to be flexible. Trying to stick to a schedule or attempting to make firm plans are tactics that are not worth the anxiety or feelings of disappointment.”
8. Embrace the unexpected.
“My husband is in the midst of military training, so a person would think that everything is pretty well laid out for our family over a given timeline. Which means, we should know what to expect with each coming month. We were supposed to know things like when we would be moving, when he would be gone, etc. In reality, nothing in the past year has been according to the given timeline. Instead, my husband has been delayed, either within the squadron or on med-down status. Most recently, being med-down has delayed his training schedule at least four months. I don’t share this in any way to complain, but as an example of why the need for flexibility is so important when navigating military life.”
9. Making friends is worth it!
“The career track that my wife is on leads us from one assignment to the next for brief intervals. It is easy to use the excuse of our limited timing as justification for not meeting others. However, I’ve learned if I keep an inward focus, I am not fully embracing the surrounding military community. Forming a friendship is important to a person's well-being. Even if only stationed together for a handful of months, connecting with another person may improve your attitude. It may also foster a positive outlook of even the most remote locations.”
These are just a few responses to the “What I’ve learned as a MilSpouse” question, but it’s words like this that give me hope.
We’ve been at war a long time. Our enthusiasm to support patriotic efforts may feel more like those tired end of season plants on the clearance rack and less like a vibrant “victory garden.” Through it all, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Freedom. Fighting injustice. Being a point of light in an otherwise dark situation.
Those poignant ideals are what whisks away our active duty dear ones from family dinners or weekend plans. Just like the spouses who thoughtfully shared these notes, I am thankful to support my servicemember as we journey along this uncertain road. Our life may not follow any set plans, but I am grateful for the many lessons I have learned every step of the way.