Open any of your social media feeds and you’ll be inundated with the romance of travel and living in different places. Exploring new cities. Trying new foods. Taking in beautiful vistas. Meeting new people. Learning new cultures. Learning new languages. Adding that new stamp in your passport (whether literally or symbolically) for the sheer pleasure of saying that you’ve been there.
Saying goodbye to my family definitely involved some heartache, but that was balanced out by the exciting opportunities and possible adventures that were coming for us.
As for me, traveling and moving is built into my marriage—with so many mixed emotions. I met and fell in love with my soldier in college. Within a couple of years we were married and excited to spend the rest of our lives together, whatever (and wherever) that looked like. Being a military family meant sacrifices, and we prepared for those things as a couple as best as we could. Saying goodbye to my family definitely involved some heartache, but that was balanced out by the exciting opportunities and possible adventures that were coming for us.
My husband’s first assignment took us to Italy for a magical three years. Where we could drive into the foothills of the Dolomites and find a winery. And at that winery, the actual winemakers and owners are the ones pouring wines for tasting. Where eating a meal with friends is an evening-long event and the conversation is never scarce. We could travel all over Europe without a care in the world—London, Paris, Normandy, Brussels, Dublin—the list goes on. Adjusting to a new place without any friends or family or professional connections for me was certainly a challenge, but between the vineyard visits and cafe lunches, I had no idea what real challenges laid ahead.
We said goodbye to Italy and hello to Georgia, our next assignment. No one loves the process of moving, especially if it means figuring out what it takes to ship everything you own (even a car) across the Atlantic Ocean. But, we figured it out and got settled into our new home back in the states. Being back into (somewhat) familiar lands, we were ready to start raising kids together and growing our family. Our first bundle of joy, Rory, arrived on the scene and we couldn’t have been happier. We had been thinking and dreaming about his arrival for a long time. However, there wasn’t much time to settle into the new parents to a newborn life. Within 6 months we had a new assignment.
Hello, Washington. We got settled into our new home (again) and settled into being new parents (again). I was offered a job that was really a dream for me. I had been staying at home with our son and was starting to feel the itch of wanting to get out of the home a bit. The job was at a physical therapy clinic two days a week, working alongside a friend, and using my education to help people. Truly ideal! It was minimum wage, but I was willing to look past that in order to get out of the house and use my skillset. So I began the search for child care.
But I also had a lot of friends who lived far away from their families—how did they manage? They had a village.
Through the process of searching for kid coverage, I began to get really discouraged about being a military spouse. And not the same bummed as moving away from your family to go live in Italy. Hang with me if this doesn’t make sense yet. If I was in this situation back in my hometown, I would have the resources of family members to help out. Maybe someone to have Rory one or both days, or even someone to pick him up and stay at my house until I got home. But I also had a lot of friends who lived far away from their families—how did they manage? They had a village. People who they had met and built up relationships with over time. People who they know and trust and trust them. Having a village of help is essential to parents.
So what? Don’t people move all the time? What does this have to do with being discouraged about being a military family? We do this and re-do this every 3 years. Some military families are “lucky” and are able to spend 5 or more years at any duty station but for us and my husband’s job, that’s just not possible. When it was just the two of us, the idea of moving was more manageable. We get good at not collecting too much junk, we become expert packers, and can even find our new favorite local businesses fairly easily. What’s not so easy is rebuilding the child care village.
Sometimes we are just ships passing in the night at duty stations. We’ll be together for a few months and then have to say goodbye again. Heartache.
All my hard work to find a fulfilling job for me and child care that’s best for our family has to be repeated over and over every couple of years. Any roots that we’ve been able to establish in a short amount of time get pulled right up. Anyone out there who knows what it takes to build your village can see how this would be utterly discouraging. Yes, we have our amazing Army family who have become my surrogate sisters and aunties whom I will have as lifelong friends—but they also move every few years. Sometimes we are just ships passing in the night at duty stations. We’ll be together for a few months and then have to say goodbye again. Heartache.
Just like becoming a parent, you truly don’t know until you’re in it.
I love my husband and the life that we have made together. People often say, “Well you knew what you were getting into.” But that just simply isn’t true. Just like becoming a parent, you truly don’t know until you’re in it. And to be honest even with all the heartache that comes with being a military spouse, there’s an abundance of joy and lessons learned that I wouldn’t trade for anything. My husband and I have learned so much about ourselves and our marriage from being away from family and not being able to rely on them. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t rely on the support of others to make it all work.
If you’re reading this and wondering what can be done, I’ve got a few things that will make my life (and the lives other military families like me) much easier.
1. Don’t Slow Roll
If you meet a military family and you might like them—even a little bit, BOND FAST. That’s what the military community does so well. We don’t waste time because you really don’t know how much time you’ll have with people.
2. Share Your Village
As parents, it’s instinctual to hold onto a great sitter once you’ve found them. If you share them with someone else, they might not be as available for you. I get it—I really do. However, unless you’ve got a full-time nanny, chances are that that sitter has plenty of time to go around. Not to mention doing a nanny share can cut costs for both families.
3. Start a Group
Find out if you live near a military base. If so, start a group that brings local civilian parents and military parents together. Your local community can help provide the immediate support of referrals and connections that the new military families need.