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Work/Life & the Military

February 3, 2010

Being a military spouse and trying to hold down a job can be a sticky situation, especially in times like these when the economy isn’t doing so well. Throw in an overall lack of job availability with moving every two to three years, and it can be pretty difficult to maintain that second salary for your family.

But this is what a lot of us go through being a military spouse. The blog radio program, Fem 2.0, will be discussing that issue today at 1 p.m. EST. Our very own LeftFace writer, Liberal Army Wife (LAW) will be participating in the discussion, as well as host Katie Stanton, Stephanie Himel-Nelson (Director of New Media for Blue Star Families), and the President of the National Research Center for Women and Families, Diana Zuckerman.

From the Fem 2.0 Website:

Military families are just like other families. Soldiers and their spouses are often are dealing with same work/life issues as everyone else, like wage gaps, caregiving, sick leave and more. But imagine dealing with these issues when you and/or your spouse are stationed overseas and serving in often dangerous situations for months or years at a time. Imagine being separated from your loved ones and still being expected to handle the day-to-day. Imagine being uprooted with little to no warning and moving to an unknown city or country, over and over again, and still having to provide for yourself and your family. Three experts who are passionate about military families and the difficulties they face will tell the whole story on what life is really like, how this kind of living affects men, women and children, and what can be done to help.

The program is titled Work/Life and the Military — What It’s Really Like to Work and Serve. You can follow that link to visit the site and tune in.

But in case you missed it, how does this effect you as a military spouse? What have your struggles been? What has worked for you and what hasn’t?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2010 12:18 pm

    I had a very successful freelance writing career when I met my husband, so I already had an established career going into the military life, but his career almost decimated mine just by taking up so much of my time. Because of TBI when he first got back from Afghanistan he couldn’t drive, although he should be driving again soon.

    So I have been driving him to post every morning at 5AM and picking him up at 5-6 PM every day. Just driving him takes 4-6 hours out of my day everyday because of traffic even though we only live 10 miles from post. I cannot count the number of deadlines I have missed because he will tell me that they have been released, I will drive to post and then find out they weren’t released for one reason or another and I end up waiting for two hours until they are released. And it’s not just the daily duty that is disruptive. It’s the 3,4,5 day exercises, 24 hour duty, “deployment drills” in the middle of the night, having him gone for every single birthday, anniversary, and holiday and “mandatory” FRG meetings. (Yes, I missed a deadline just recently for a “mandatory” FRG meeting that he was ordered to have me attend.)

    Having to adapt his schedule has made it incredibly difficult to find time to write. Creative work is very difficult to do on 3-4 hours of sleep at night. I ended up having to stop taking on new clients and even among my existing clients there is a waiting list. The time I have to devote to work was cut from 100% to about 40%. It’s been very frustrating to watch the business I spent years building slowly fall apart because of the demands of his career. Just having to take the time to run errands, shop, cook, clean the house, pay the bills, manage the bank accounts and the investments because he never has time to do it can take eat away at the time I used to devote to my work.

    My husband thinks I should stop working since we don’t need the money but to me it’s not about the money, it’s about having something of my own, a connection to life outside the Army, and a sense of accomplishment of my own. I need to have a life outside of the military in order to keep my sanity. When he leaves for his second tour this summer it will be working and school that will keep me sane. It seems to me that the Army at least depends very heavily on spouses to run the household and they are really kind of expected not to work.

    This is a really important topic to me because I think it’s very important that spouses that want to work be able to. We are forced by deployments to be independent and function on our own, yet when soldiers aren’t deployed we are expected to be dependent again and devote ourselves entirely to their careers.

    I wish I had time to clarify my thoughts a little more but as usual, I have a deadline. :/

    • LAW permalink
      February 3, 2010 12:27 pm

      OOOOH, can I use some of this on the show?????

  2. February 3, 2010 2:18 pm

    When my husband and I were dating, he voiced his desires that at least one parent should stay home with the kids…which totally made me laugh, because, um, he was in the Army, so which parent should that be? I made it clear that, although at the time I was just a student, I wanted to work and not be a full-time caregiver to our children. I won out.

    And it all worked out, but it’s not easy. I work from home, which makes things considerably easier. I work an office job, have voIP phones, and VPN into the office server. Customers have no idea that I’m not in the SoCal office when they are speaking to me.

