The Risk of Choosing to Stay At Home

After reading Military Spouse Success- Just Survive, by Kaye Putnam of Successful Military Wife, I immediately knew I had something to add to the conversation.  Even though Kaye “almost didn’t write this post,” I am ever so glad that she did.

She posed two questions to her Facebook community:

1.  “Who are the most successful military spouses you know?”

2.  “Curious! What is your dream job?”

Interestingly enough, the answers the first question didn’t quite get answered the way I, nor Kaye, expected.  Where I expected to hear about military spouses who are paving the way in blending their military spouse identity along with their professional identity, respondents listed accolades about spouses like the happiness of her/his family or how graceful one is under pressure.
Used with permission from Kaye Putnam of Successful Military Wife.

And even when Kaye pushed to ask about military spouses who balance career and family, she was rebuffed by a commenter that said “that is not a universal definition of success”.

Okay, I get that.  Success means something different to everybody.

But I wonder, is it truly that we, as military spouses, don’t seek professional success or is it that we’ve resigned ourselves to accept a reality that we just can’t have it and have had to seek solace in other definitions of success?

Dare I say, it’s the latter.  I think we gave up on ourselves.  Because, according to her second question, “What is your dream job,” our dreams are still alive and kicking.
Used with permission from Kaye Putnam of Successful Military Wife.

Which brings me to a bigger question that we really don’t like discussing.

What’s the cost we face, as individuals and as military spouses, when we choose to close the door on our careers, even if it’s just for a few years?

The Choice and the Risk: Staying at Home

From Images_of_Money’s Flickr Feed via CC by 2.0.

I have so many friends, military spouses, who are facing their spouse’s retirement.  I want to call it their retirement too, because they’ve sacrificed their own careers in support of their servicemember’s career.  They’re finding themselves facing a new normal.  And many are desperately trying to reenter the workforce after years of opting out.

These women are starting from scratch.  It’s humbling and upsetting for them to find themselves at the bottom of the bunch …at entry level (even if they left their industry at the top of their game).  Or learning that your only choice is returning to school to retrain.

When we choose to stay-home and sacrifice our career progression, there’s a very real monetary cost that goes along with that.  Please know, I know how important and priceless it is to share those precious moments at home with your children nurturing your family.  It is a choice I made for myself and for my family.

Despite my commitment to staying home, I know that every day I stay home…every year I’m out of work…has the potential to have a detrimental affect on my overall financial stability and marketability in the workplace.  I choose to stay extremely aware that I am willingly and knowingly putting myself at risk.

Because I rely on my spouses income, if he were to perish, it would be on me to rebuild a life for ourselves. Or if we divorced (even though it’s never been something either of us would entertain), I would be at a disadvantage.  If he were to get injured and no longer could work to support us, I’d be at disadvantage.  My family would be at risk.

Even though we’ve taken the proper steps to insure ourselves in the event of the unimaginable, there are still steps I’ve taken to hedge my bets against the risks I face from choosing to stay at home:

  • Maintaining a blog where I can contribute to the ongoing dialogue in my career field
  • Stay aware of trends and new practices in my field
  • Committing myself to continuing education in any way I can
  • Cultivating and nurturing my professional network
  • Reevaluating and modifying my professional goals

We give so much of ourselves to others.  We must learn how to take time to grow ourselves and our dreams as well.  As beautiful as the choice to stay home is, it comes at a price that we cannot afford to choose to ignore.


  1. Great article, Adrianna! I think you are right on the money when you say, “We give so much of ourselves to others. We must learn how to give and nurture ourselves and our dreams as well. As beautiful as the choice to stay home is, it comes at a price that we cannot afford to choose to ignore.”

    I think there is a mindset that exists among a segment of the milspouse population that makes some feel that as spouses our primary priorities should be supporting our service member and their military career and ensuring the overall well being of our immediate family and our extended military family at all costs. Many spouses do this at their own expense because they think their needs are somehow less important than those other things and even feel guilty for wanting something more for themselves. It’s unfortunate because life doesn’t have to be that way unless you want it to be.

    I feel that my husband’s military career is just that, HIS career. This is the path that he chose, and although it was my choice to join him, support him, and stick by him throughout the journey, the Army does not encompass my entire life. Yes, the requirements of military career are quite different than most civilian/corporate careers. It is more dangerous than many and more demanding than most. It takes a special kind of person to do what our military members do and to turn over control of their lives to our government. And, it takes a strong person to accept a life that is controlled by others and to love someone so fiercely that you would pack up your children and your life to follow them anywhere in the world to be with them and tolerate extended periods of separation. There aren’t many civilian spouses who deal with circumstances like this. It’s not a requirement for most civilians to give up on their career ambitions and put themselves last to support their spouse and their career. It is not a requirement for military spouses either! I think we sometimes become so wrapped up in our service members and our families that we forget that we are also individuals with goals and dreams of our own and that we are allowed to have them.

