I remember when I went to my first spouses’ gathering after my husband went back onto active duty. I was a new military spouse, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was lovely; the women were very friendly and welcoming, but I was shocked that the first question I got after introductions were made was, “So, what does your husband do?”

I was taken aback. I had a successful law career I had been pursuing for the past decade.  I had just left a job as an assistant city solicitor.  Why didn’t anyone ask me what I did?

My husband tried to explain that it wasn’t meant as an insult.  It is natural for strangers to want to find common bonds, and in our diverse world, the military was the one thing we all had in common. I understood, but I worried that I would start to identify myself solely through his job.  Would I lose my sense of self?  Would I lose the things that made me who I was?

More than a decade later, I don’t even think twice about it anymore, and I’ve gotten used to not only answering “the question” but I find myself asking it, too. The military is such a huge part of our daily lives.  Our spouses’ jobs shape not just where we live, but how we live. How we think of ourselves and our families, whether or spouses are intel officers or medics or maintainers. 

When you live in a military community, you get used to seeing minivans with “Proud Air Force Wife” tooling around town.  You know people with email addresses like “usmcwife09@myemail.com” or “LUVMYF16PILOT@writeme.com.”

That kind of pride and support is wonderful, but the thing is, a military spouse is an accomplished person in his or her own right.  We have advanced degrees. We cook and paint and write. We run marathons.  We volunteer at our churches and our children’s schools.  But marrying a member of the military often means putting our own careers and interests on hold, if not sacrificing them altogether.

Of course, being a military wife is like being a pastor’s wife or a politician’s wife.  His job becomes your job, too. It’s a job that requires not just total commitment from the employee, but from the entire family, too.

There are very few jobs like that. I can’t say I’ve ever seen any “I Love My Insurance Adjuster” or “Proud Mortician’s Wife” bumper stickers.  Still, I realize there’s no comparison.  Being married to an insurance adjuster or a mortician or a lawyer is not the same as being married to an active duty military member.  Being a lawyer was my job.  The military is a life.

The important thing is to keep it from becoming an all-consuming life. Although we all know spouses who still “wear rank,” the military has changed significantly for spouses in the last fifty years. More of us are able to pursue our own goals and interests.  Still, being a military spouse is a twenty-four hour job.  There is no downtime.   

At our last base, my husband’s flying squadron was filled with newly-wed young lieutenants just out of pilot training.  Their new wives proudly wore airplane jewelry and squadron t-shirts, and it was wonderful to see them so enthusiastic. 

I hoped they would remain as proud and enthusiastic, just as I hoped they would maintain their professional licenses or keep running triathlons or teaching yoga or whatever they can to carve out a small corner of military life for themselves.

In the end, it’s more of an observation than a complaint. I’m enormously proud of my husband, and I have never been anything but proud to support the mission. I don’t regret any of the choices we made as a family.

And he’s proud of me, too.  He has been nothing but supportive as I studied for a bar exam, worked as lawyer, or sang in the church choir. I think that kind of support is one of the greatest gifts a spouse can be given.

There may not be a “Proud Attorney’s Husband” bumper sticker on his car, but he has been known to wear a “Real Men Marry Lawyers” t-shirt under his flight suit.

Views: 268

Comment by isabel main on November 15, 2012 at 11:04am

OMG! Nancy you have hit the nail on the head! It is so hard to hold your head up as a modern woman and still find yourself being head cheerleader for your husbands career--often at the expense of your own. I was just talking about this with a friend. She said, "Oh, there will be time for your career later..." But will there? The bottom line is that at this very moment I have relegated my profession (and it is more than a job to me, it's a vocation) to the back seat and I am not sure when/if I'll get my turn. Despite those feelings, though, I am just as proud and amazed by how important my spouse's contribution is to this thing we call the military.

I love what you said about meeting new wives (sometimes they're husbands now, too--but rarely). I look forward to sharing exactly what you said about "remaining proud and enthusiastic [while carving] out a small corner of military life for themselves." So well put, and such an important perspective. I wish I'd thought of it when I was a young wife and didn't have it creep up on me as a done deal 15 years later. 

(Another brilliant blog. I keep thinking I'll just read and move on, but I can't help responding to these and it takes some effort to remember my dc military living password at my advanced age!)

Comment by H Warren Phillips on November 15, 2012 at 11:12am
Another brilliantly written blog. I always look forward to reading each new one. You truly have a gift.
Comment by H Warren Phillips on November 15, 2012 at 12:19pm
I didn't think you could top last week's Veterans Day blog. But you have. Another excellent offering. CGP
Comment by Nancy Lavallee on November 15, 2012 at 12:38pm

And I appreciate your comments, Isabel!  You raise a good point.  I've enjoyed working as a lawyer, but it was never a vocation for me.  So, what do you do when there are two people who are equally passionate and feel equally called to do what they do?  Something's got to give.  How do you negotiate that?  You always think there will be time when they retire, but it's often too late by that time when you're 40+ and you haven't worked steadily in 20 years.  Sigh.  I wish I had better answers.

Thank you all for reading! :)

Comment by Leslie Flatt on November 15, 2012 at 1:32pm

I have been known to use the phrase "we joined the military before Dom finished law school."  I realize that this confuses people because really only my husband "joined," but it truly has been a family experience since the beginning.  Unlike some of my fellow military spouse friends, I have never pursued a career of my own.  It is hard not to feel that I've wasted my own higher education.

Choosing to be the stay-at-home spouse may be much more common in the military world than in the civilian world due to the need for frequent family re-locations, but we all know some military spouses who have managed to hold parallel careers despite the many moves.  Even when the choice to stay home is made willingly, it can be disheartening if we begin to compare our lives with the many high-achieving parents that are all around us in Northern VA.  I think all stay-at-home moms (civilian or military) experience moments of depression or feelings that the working world is passing them by.  It was just this past weekend after a dinner gathering with several two-income couples that I teared up with my own feelings of inadequacy.

I thank God for my super-supportive husband who always seems to say the right things.  When we lose sight of our own value, we need others to remind us.  He values me.  The family values me.  I may sometimes envy working moms, but they likewise envy me.  As my own mother's life attests. . . there is much time after children to still have a career.  And, my husband will be there to support me any way he can when I chose to pursue professional goals for myself.

Military life is a lifestyle affecting the whole family - true.  We throw our own lives behind the support of our spouses' careers.  Keep in mind that being a stay-at-home parent is also a lifestyle.  The working spouse should likewise throw their full support to this life choice made together for the benefit of the entire family.

Comment by leon lavallee on November 15, 2012 at 5:30pm

You have such a great way of expressing yourself!  Can see you writing a TV show based on your experiences.  Another good blog.  CAL

Comment by Jeff Lavallee on November 16, 2012 at 8:47am

I always believed it when lawyers said that studying for the bar was difficult.  I believed it but didn't understand it.  That is, until watching Nancy study for the NM bar.  She did this while taking care of three children (two kids and a husband).  Now I get it.  A friend in my squadron was married to a woman who was getting a nursing degree (while taking care of their kids too).  Lot's of work and very little sleep.  These are just a few examples of the difficult and impressive accomplishments of military spouses.  Employers would be wise to take note and hire these driven and intelligent people.


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