Almost every spouse has some working knowledge of what an FRG (Family Readiness Group) does, or whatever it may be called for your branch (Key Spouse Program, Ombudsman Program, Family Readiness Program, Work-Life Program, etc.) Whatever you call it, at its core, these groups are command-sponsored organizations that provides communication and support for families at both the Unit and Company levels.
Some groups are extremely active while others exist primarily as a means of disseminating important information. And, if you are not totally new to military life, it’s likely that your own FRG experiences have varied widely, as well.
Perhaps I am lucky in that our first duty station was overseas so our FRG had the added benefit of spouses actively searching for community and friendship, whereas those things tend to be of less importance when you’re stateside and have more access to non military friends and family.
“Our company’s FRG was led by a woman who exuded kindness, enthusiasm, and genuine concern: everything a good leader should embody.”
She quickly made me feel at home in my scary new Army life and is someone whom I still consider to be a very dear friend.
Since that time, I have twice been in her shoes. And while I have always tried to emulate her example, each of those experiences were vastly different. One was what I would consider a success while the other was…well…not.
For months I agonized over what I could do differently and felt like a total failure. With time and perspective though, I have come to realize that there’s only so much one person can do.
“If I could go back and explain myself to the spouses from that failed FRG today, this is what I would tell them.”
1) We can’t do it alone
No matter how well intentioned your leader may be, your FRG cannot be successful without consistent participation. If you’re frustrated because your leader doesn’t seem interested in planning fundraisers or events, it may be because getting help in the past has been extremely difficult. Step up and offer your support.
Convince your friends to chip in, as well. A small donation or a half hour of your time can make all the difference between failure and success.
2) We are human too
Our kids get sick. Our marriages need attention. We get busy planning birthdays and holidays. We struggle through deployments. And sometimes, we just need a little break. All of this is normal. But spouses sometimes forget that you are an actual person with responsibilities and commitments outside of the FRG.
An email or text may accidentally get overlooked because, well, we’re human.
“Any FRG leader worth her weight will never purposely ignore you. Give her the benefit of the doubt and try again.”
Noticing a pattern of dismissive behavior is one thing but some spouses actually believe the FRG leader should be at their beck and call. I once had a spouse’s husband blast me on our Facebook page because I had missed his wife’s phone call several minutes prior.
What he didn’t know?
My phone wasn’t right next to me because I was at my own baby shower. And her urgent issue was that she didn’t have directions to a unit event despite the fact that they had been emailed out multiple times. Yell “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” enough and your FRG leader will have nothing left to give. Be kind. Be understanding. Be forgiving. And keep your expectations realistic.
3) What you know is what we know
Unless your FRG leader is actually in the military, chances are they don’t have any sort of security clearance. He or she will never be given sensitive data about troop movements or locations and any information they do receive is provided for the sole purpose of disseminating to fellow spouses.
“Rumors spread in a hurry, especially during deployments, but your FRG leader will never deliberately withhold important information from you. He or she has literally zero incentive to do that.”
So the next time so-and-so hears a unit related rumor from her husband’s buddy’s sister-in-law’s babysitter, take it with a grain of salt. If you are truly concerned, bring it up privately and listen for answers instead of confirmation of what you want to hear.
4) We invest a great deal of time & money
This is a big one. Even a “simple” meeting requires organizing a time and location that works for everyone, multiple e-mails, setting up childcare (if applicable), creating an agenda, and providing official documentation of activity.
This is to say nothing of the food sometimes purchased for more formal meetings or the amount of money spent on fundraisers with so little participation from other members that it would inevitably be easier on everyone if the leader privately donated a large chuck of change and called the whole thing off.
You may be wondering why we don’t just use money the FRG has previously raised but
- There are very strict rules regarding how those funds may be spent and
- That assumes your FRG has been active enough in the past to have any funds available.
Beyond that, memos are written, phone calls are made, meetings are attended, emails are answered, data is collected and organized, meals are provided, and a hundred other small but essential acts. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t genuinely concerned about the well being of our families.
All we ask is a little understanding and maybe to recognize our hard work with a simple, “thank you.”
5) It’s oftentimes a “volun-told” position
Of course, you can’t be forced into being an FRG leader, and obviously, that would have negative implications for everyone involved. But there is often a sense of duty surrounding the decision to be an FRG leader, irrespective of any other time restraints.
“We take on the position because we want to make a difference, not because we are power hungry, cliquey, or flaunting our spouse’s rank.”
It is no exaggeration that each of those explanations have been offered to me as a reason why some spouses refuse to participate. And while I obviously can’t vouch for every person who has ever been an FRG leader, most of us actively reject those notions and try very hard to create a friendly, inclusive atmosphere.
The truth is, there is nothing glamorous about the job. There is nothing exciting about working your tail off, spending your own money, and getting yelled at by spouses, soldiers, or anyone else who crosses your path.
If you have an FRG leader who never lets on that he or she deals with this stuff on a consistent basis, consider yourself lucky – you have a keeper!