Fighting the Guilt: What’s a Working Military Spouse to Do?

Fighting the Guilt: What's a Working Military Spouse to Do?

Guilt is different for everyone. Something that triggers guilty feelings for one person doesn’t weigh at all on the next person.

This is no different in the military spouse world, and more specifically in the working military spouse world.

We all feel things differently and focus on different aspects of the struggle for balance. In many ways that makes us no different than our civilian counterparts. If one were to believe what you read on the Internet, there are plenty of things to feel guilty about no matter what demographic with which you identify.

That said, when we focus on working military spouses, there are at least a few things that seem to come up pretty regularly in the discussion about military spouse employment.

These things below are often thrown out there as things that we SHOULD feel guilty about:

Guilt is different for everyone. Something that triggers guilty feelings for one person doesn’t weigh at all on the next person. This is no different in the military spouse world, and more specifically in the working military spouse world.

Missing Mandatory Fun

You know what I’m talking about: command picnics, family day(s), FRG meetings and tours of your service member’s cubicle, plane or ship. As we’ve discussed before, these events most often happen square in the middle of the workday. If they don’t, they cut into already precious family time on the weekends or in the evening.

What’s a working military spouse to do?

Honestly, the only thing to do is discuss it as a family and choose the event or events that make the most sense for you as a whole. It’s easy to dismiss all of these happenings as cheesy or contrived, but please remember these events can also be the best way to meet members of your military family and the importance of those people in your life – while you’re usually away from your blood family – should not be underestimated.

I truly recommend you choose at least ONE way to be involved with your military life, but only you can decide what is best. No one can do it all.

Viewing Our Career Goals as Equal to the “Calling” Felt by Our Service Members

This is a big one in the working military spouse world. Although the conversation in recent years has been more and more supportive of military spouse career opportunities, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

It’s amazing to me how many times I have read comments on discussion threads suggesting that pursuing a career as a military spouse is a luxury and something that is “not needed,” and even in many cases, it is seen as selfish. The worst is when these comments come from some of our own. The suggestion often revolves around the fact that what our service member is doing is honorable, noble and heroic.

The implication often feels like nothing we (or anyone else) do can measure up to that calling so why even try?

So what’s a working military spouse to do?

First and foremost: ignore the haters. Do NOT let someone convince you that your goals aren’t worth it.

There is no doubt that your service member’s career will have an impact on HOW you approach your goals, but that is where communication comes in.

Keep the conversations with your service member at the forefront. Speak up about your dreams and ambitions and know that they married you for YOU. They want YOU to succeed right along with them and no doubt will do whatever they can to accommodate your ambitions in the family plan.

Fighting Uncle Sam

This is closely related to the one above, but it goes a bit further. There are times when you have a great conversation with your service member, you lay out a team plan and you’re ready to rock.

Then…as we’ve all experienced…Uncle Sam throws you a curve ball.

It may look like TDY, deployment, unexpected PCS orders, learning that you’re PCSing to a location that you didn’t know existed and definitely wasn’t on your list of choices (did you know the Navy has a weapons station in the middle of Indiana?).

So what’s a working military spouse to do?

These are the times when I feel we’re most often told to sit down and color. You’ve heard the phrases:

“suck it up, buttercup,”

“you knew what you signed up for”


“nothing to be done.”

Is that really the case though? Why can’t we question? I’m under no delusion that you will always get the answer you want if you just ask the question, but at the very least you have every right to be upset.

You can be sad, mad and you can ask your service member if this is truly the only way.

You can even encourage them to ask the question of their chain of command. If you don’t get the answer you want, prepare yourself for the battle to come, but seriously, there is no way you’ll get a positive answer if you don’t ask the question.

Choosing Not to Have Kids

This is obviously not something exclusive to working military spouses, but there is absolutely no doubt that the military lifestyle is a huge factor in some couple’s decision not to have children.

My husband and I waited quite a bit later than a lot of military couples to have our kids and knowing that my husband planned to stay in for an entire career definitely weighed heavily on my mind as we talked through our options. There was no way to remove the fact that he would likely be gone for big portions of our child rearing years and that I would be the one picking up the slack in those times.

So what’s a working military spouse to do?

Do you. Find your own path. Communicate openly and honestly with your service member and if children are not in your future, own it.

Don’t feel ashamed to tell other military members or spouses that you’re not having children. To be honest you owe NO ONE an explanation, but just know you’ll get the question a lot. Work out how you want to approach that question and then do it with a smile.

For one of my favorite perspectives on this subject, check out an article by a dear friend of mine: My Ovaries are Only for Show, Thanks for Asking.

Not Dropping Everything for Our Kids…Especially When the Service Member Is Gone

For those that do choose to have children, the perception is often that the well-being of our children should only come second to supporting our service member’s career. As a mother, please know that I would do almost anything for my children – and I would never suggest any other parent do anything different.

That said, the problem is that everyone parents differently, so if you’re not doing things the way others think you should – well, you know, they don’t often hold back.

The military lifestyle, of course, throws in additional difficulties such as long periods of solo parenting. This often breeds the perception that we should drop everything in our normal lives to play the role of both parents. We should be there for any and everything in our kids’ lives despite being the only parent available to attend school plays, basketball games and the like.

So what’s a working military spouse to do?

First and foremost: take a deep breath. Cut yourself a break. Know right away that you can’t do everything. You’re going to miss things. Once again I’ll point to the idea that communication is key. Most often I’m telling you to communicate with your service member (and that still applies here), but you can and should also communicate with your kids.

Many may also wonder if they should communicate with your employer during this time. My honest answer: it depends. It depends on who your employer is and the experience you’ve had with them so far. If they’ve known about and have supported your relationship with the military from the beginning then you should tell them about your service member’s deployment.

If you’re a bit more hesitant, then you don’t have to announce it.

Either way: be solution-minded. If you’re telling them that you’re going through a tough time, tell them how you’re combating that tough time and how you plan to make up work if you miss more than usual.

For Not Feeling Guilty About Any of the Above

Last, but not least, perhaps you’re one of the “sorry, not sorry” crowd. You’ve embraced your place in the military world and the working world and you’re just fine with it. Maybe it’s because you’ve found a flexible career that works with the lifestyle and maybe it’s because you just don’t buy into a lot of the hype. If this is you, I’m sure someone has given you “the look” or told you that you should be more worried about one or more of the things listed above.

So what’s a working military spouse to do?

First, give me your secret! All joking aside, if you have a formula that works for you and your service member, keep going.

Know that folks will still challenge you, but like I have said with every element above, you do not owe them an explanation and you’re free to be yourself. If you do find yourself thinking somehow that you should feel guilty, but you’ve reviewed the things above and just don’t relate to those things listed, then stop worrying! Don’t obsess.

It’s truly OK to be happy with your place in life and I encourage you to keep heading down the path that is working for you!

Bonus pro-tip: find your village. You’ve seen a million articles about this in the military world and there’s a reason why. Finding that person or persons takes time (and may mean that you have to attend some mandatory fun), but if you can find them, life can become much easier to navigate.

You may find that you have someone that can attend the school play when you can’t (and your child will still feel the love), or they may be able to fill you in on the details from the command family meeting, take care of the dog when you are traveling and much much more.

So what’s the lesson here? There will always be something we can worry about. There will always be someone that tells us we are doing it wrong, but the key is finding what works for YOU and YOUR family.

Communicate openly and honestly with your service member, forge your path and when you find what works for you, be ready to say, “Sorry, not sorry!”



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