I want to say that having a career as a military spouse has absolutely nothing to do with your level of patriotism, but what I see around me daily suggests I may be wrong.
I see people asking my friend, an officer’s spouse, how she will be a good command spouse if she’s working.
I see others responding to a military spouse worried about her lack of job prospects in her newest remote duty station with, “You knew what you were signing up for when you married him.”
I even see military spouses turning on our own and suggesting that military spouses don’t deserve a subscription box with things to comfort them because ALL care packages should go to the service member.
All of these statements foster the thought that if military spouses fight for anything of our own we are at the very least selfish and perhaps even worse: unpatriotic.
To be clear, the unpredictable schedules, last-minute deployments, training and travel and overall fluidity that is required of our military families is not exclusive to the military. I’m certain there are a number of spouses married to first responders, doctors and other careers I know nothing about that could testify to the stressors provided by the career choice of their partner.
Having said that, the military brings at least 1 unique stressor to the mix: constant moving. The moving means we often have to leave jobs we love or choose to live away from our spouse, we rarely live near our extended family and finding reliable childcare is a nightmare we relive over and over. When you’re constantly on the hunt for new friends, how are you supposed to have an emergency contact to write on school forms, let alone someone to take your kids at a moment’s notice because you have an evening event and your spouse got called into work…again?
The other unique stressor is this: if your spouse works for a civilian employer, you may be able to “fight the man,” but can you really fight Uncle Sam?
For the military spouse, it seems to be an unwritten rule that our career will always come second. After all, our husband or wife is serving our nation. Isn’t it almost unpatriotic for us not to give up whatever it takes in our own careers to make sure our service members can meet the requirements necessary to achieve their missions?
The author of a recent piece about four-star females hit the nail on the head: “Military service is still largely predicated on a 1950s family model that relies on a stay-at-home, portable spouse to free the military member to navigate demanding career checklists required for promotion.”
It’s more than that though, the military also seems to be missing how military spouse employment can help fight 2 other issues prevalent in the today’s Department of Defense: retention and transition. Enabling military spouse professionals to maintain a satisfactory CAREER can allow the military’s best and brightest to continue serving for the long-term because everyone in the family is happy with military life.
Military spouse careers also prepare military families for transition by providing stability and income while the service member searches for their first position in the civilian arena. With current reductions in force, including many service members being separated unexpectedly, we cannot afford to ignore this aspect.
So what am I suggesting? Should you go on the offensive and insist that your serving spouse be home at a certain time of day because you need to work? Or tell them they simply can’t go on that TDY because you have a conference? Probably not. Many of these requirements are just that: requirements, and for good reason.
You should, however, let your voices be heard. Speak up in conversations with your spouse; speak up in appropriate forums for changing military policy. Write a letter to your representative; attend town hall meetings and VOTE. Not sure how to choose a candidate that will support military spouse employment issues? Why don’t you call the offices of candidates and ask them for their thoughts on the topic?
Not ready to storm the Hill? Here are 4 practical steps you can do RIGHT NOW to bring your career out of the shadows:
- First and foremost, ALLOW yourself to have a career dream. Many many times I talk to military spouses who have simply counted out any possibility of them having a career. They took one look at the military life (or even multiple looks) and decided that they had no choice but to put that part of themselves on a shelf never to be revisited or at least not revisited until after their serving member retires. If that is you right now, please remember that as great as it sounds to see your service member retire and then “take your turn,” it will be much much harder to enter the workforce when your last relevant position was more than 20 years ago. DREAM AND DREAM BIG.
- Enlist the help of your serving spouse. Talk to them about your career goals. Regularly. If your dream career is truly not attainable in your current duty station (I’m looking at you, spouse living in Angola), ask them what duty stations could be next. Brainstorm together about creative ways you can still work toward your career goal right where you are. Can his/her schedule be flexible long enough for you to go to a conference? Who do you trust in your local area to take your kids if something unexpected comes up while you’re gone? Can your spouse take on the bedtime routines or morning routines for the kiddos so you can pursue a new certificate, professional development course or degree without losing every single evening with them? Dig in. TOGETHER.
- Talk to other working military spouses. Since I’ve started working with In Gear Career, I’ve been amazed at how many creative solutions I’ve heard that I would never have thought to look into for myself. The solution may be right under your nose!
- Use your network. Beyond other successful military spouses, go back to contacts you’ve made in previous positions or people in the industry you’re pursuing. Can they think of ways for you to take your skills on the road? Do they know anyone they can introduce to you who may be able to provide you with a job or even relevant volunteer work to help you further your career?
Please understand, I am a veteran and the spouse of an active duty Navy chief. I in no way want us to forget, or even slightly belittle the service to our nation provided by today’s service members and veterans. I am also not suggesting anyone should prescribe to the hated idea that being a military spouse is the “hardest job in the military.” I do, however, want to challenge the unspoken rule that suggests military spouses are somehow required to live only in their service member’s shadow.
The bottom line for military spouses is this: wanting a satisfactory career is not unpatriotic. Just because it occasionally (or regularly) makes life chaotic for your service member or your family does NOT mean working outside the home isn’t worth the paycheck. The solutions will likely require a lot of creativity, and they will look different for each family, but there are solutions. You can be a military spouse with a career and a patriot, so serve Uncle Sam: Fight for your career!