I find it hard to remember sometimes that we are a military family because other military families have always surrounded us. Our life just feels “normal.” And in a lot of respects, it is. However, occasionally I am reminded of how different our lives are from our civilian counterparts. At our last duty station, we were in a large metro area so there was not nearly the same concentration of military families that we were accustomed to in smaller “military towns.” We were our neighbor’s first
“military” neighbors which led to an amusing conversation.
Shortly after our move, my husband left for a long training a few states away. For us, this is nothing out of the ordinary. However, about three weeks after my husband left, my neighbor stopped me at our mailbox. She had noticed my husband’s truck had been gone for a while and wanted to make sure everything was ok OK (implying that she thought my husband moved out)! That is when I had a light-bulb moment! Most people across the country aren’t sure what military families are like because they have never been around one. In a military town, no one would have thought twice about my husband being gone. People would have assumed that he was deployed or away at training. So I got to thinking that many people probably only know what they see about military families on the news, read in the newspaper or watch on TV. While there are some great news stories out there about military life, they really only cover a sliver of what being a military family is like. Here are five things I think America needs to know about military families that go beyond the typical stereotype:
First, forget everything you have watched on the military “drama” shows. Deployments last a LOT longer than four one-hour episodes, friends will DEFINITELY move away before six seasons and Humvees joyriding the neighborhoods of base housing is not a regular occurrence (at least in my experience! I know it happens, but not enough to be “normal”).
Deployment homecomings are rarely the “sunshine and glitter” affairs that you may see on your local news or on those tear-inducing documentaries, and I can attest to that personally! There is usually no elaborately orchestrated surprise with a major sports team or celebrity. Instead homecomings are usually done outside in Eastern North Carolina in the August humidity, an unusual rainy day in California or a snowy blizzard in North Dakota. Of course these “ideal weather conditions” are coupled with arrival times being pushed back an hour. Then another hour. Then another hour… you get the idea. Spouses and children may arrive at the reunion looking festive and fresh, but after a while, bows fall out of the little girls’ hair, and boys (and girls!) tend to find the one place where they can end up with mud stains on their new patriotic “Welcome Home” outfits. Add in a few tear-stained cheeks from a toddler meltdown or two and you have an idea of what a typical deployment homecoming really looks like. All of these snafus are really small potatoes to military families though because at the end of the day their service member is HOME! Hot mess and all!
Military spouses don’t live a “second best” life. Sure, to the “outside” it seems like our lives are on hold as we follow our service member around the country and world. Yes! It is hard to gain MEANINGFUL employment when you are living a transient life. Yes! It can sometimes feel impossible to start AND finish a degree program at the same college. And YES! We don’t always get a say in how our life goes. But guess what? Strong military spouses don’t lay back and just accept things. We learn to take the bull by the horns and blaze our own career, education and life path. Some of the coolest military spouses I know have the most impressive resumes because they refused to live a life inside the box and made a far more exciting life for themselves than they would have had if they hadn’t been forced outside the lines! My motto: Military Spouse: No pity party needed!
Being a military “brat” is NOT a bad thing! In fact, military kids are some of the coolest people you will meet. They tend to have more cultural experience and “street cred” than the average adult! This comes from moving so often and learning to make friends quickly. Sure, they have struggles, but they learn adaptability from a young age. Think about it. You would be pretty versatile too if you were born in Germany, raised in Japan and graduated high school in Florida.
Life doesn’t stop during a deployment. I once heard someone remark, “She must not miss her husband that much. She doesn’t seem depressed.” I remember dropping my jaw in shock. Obviously they had never lived through a spouse’s deployment. Life must still go on. Seriously, could you imagine living seven to 18 months of your life at a time shut away in your dark house not interacting with the world around you because society expects that out of military families? There are still birthday parties, holidays and babies being born while a service member is gone. We all know the saying that “time flies when you are having fun.” And guess what? Our troops overseas don’t want their families to stop living while they are gone! They want to hear about all the fun adventures. It keeps *THEM* going!
So, there you have it. Besides the typical descriptors of military families such as flexible, supportive and patriotic, here are some deeper traits to help America better understand what military families are like! What would YOU like for America to know about military families?