    But, personal/professional ambitions aside, I agree that we put ourselves at a disadvantage and put our families at risk if we rely solely on our service members to provide for us. Should the unthinkable happen (unfortunately, this is one of those special circumstances we have to think about whether we want to or not), whether it be a significant injury, the end of a marriage, or worse, we have to be skilled and knowledgeable enough to care for ourselves and our children. We need to know how to manage finances, to pay bills, and to provide what we need. We are incredibly fortunate that we now live in a time when we can have a career that satisfies all of those needs while providing the flexibility for us to stay at home and manage all facets of our lives. Technology has opened many doors that offer many options for the today’s military spouse to have it all…if they want it.

  2. I guess I’m confused about why it’s a risk. I plan to stay home with my babies and homeschool them, and I will be getting a job again once they are out of the house. In the meantime, I get to work on my own education and earn a degree, and know that I am doing what I feel is best for my family. It doesn’t feel “risky” at all- it feels complete and right.

    • As long as you’re continuing your career progression forward, that’s mitigating risk. If we stay home and don’t stay current with education and training, that’s where the risk comes in. Staying out of the workforce and not keeping up with our training and professional development makes it really tough to get a job once we’ve been out for 5, 10, or 15 years.

  3. Such a great post!!! I have a few thoughts…
    I think we intrinsically know when our life is not matching what we want for ourselves, but we often quiet those voices that once screamed out due to resignation or just a sense of defeat.

    I am thinking from my own experience that one of the potential problems is when our definition of success is defined by a role we play, whether it be as “mom” “wife” “sister” “brother” “husband” (you get the point). We can also allow ourselves to become defined by the job we hold or career we have. When I landed my very first professional job after college, I made the mistake of thinking who I was was defined by what I did for a living. What happened is that I always felt like I was just playing dress-up. I wasn’t allowing myself to just be—me.

    I would love to see more milspouses get to know what they truly want for themselves and who they really are. Sadly, as we keep putting out fires and dealing with the daily demands, we base our worth more on those things we do and the roles we play than what makes us who we are (personality, skills, temperament).

  4. This is a big problem with us, though luckily it’s just my husband and me so there are no kids to factor in. I just earned my Ph.D. in Genetics. He’s stationed at Fort Campbell, which has no real life science industry nearby. Although Nashville has a large research university, I’ve been trying to find a job there to no avail. I’ve gotten a part-time retail job to help make ends meet, but this is unsatisfying for me at both a professional and financial level (not to mention I cannot repay my student loans with the income from this job). It’s becoming clearer to us that we will not be able to live together if I’m to begin a career in my field, and every month I’m not working in a lab makes it that much more difficult to find a job. At this point, we’re hoping I can find something within 4-5 hours’ drive so we can at least spend our weekends together.

    • K.T., first of all, congratulations on your doctorate! I know that research is at your heart’s goal, but have you looked into teaching via the Education Office/Center on base? I taught Community College for awhile…night classes brought in way better income than working retail. Many installations host distance learning classes from several 4 year universities that could create an in for you and keep you somewhat current.

  5. Or online classes? So many universities offer online programs now, that could be a great option that you could do from anywhere.

  6. lifeisanadventure

    This is a great discussion. Personally at this stage I have given up on my career in the sense that I’m not working right now or even pursuing it. And I have definitely been known to complain that my career never really got off the ground because I met my husband while I was still completing my university education. And I often get frustrated at not being in the paid workforce and experiencing the satisfaction which comes with it if you are lucky enough to do what you love. But it is too easy and simplistic just to say that my career isn’t where I thought it would be because of the military. I’m twenty years down the track and who knows what life would have thrown at me in other circumstances. We all make our decisions in the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whilst military life has certainly provided some challenges in regard to staying in the paid workforce it is also provided me with many other opportunities for personal growth and satisfaction. (I know my military husband is very jealous of the time I spent pursuing a Masters in a brand new (to me) field whilst staying at home with my two boys.) I agree with Stacy’s comments about defining success according to a role. I am stepping back and looking at the big picture of all the roles I play or have played and concluding that overall I’ve been successful. I think it is really important to stop and take stock of your life every now and then and make sure you’re moving forward the way you want to but I don’t think that success in life necessarily equates with having your dream job.


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