My mother loves the military. Her birthday is on Veterans Day, and when she was randomly in New York City during Fleet Week, she tried to have her picture taken with literally every sailor in the city.
When I met my Navy husband, she could not have been more thrilled. After our first date, she had already planned our wedding. All of this was fantastic. I loved that my family was as smitten with my husband as I was.
But I quickly noticed that words would come out of my mouth, and mysteriously, when they entered my mother’s ears, they’d become something else entirely.
For example, husband was scheduled to go on a routine, relatively short deployment to the Pacific to finish up some qualifications. Nothing crazy. Nothing dangerous.
My mom, however, only heard the word DEPLOYMENT (caps for emphasis) and immediately started planning a huge farewell party for him.
Never mind that it would be a huge inconvenience for us to travel home for this party.
Or that we had planned to spend some time with one another, rather than 30 of our nearest and dearest.
Or that hubs really doesn’t care for anything that calls special attention to his military service.
Military spouses have to deal with these types of situations often.
What you say versus what your family hears can create more drama than an episode of “The Bachelor” if not handled in just the right way.
So what can you do when you say one thing and your family hears another?
What You Say vs. What Your Family Hears
Try to Compromise First
You tell your in-laws that your spouse is returning from a deployment, and they want to meet him at the airport with balloons, flowers and an American flag that could be seen from space.
Understandably, they miss their kid, just like you miss your spouse. They’ve been just as worried about his safety and well-being as you have. Their hearts are in the right place – it’s just that in their excitement they’ve gone overboard.
Rather than risk hurt feelings, gently suggest an alternative plan that works for everyone and explain why. Your in-laws may never have seen their child drag in at 2 a.m. from a yearlong deployment, exhausted, sleep-deprived and struggling to adjust to life back home.
Compromise where you can. If your family understands why a big celebration might not be best right away, they’ll be more open to alternative plans, even if they are a little disappointed at first.
Don’t Let Guilt Take Over
You said you can’t come home for the holidays because your spouse has duty on Christmas day. What your family hears is that you’ll be absent for the most important family celebration of the year and may make you feel guilty for skipping the festivities.
Explain why you’re staying put: does your family really want your spouse to spend the holidays alone just so they can have you home with them? Hopefully, reason will win out, but if not, do not let guilt take over.
It can be hard for your extended family to understand your choices, but don’t feel guilty about making a decision that’s ultimately in the best interest of your family.
Communication Is Key
If your family truly wants what’s best for you and your spouse, they’ll eventually come around. After all, it can be hard for them to understand the military lifestyle. One way to help them to better understand the struggle is through open communication. Explain the day-to-day life of a military family to them.
When your family gets to know the delicate balance that is being a military spouse, they’ll be able to better hear what you say, and actually hear you, rather than what they want to hear.
As for my family: we had an open, honest discussion about our reality as a military family versus family expectations. And my military-loving mother has (mostly) been able to keep herself in check.
She didn’t make any promises about containing herself during Fleet Week, though.