Identity Formation Pt 3: For the Spouses
This being the military BRAT blog, we talk about the impacts this lifestyle had on us as children and how it may affect current and future brat generations. However, there are times when it is important to talk about spouses, too. A lot of how my sister and I learned to deal with the impact of the military lifestyle was through my parents.
Listen to Your Mother
My mom was a military brat as well (Air Force runs deep in our family). As a new(ish) spouse, I have leaned a lot on her advice and the way I saw her respond to various stressors when I was a kid. Going through this life, I have seen kids really struggle, and I believe one of the major contributing factors is a lack of understanding of their own identity. Laura and I were very fortunate to have parents that understood the need for this and showed us how our experiences were building a very unique and strong personal identity for the future.
Though Mom wore the "Military Spouse" title with pride, it was not her entire identity. She knew what was important to her, and she has always matched her priorities to mirror her values. For one, no matter where we were or how long we would be there, my mom laid down roots for herself.
Even on the one-year assignments where getting a teaching certificate and finding a job were practically impossible, she would volunteer. She has an incredible passion for educating, and wherever we went, she found something that would fill that part of her heart.
Secondly, she recognized the importance of the military community and found a good balance between being involved, but still having a life outside of it. My mom was a Key Spouse and would regularly host events, make casseroles for the new neighbors on base, and attend the social functions.
However, she also made friends in the community around us; neighbors, church members, co-workers, etc. Having connections and friendships outside of the military, made us feel more at home everywhere we went. My mom is naturally a very extroverted person and can light up a room with her laugh. She excelled at juggling her various roles and setting a foundation for our family everywhere we went.
A lot of her work was definitely taken for granted. Starting over is one thing, but starting over nearly 25 times is outright exhausting. But she did it. Every. Single. Time. And, she did it well because she realized how important it was for our family. All of this is impressive in and of itself, but as I have now stepped into the "spouse" role myself, I realize some behind-the-scenes factors that I never would have thought of as a kid.
My Own Behind-the-Scenes Look
In my first couple of years as a spouse, I struggled a great deal with identity. Finding meaningful employment was hard -- and it was really important to me because I had always placed such an emphasis on my career. It was hard for me to see any other role I was filling or find value in it because I felt like I had failed to achieve the status I set for myself.
I didn't see the importance of simple things I did like buying groceries and making meals for the week so my husband had something to eat on his 14 hr days. I took for granted how much it means that I would sacrifice an entire career so that I could follow my husband wherever he went and be his support system in his challenging career.
You never get a badge or pat on the back for leaving behind friends and family to be reassigned somewhere unfamiliar, and instantly left alone as your only friend goes off for a month-long TDY. As a spouse, the list of responsibilities you take on is endless because a job in the military isn't meant for just one person; it really takes a team.
I am not patting myself on the back for any of this just yet, I still have a long way to go in learning how to be a better part of that team and not take it for granted as much as I sometimes do. But having this behind-the-scenes knowledge of what my mom experienced, and seeing her excel as a team member, makes me really proud of her and confident that I can channel a fraction of her strength.
It is no doubt, a very under-appreciated role. We don't wear the uniform or get accolades and praise from the community on our awesome job. But we have an important role to play, too. I am still learning that part of this life. For a while, it wasn't even something I considered to be a part of my identity. But the deeper I've gotten into it, and the more I've seen what a unique and strong person it can make me into, the prouder I am to say that I am a military spouse. Just as long as I have my own things too.
*A quick aside, and shoutout to my Dad so he is not left out. He was busy a lot and was very dedicated to being the best Officer he could be. But above anything at work, he loved his family and would do anything for us too. His appreciation for my Mom's sacrifices and the challenges my sister and I faced as kids moving around, was a big motivator for everyone to do their part and create a well-oiled machine.