Sydney and her husband walking through a field with their baby on their shoulders.

Embracing the Different Seasons of Military Life

My husband, a heavily seasoned Army brat and now slightly seasoned soldier, told me early on in our marriage to prepare for a life of seasons. Of course, all lives and marriages have seasons, but he was referring specifically to our military life and seasons we would face as a military family.

I have found there to be three distinct seasons in military life. I’ll be breaking them down from an Army wife perspective, although I can imagine they are similar among each of the military branches. I will also share how we’ve tried our best to uniquely embrace each of these seasons as a family — even when it has been tough to do so.

Busy Seasons

Usually strike hardest during key development times, when soldiers are assigned rank-specific leadership positions such as squad leader, platoon sergeant, platoon leader, company commander, battalion XO and certain staff primary positions such as the S3 or S1. There are also periods referred to as “high op tempo times” which occur during the training cycle when soldiers are working in fast-paced training environments working to complete extensive exercises under stress and scrutiny.

Busy seasons are undoubtedly hard on the family. These are the times as a wife when you find yourself heating up a cold plate of dinner five days in a row; the times when stress and work follow your husband home, making it difficult for him to be as present, positive and patient as you’d like him to be. These are the times when family can’t always come first, and you have to nod and shrug and remind yourself that this too shall pass.

While soldiers may often enjoy busy seasons as they find greater meaning and purpose in their day-to-day tasks at work, these times can be especially challenging for the family. I, personally, try to make the best of these times by looking at them as my own KD times as a wife … times to go above and beyond, serving my husband and selflessly loving and supporting him in times he doesn’t have much to give back to me or the family. This is the season to strive to be a star spouse, the season of endless grace and patience.

Slow Seasons

Slow seasons in military life can be found neatly nestled between the busy seasons. They often exist in the TRADOC setting, or what is casually referred to as the “schoolhouse” times, such as the Army’s Basic Officer Leadership Courses, Captains Career Courses and Command General Staff College. Schoolhouse times are typically considered family-friendly, entailing shorter workdays and little to no field exercises. The lower demands and minimal stress of these courses allow room for extra family time and a consistent workday routine that rarely exists in the garrison climate. Soldiers are often laid back as they’re focused more on equipping themselves with knowledge and skill rather than gearing up for combat. There are, of course, exceptions. Some TRADOC experiences may be more demanding than others, and there may be busy seasons found within them too.

There are other slow-paced times in the military such as the times following deployments when units are in “reset time” before the new training cycle begins. Units are typically given a few weeks of leave to spend with family, and units then get started again at a slower pace as the soldiers ease back into garrison life. Additionally, most units give at least two two-week periods of “block leave” per calendar year. These are short seasons but can be planned for and counted on as small breaks from the busy seasons.

The best way to embrace the slow-paced seasons is to make up for lost time, whatever that looks like for your family. This might be planning a fun trip to get away or tackling that duty station bucket list you created together when you PCSed. Or it might be as simple as a spouse asking her soldier to share some duties with the children and the house — knowing it won’t last forever but appreciating it to the fullest while he’s available and able to help out more.

Seasons of Separation

The most unique to the military community. While busy seasons and slow seasons can be found in most civilian careers, the length and frequency of separations for military families is what distinguishes the two lifestyles.

Seasons of separation include deployments, temporary duties, field exercises, and additional skill identifier schools such as Ranger/Sapper/Airborne/etc. and can range from a few weeks to several months — and in some cases more than a year — of separation for the family.

These are the most challenging seasons for families, but there are certainly ways to embrace these times and make the best of them. These are the seasons to visit extended family more often or invite them to visit you. These are the times to order takeout more than usual, find new shows on Netflix, to enjoy the little things like taking up the entire bed at night or living in a house that stays cleaner for longer. These are times for trying new hobbies and projects around the home, developing friendships with other military spouses, and most importantly learning how to be independent and do it all on your own while you must. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one you’ll be proud of when you reach that point. Of course, you’d never trade any of these things for your spouse’s return home to safety — but you can still grow as a person and as a family even with your soldier absent. Your soldier is like a puzzle piece that gets lost, and somehow happens to fit a new puzzle when he returns home. It’s a difficult but beautiful thing.

Whatever season you find yourself in as a military family, whether it be a busy and chaotic one, a slow and enjoyable one, or an agonizing season of separation and loneliness — it is important to remember that it won’t last forever.

Whatever it looks like through the good and the bad, the best thing you can do is strive to embrace it —since you can’t change it.

Written By Sydney Smith
Army Spouse

Sydney has been an Army wife for four years and has two children. She often writes on the raw experiences military spouses face during challenging times, striving to be a voice of encouragement and validation among the military spouse community.

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