    I agree with IndieWife that it is frustrating that a lot of the chores fall onto my shoulders, just because he can’t do them i.e. taking the kids to their drs appointments, etc. I know that in my life my priorities are kids, my husband, my job and then me…which might explain why yesterday was the first time my legs got shaved in a month.

    We just moved which meant that I was out of internet for a while, which meant that I couldn’t work fully. I was still able to occasionally get internet to do a lot of my computer-based work (invoicing, emailing, etc.) but not phone answering. My employer is extremely understanding, which is great. So I am very fortunate to 1) have a computer based job that is completely transferable when we PCS, no having to look for a new job, and 2) have an employer who accepts that things will sometimes be interrupted, and is more interested in quality than quantity.

    And when it comes down to it: the cost of me working is only slightly less than what I earn. My salary was cut in half about 6 months ago due to downsizing, but I am so grateful to still have the job, but now it barely covers childcare. But for me it is so worth it to have a life “outside of the military” and to put in the work to assure that I will always have this career in the future. And my husband is completely supportive of this now.

    I am also in awe of spouses who stay home and completely support their working spouses and families. In my estimation this is a far more grueling task, because there is never any “off” time. I love Mondays! I’m off Mommy duty then. For me, work is an escape, and I really feel blessed to be able to do that, and realize that it isn’t easy to have that opportunity as a military spouse.

  3. February 3, 2010 2:23 pm

    Rats, I missed it! This is such an important topic. I’m so glad it’s getting air time.

    I gave up on my career not long after I finally got it started. I was a software engineer but left the job to follow my husband overseas. I did find a position there, by absolute chance, and I got to do some really fun work. However, it was not in my industry, I couldn’t share what I had done with other future employers (because I worked on secure systems), and much of my work didn’t translate into the civilian sector. The only jobs I was getting calls for once I returned to the States were system administration positions, which were not just of no interest to me but also where I completely lacked knowledge and training (because it was no interest to me).

    I ended up being jobless long enough to make grad school absolutely necessary to get back into a career. I could go back for computer science, but I feared ending up in the same position – PCSed to a location where there are no jobs and a whole new gap in my resume…only this time with huge school loan debt to be paid back. I’m back in school but in a completely different industry, one I hope will give me options to work online or in just about any location we might end up. Just about.

    It’s a gamble, but it’s better than sitting at home with no identity or life outside of the Navy.

  4. February 3, 2010 3:31 pm

    I missed it too, is there going to be a replay or somewhere we can listen online at a later date??

    I also wanted to add that while I don’t want to be morbid we all need to live with the fact that our husbands might not come home, or might come home injured or disabled. I want to be sure that if something were to happen to my husband I would have a career of my own so I could support myself/him if necessary. I don’t want to be an Army widow who has done nothing but support a soldier for 6-7 years and have to start over if something happens to him. God forbid it does, but…it’s really something we all face.

    I wish the Army would do more to give spouses the tools to work online. Freelancing is one option, but like Calivalleygirl’s job there are lots of companies now that hire people to work at home taking reservations, doing customer service, doing administrative work and so on. It really angers me that the Army pushes spouses into “portable” careers that are really gender identified low paying jobs like retail, daycare, serving, housecleaning and so on. Not that there is *anything* wrong with that kind of work, I don’t want to give that impression. But, there are plenty of fulfilling, high paying, career track jobs that are entirely portable too and it would be nice to see those options presented as well as the others.

  5. LAW permalink
    February 3, 2010 3:37 pm

    Here’s the link I was given.


  6. February 4, 2010 3:14 am

    This is a great discussion, and one near to my heart. We just PCSed overseas, and after a lot of hemming and hawing, my employer decided I could keep working (I’d been telecommuting for four years anyway, so the only big difference is the time change). My boss also allowed me to take 6 weeks unpaid leave to welcome my husband home from deployment, visit family, and get moved.

    But I know I’m a lucky one — if this hadn’t worked out, here I’d be in a small German town, with all the other milspouses (and local nationals) fighting for the same few jobs, none of which would be in my career field. My husband will tell you that I’m a lousy hausfrau, and I heartily agree. Add that to the fact that he’s working long hours and on call the rest of them — and set to deploy again, eventually — and I could very well lose my mind if I weren’t working. I of course would volunteer — and plan to now, as much as my job lets me — but there’s only so much volunteering a person can handle without danger of compassion burnout.

    My hope is that more employers will figure out that with a little bit of leeway and understanding, a milspouse can be a fantastic employee — organized, dependable, driven to succeed. My other hope is that working virtually will make this more of a possibility.

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