by Hannah Becker, Guest Contributor
Sharing my feelings of dread regarding my spouse’s upcoming, yearlong combat deployment with my civilian relatives, I was rather taken back by my sister-in-law’s response:
I love it when [my husband] goes away for work conferences. It’s so nice to have the house to myself for a whole week and go out for mani-pedis and girl’s nights whenever I want. You should be looking forward to the deployment — so much ‘You-time’!
I didn’t know how to (politely) respond.
A weeklong insurance sales conference in the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains is not the same as a year running combat missions in a war zone.
You know that.
I know that.
All military spouses reading this article know that.
But what about when they – our non-military relatives – don‘t know that?
Do you have relatives that simply don’t “get” military life?
Sometimes their ignorant efforts are well-meaning, like my cousin stating, “Don’t worry, statistically speaking he most likely won’t die over there.” (I know she meant well, but my god, could she seriously not come up with something less morbid to say?!) Sometimes their efforts are just downright hurtful…
Here are 4 tips for dealing with family members and friends that just don’t “get” military life:
1. Share Your Experiences
“We can’t come to a big family Welcome Home party,” I explained to my mother. “He just got back from a year in a warzone and has to decompress at home; not be the guest of honor at a loud, rambunctious 100+ family shindig. It takes time to transition.”
“But this is important to the family,” my mother explained.
I reminded her my soldier’s reintegration was WAY more important than a big family barbecue, and that this is a process that takes time and patience. Unfortunately, the matriarchs of my family still don’t “get” it.
Share the whys and wherefores regarding how non-military family members’ expectations for your new military family may not be realistic. Communicate how events they may feel are normal (like a Welcome Home party) can present unique challenges for your military family.
2. Recommend Resources
In attempt to help your extended family understand the unique needs and obstacles military life may impose on your family’s daily life, recommend outside resources that may help them glean third-party information.
Make a list of your favorite books, magazines, blog posts (NextGen MilSpouse, anyone?), movies and podcasts, that provide detailed information regarding the military-specific challenge that your family may be currently facing.
The VA hospital may have a listing of support groups in your area; many welcome extended family members.
While one’s family’s lack of empathy or support for military life may be insulting, assume ignorance as the first source and attempt to educate.
3. May Never Truly Understand
No one can understand what it’s like to be a military family, unless they ARE a military family.
Don’t forget, not all uniformed experiences are the same. For those of us “legacies,” there may even exist some disconnect between our peacetime service member parents vs. our wartime service experiences. While it would be great is everyone on our extended family could just “get it,” don’t be surprised if those who have not experience similar circumstance fail to ever empathize.
Marrying a soldier was my first exposure to the military life. My mother-in-law was a Navy spouse for several years. As a new bride struggling to learn acronyms and base protocol, I looked to her for insight and support on my new venture.
However, when my husband returned home following a particularly rough combat deployment, my mother-in-law’s “insight” proved irrelevant. Peacetime Navy life provided her with zero experience or education regarding my husband’s Global War on Terror experiences.
Her spouse would return from 9-month cruises to the Mediterranean, sleep for a few days, then hit the beach.
My spouse returned from Afghanistan with wounds of war no week of sleep and sand time could relieve.
Two very different experiences yielding two very different sets of effects.
4. Embrace Your New Family: Military Community
Bad news: my sister-in-law and your non-military relatives may just never “get” it.
Good news: you got a huge, new family that understands exactly what it’s like to live the life – our big, giant military community.
I remember meeting my first group of military spouses; weeks into a marriage, as a new Army bride (can I get a “HOOAH”?!); I met half a dozen milso + graduate students at an industry conference. Five minutes past introductions, and I felt as though we’d known each other forever.
They got it.
These fellow military spouses knew what it was like to plan a wedding while dealing with deployment extensions. They knew what it was like to transfer grad schools – courtesy of Uncle Sam – and empathized with discouraging job hunts that often accompanied a new move.
Succeeding in the military life requires the support of others. For some, it’s their extended family. For others, it’s their new family — the military community.
Prioritize the cultivation of your support system and don’t be discouraged if your family of origin fails to empathize or recognize the demands of military life.
While it may feel isolating at times, you’re not alone.
We — military spouses worldwide — get it.
Hannah Becker is a serial entrepreneur, MBA grad and proud military spouse. Author of The Motivated Millennial: An Entrepreneurial Guidebook for Generation Y and Founder/Consultant at HCB Consulting, Hannah is committed to encouraging others to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Learn more about Hannah’s career and publications at www.themotivatedmillennial.com. Follow Hannah on Twitter: @MotivatedGenY or on Facebook.