tell me about your experience as an active duty spouse
DH is currently in the Army National Guard and has been for over 7 years. When he reenlisted a couple years ago (shortly after we got engaged), he wanted to go active but, admittedly for my own selfish reasons, I asked him not to so he stayed NG. But since the birth of our son, my priorities have obviously greatly changed. Like any mother, I want to make sure our son always has everything he needs and I don't want to have to struggle to give him that. In our current situation, we are struggling. We're in the area where DH makes too much to qualify for help but not enough to cover all the necessary expenses. Sometimes with his job, there is not always work available, which can greatly effect his paycheck. We decided childcare was not a good option for us for various reasons so I am a SAHM. So, for financial reasons (and because I know it's what DH really wants), I'm thinking of talking to him about the possibility of going active (not the easiest process but possible). However, I am the type of person who never makes a major decision without being fully informed and I know very little about the active duty lifestyle. DH spent most of the first year of our marriage in Afghanistan so I have experienced the difficulties of a deployment but that's about it. I know everyone's experience is different but I'm just looking for some insight. Is it difficult being away from friends and family? I'm worried about being stationed where I don't know anyone and being alone all the time. What about moving every few years? How difficult is that? What's the effect of the lifestyle on your children? DS is only 2 months old so it won't matter to him now but I'm worried it'll be harder when he's in school. Do you live on or off base? Which do you think is easier on your family? How do you discuss deployments with your children, especially when they're too young to fully understand? Like I said, I know it's different for everyone but it's a bit on an unknown world to me so any insight would be greatly appreciated. TIA for sharing.
"Is it difficult being away from friends and family?"
It can be rough at first, but once you start creating a support network of friends and neighbors, it's easier to deal with. You are as alone as you allow yourself to be. The easiest way to meet people in the military community is to get involved in volunteering, participating in your spouse's unit family readiness group, going to the base gym, taking classes, finding a play group for your child, etc.
"What about moving every few years? How difficult is that?"
Once you do a move, each subsequent move gets easier in respect to the logistics of the move. I have found making lists of what needs to be done to be extremely helpful in reducing the stress inherent in a move to a different community. Every community has it's own flavor. In Wisconsin, I loved going to the antique shops. In North Carolina, I love going to the beach. In New York, I loved going to the Renaissance Fair and the outdoor concerts. Each place we have lived is an adventure in itself. After a few years in one spot I start to get that itch to move on to the next chapter in my life.
"What's the effect of the lifestyle on your children?"
I believe that the lifestyle has been a benefit to my 2 girls. They have learned to adapt to new situations. They know how to make new friends easily. They have seen more in their short lives than I did as a kid and they have a broader view of their world because of it. I think it's easier when the kids are younger to adapt to new places. As my kids get older, they are expressing the desire to stay where we are at and we are taking their needs into greater consideration when we talk about the future. My oldest is a freshman in high school and she is very established in her life right now. I think that if we move before she graduates, it will be an extremely difficult transition for our family. My kids have learned how to deal with the frequent separations from their dad. I try to set a good example of strength and capability. They need to know that life as they see it continues even when their dad is away. I believe it give them a sense of stability and security.
"Do you live on or off base? Which do you think is easier on your family?"
We have done both. When my kids were little, I felt that on base was the best place to be. I may have been lucky, because I had a group of neighbors that we hung out with. Our kids played together and we all helped each other out. Even when I didn't have kids, I enjoyed being on base because I knew for a fact that my neighbors were going through the same things I was going through. I enjoyed the sense of community. Currently, we live out in town, but my kids are older so I am able to do more away from the home and have been able to develop friendships through volunteering and art classes. Everyone seems to complain about the drama, but you control how much drama is in your life by choosing friends that aren't drama queens. I have very few bad experiences with this, because I tend to walk the other way when the drama queen becomes easily identifiable. Some people want to keep military and family separate so they stay away from the base as much as possible and some people like to enmesh themselves into the military community. Either choice is neither right or wrong. Do what is comfortable for you and your husband.
"How do you discuss deployments with your children, especially when they're too young to fully understand?"
When my kids were small I didn't discuss deployments with them. When they asked where Daddy was, I would tell them he was at work and then they would move on to whatever grabbed their attention. I believe that the more you dramatize the separation, the more you spool your kid up. Your kid is looking at your cues and if you are a blubbering mess of tears, then your kid is going to be a mess. If you constantly tell your kid that they are sad because daddy is gone, then they are going to be sad. It makes more sense to maintain the kid's routine and handle any emotional issues that you believe are caused by the separation as they arise. I don't even play up the homecoming date because it could always change and my kids would be heartbroken. They have learned the motto, "he's home when he walks through the door". Now that my girls are older I give them a more specific time frame, but I always remind them that it could change.
You are going to hear alot of bad things and good things about the military lifestyle, but your individual experience is what you make of it. I have been married to my active duty husband for almost 24 years and I still have a positive view of the military and the military community. I am thankful for everything that we have experienced because of this lifestyle.
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