by Alison Maruca, Guest Contributor
Before I had my children, I always assumed I’d be a working mom. It never crossed my mind to do anything else.
My husband and I both grew up with awesome working moms. My grandmother worked her entire adult life, raising four children during a time when it was uncommon for women to work outside the home.
I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
When we found out that we were expecting our first son, my husband was in training to return to sea. An overseas PCS was on the horizon and before we even left the United States, I knew that job opportunities for military spouses were slim.
When we arrived in Yokosuka, I dove headfirst into volunteering, finished my master’s degree, and embraced the adventures of #lifeinjapan, all while toting around a happy baby boy.
Life could not have been more fun.
I volunteered a few days a week, happily dropping my son off at his Japanese preschool, commuting by bicycle. It was the perfect work-life balance. But amidst the girls’ trip to Bali, afternoons in Tokyo and volunteer hours logged at Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, I had a nagging feeling that I was missing out on work – like I was falling behind on my career.
‘I Was So Excited To Return To The Workforce That I Sacrificed So Much But I Felt Miserable’
When we received PCS orders to Norfolk, I thought, “this is my chance to get back in the saddle!” I began eagerly researching the Hampton Roads job market and applying for positions. Before we even left Japan I had a well-paying job lined up, ready to start merely weeks after stepping foot on American soil – it was perfect – just what I wanted.
After the initial excitement wore off, holy hell, I was miserable.
The job was terrible.
The commute was terrible.
It was all terrible. I was so excited to return to the workforce that I sacrificed so much, but instead of feeling great, I felt miserable.
Between the hustle to find child care for our son, commuting and battling traffic and doing most of it solo because of sea duty and pure hatred for my job, I was about to throw in the career towel completely. But I stuck it out because someone once told me,
“the best time to find another job is when you’re still employed.”
‘I Can Do This’
I found another job – a fantastic job that I loved and was passionate about. I had compassionate colleagues and leaders who understood the insurmountable weight on my shoulders of being a mom to a toddler, pregnant and a husband at sea.
I remember on the drive between daycare and my office, I’d sometimes turn up kick-ass, girl power music and envision myself as a working mom with two littles and a deployed husband, thinking to myself, “I can totally do this.”
On other days, I’d envision myself as the working mom with two littles and a deployed husband and I’d just cry.
While I had an amazing team at work, it was still incredibly hard to get through every single day from sun up to sun down. I fought to get out the door with lunches and book bags while keeping the dog in the house. I fought to buckle my kids in their car seats. I fought traffic from daycare to the office.
At the end of the workday, I fought it all again – only this time in reverse.
But the inevitable came while I was on maternity leave…PCS orders to Washington, D.C. (insert scary music here).
So I left my fantastic job before I had the chance to even give the whole “working mom of two with a deployed husband” gig a whirl. But it was OK because I thought to myself, “working in D.C. will be great!”
“I’ll get back on track once we’re settled.”
I learned my lesson from our move to Norfolk: I needed to allow myself time to acclimate, transition and settle in before diving headfirst into a new endeavor. We’ve now been in northern Virginia getting settled and finding our way, all the while I’ve been searching, applying and interviewing for positions.
But now that my husband is on shore duty with a flexible schedule that allows us to maximize family time, I’m thinking about how to balance my career goals with my role as a mom.
‘I Can’t Afford To Work’
Trying to find and coordinate affordable child care is harder than I ever thought. I used to think that when moms said, “I can’t afford to return to work” it was an excuse to cover up the fact that they really wanted to stay home.
Now living in one of the most expensive and competitive cities in America, I can see their statements were so very true.
But, because we’ve just finished a challenging tour with lots of time apart and we know that in just a few short years we’ll be returning to the same environment, I’m not really sure that having two busy working parents is the best for our family.
Though there are lots of people fighting for military spouse employment and resources matching military spouses with awesome positions, being a working mom as a military spouse entails so much more than that of our civilian counterparts.
‘Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?’
I recently asked myself, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
With two kids needing child care, a salary just barely covering that care, having to coordinate schedules and not having the flexibility to maximize family time – I couldn’t see how it would all work.
But I’ve come to terms with this and realized a few things.
- There will always be jobs out there.
- There will always be people who recognize good work when they see it.
- It may feel like the clock is always ticking, there’s more to life than a job.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop searching and applying for jobs. Thankfully, I have the luxury to make this choice. I wholeheartedly recognize that not all military families have that.
For the time being, I’ll pump the breaks a bit, enjoy my babies while they’re still babies and soak up as much family time as possible.
Want to read more from Ali? Start here.
Ali is a busy mom to two littles, an officer in the Navy Reserve and Navy wife. When not writing during naptime, coordinating preschool schedules or traveling for drill weekends, she enjoys running (crazy, right?), wine and date nights with her husband. And though she’s not working right now, she’s always on the search for the perfect job.