You Aren’t Required to Do Anything, Do What You Want

Military Spouses Are Not Required to Do Anything, Do What You Want

by Karen Poisson, Guest Contributor

I was a cheerleader with purple spiked hair. I was an outgoing, loudmouth teenager.

Karen Cheerleader

I am a teacher who jumps on desks. I’m not what you call conventional so when my husband proposed more than 25 years ago, I wasn’t keen on joining the military and all its traditions.

This idea was confirmed when I went to the library to research being a military wife. The only book they had available was a 1960s edition of “What Every Army Wife Should Know.” It spoke of tea parties with white hats and gloves. It taught you when to use candles at a party and when to use overhead lights. It reminded you to never leave the house without proper dress and makeup.

Show an interest in your husband’s job and duties and attend any activities of his unit…By your pleasant attitude and neatness of appearance, whether attending a party or shopping on the post, you will be an asset to your husband…”

– page 24, “What Every Army Wife Should Know”

In my logical mind, I recognized that times had changed but I knew that I couldn’t conform to those guidelines.

After all, how many lawyers’ spouses bake goodies for the office fundraiser? And do you know many mechanics’ spouses who attend meet-and-greet sessions?

I told my husband-to-be that the military was his domain and civilian life was mine.

He told me,

“You aren’t required to do ANYTHING. Do what you want.”

My hands-off philosophy worked fine when I was without children and working. It continued strong when my children were small and I was a stay-at-home mom. Kids are great icebreakers so it was easy to meet other women. I could steer my kids’ friendships so I could be around people I liked. I had no trouble dealing with deployments since I had a network of friends around me.

As time passed and my kids grew, I found myself alone more and more often. I was becoming more of a chauffeur and less of an attendant in my kids’ activities.

Every time we PCS’d, my husband would already know people from previous assignments while I floundered. I envied those military spouses who reconnected with old friends when they arrived at a new base. But still, it took an additional 5 years before I realized that I was missing out on an important aspect of military life – community.

Military Spouses Are Not Required to Do Anything, Do What You Want

I tried to start out slowly. I sent in food for a fundraiser. I shopped at the commissary more than once a month. I tried to feel more comfortable on base.

Then suddenly my husband was up for a leadership position and I was supposed to be a mentor for younger spouses! Talk about making up for lost time!

I went to the commander’s course along with my spouse and tried to learn. Of course, as with all things military, I could only attend the first 2 days since I needed to return home to coordinate our PCS. I felt more lost than ever.

I repeatedly told my hubby that I wasn’t up for this “job” and he in turn, continued to repeat his mantra:

“You aren’t required to do ANYTHING. Do what you want.”

That first meeting with the outgoing commander’s spouse was daunting. She was a volunteer extraordinaire. She had monthly get-togethers with high turnout. She had a sunshine committee with food trains. She stopped in at hubby’s office once a week to say “hi.”

I went home and cried because I knew that I couldn’t be all that she was. When hubby came home that night he told me once again:

“You aren’t required to do ANYTHING. Do what you want.”

So I found a way to be me. I accepted that whatever I did was appreciated and no one demanded I do more. I arranged socials at places I wanted to go. We had a jewelry making class. We went to a tea shop where we learned about different types of teas. We went rock-climbing. I stopped in at the office to say hello, to talk to people and to possibly have lunch with my hubby.

But not everything was sunshine and roses. Attendance wasn’t high at many of the activities but the women I met were adventurous just like me.

Two months into that tour, I received a phone call about a problem a spouse was having with her airman. I initially panicked and then remembered that I had my own military member who could give me advice.

I worried that I wasn’t good at being a military spouse but then I realized that I’d already been one for years.

My husband’s mantra was accurate but I eventually found that I wanted to be a part of the military. I no longer required or desired to dismiss all things associated with the military.

I also learned to love and accept who I am. Once I did that, I was able to find peace with my military family and find friendship from those within that community.

Sometimes I wish I had embraced military life sooner but we are a welcoming and resilient group.

I still jump on desks and color my hair. There’s constantly a song in my head and I always say hello to everyone. The only change I notice is that I’ve added the Air Force song to my repertoire and I might be shaking hands with new Airmen and their families at a Pin On. No matter what, I still march to my own drummer.

And no one seems to mind; there’s always one in every family.

Karen PoissonKaren is a part-time ESL teacher and a full-time military spouse. She’s been in this military game so long that her kids are away at college, leaving only the four-legged type at home. She’s moved 12 times including one overseas tour and now she’s ready for her next PCS adventure!


  1. This is one of the best articles I’ve come across, and a must read for every new military spouse. Karen’s advice is spot-on and reassuring.

  2. I’m glad you found your footing. The only “advice” I’d give in addition to your mantra would be “give it a try”. There’s that horrible stereotype that all military spouses are chatty and huge gossips and I know that drives the new spouses away from the community but for everyone gossip or mean girl I’ve met through the Army there are 10 others who are warm, friendly, and supportive.


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