Military spouses are so entitled; where do they get off?
Wife During War wrote a superb piece about the impact of the potential shutdown on military families, which I shared on my FB wall. One of the comments on my wall in response was,
” i don’t like paragraph 3. this paragraph, like most military wives i know seem to put themselves into their own little party/group like they are more important or special than others… that’s what i read in this paragraph as well. like…they’re better than everyone else. i don’t understand where that mentality comes from. please don’t hate me for saying that!”
What did paragraph 3 say? Here it is:
“I can tell you how it feels to us. It feels like the country that we sacrifice for, and that our spouses/sons/daughters/mothers/fathers risk their lives for couldn’t give a damn about us. It feels like the American people have become so heartless, so petty, and so small minded that getting their own is the only thing is that matters and if people get hurt so what. And yes, my fellow citizens, you have a part to play in this too. You elected these people. You gave them the ‘mandate’ to push your own ideologies ahead of everyone else’s and not to compromise or act like grownups. Don’t think that you’re blameless in all of this, although ultimately the responsibility for thousands of starving military families will fall on the politicians whose petty political wrangling was far more important than the survival of the families whose loved ones are overseas fighting for this country.”
Do I entirely agree with all of Wife During War’s statements? No, of course not. I don’t entirely agree with anyone on anything. It’s my contrarian nature. But Wife During War’s husband is deployed…again and she like so many military spouses has been uprooted over and over.
I was already thinking about many of the shitty comments my so called “friends” and “family” made last week as we headed toward what would be financial disaster for so many military families, many of whom are bearing the stress of one of their family members either deployed, injured, or suffering mental illness or distress. I was thinking about whether military spouses are actually justified in claiming what these people see as privilege. Here’s what I decided.
In many respects, military spouses may see me as privileged. I have had a reasonably stable home for 3 whole years as I have been completing my doctoral work in a field that interests me. I have made friends with people I see every week and whom I can depend on when things go wrong and celebrate with when things go right. I also spend the majority of my evenings before my husband goes to sleep, if he’s available, chatting with him over google video chat. This pushes my research into the late night/early morning hours, when normal people sleep and then I still have to work regular business hours. I am lucky.
The year before I moved here to school, leaving my husband to geobachelor it with the military, we lived 4 different places (in 1 yr). That is just long enough to unpack and repack. I had emergency gall bladder surgery after fighting with Tricare (our insurance) for 3 mos to convince them that I was in fact ill. I had been for the entirety of our marriage, but it had finally gotten so bad that I couldn’t eat. My husband was in a deep depression and I was facing down an IA with zero support. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone who could even explain to me what was happening, nor could anyone even tell my husband what his job would be (which would have helped manage my stress). We were in debt, because we had to put $3K down (1.5 mo rent for security deposit) on the apartment in CA, which the landlord refused to repay because he went into foreclosure. He filed bankruptcy after I got a judgement against him in court. I was unemployed, because let’s face it, who hires someone who has moved so many times in one year. It was the worst year of my life since I left home. I didn’t have any way to get around because we were sharing one car and TX, where we were is ridiculously spread out. It was hell. And you know what, I still had it better than many military families. That’s right, that hellish year was a good year compared to what many families experience.
Why was it a good year? I may have been facing down a deployment (#2 he had been deployed the previous year), but I still had my spouse and he was still safe. My husband is an officer, so we still made enough money that we could, even with our losses in CA, cover ourselves on his salary alone. Many military families aren’t so lucky. Many enlisted families live below the poverty line, even as these young men and women put their lives on the line for our country. My husband isn’t and wasn’t on his 5th or 6th tour to a war zone. He wasn’t wounded. He wasn’t struggling with PTSD. Many spouses are struggling to get their educations; I had my MS in geology, which is easily marketable, before I got married. And I didn’t have kids to worry about, as far as childcare v. salary considerations, being their emotional rock when I was feeling a mess, etc. Like I said, as military spouses go, I lead a damn charmed life.
Do these spouses deserve the right to draw a line and say enough is enough and stop politicking on the backs of our servicemembers and their families? Hell yes. The strain on military families is enormous. There is really nothing quite like it. And it affects every military family in different ways and to different degrees, depending on the support systems available. I think these few posts give an idea of a small fraction of the spectrum of issues military families face. Before you respond with any self-indulgent comments about how civilians have it every bit as hard, please take time to read and ponder them.
The biggest problem I struggle with as a military spouse is the uncertainty. Everything is uncertain. In my time here at BIGU (so 3 yrs), I have announced at different points: “Senior Jefe is getting out of the Navy”…wait no: “Senior Jefe is being IAed to Afghanistan” wait, no: “Senior Jefe has been sent back to TX and will be there for the next 18 mos”, wait, no: “Senior Jefe will be in VA for 2 yrs”, wait, no: “Senior Jefe is going to school near DC”, “Oh he’s done with that school, now he’s in RI for another one”, wait, no: “He’s going to Japan” wait, no: “They’re sending him to VA again”. Even when orders are issued, I no longer take them seriously. The Navy will surely change it’s mind. My life is up in the air again as I finish my PhD. Where do I get a job? Do I take the risk and bet that Senior Jefe will in fact be in VA? For all my luck, the anxiety of never being able to plan, of starting over multiple times per year, wears on me.
Psychologists have identified the top 10 stressful events in life. They include: Death in the family, Separation from a spouse (for any reason), Change in Job, and Moving, among others. These are things military spouses face every year and sometimes multiple times in a year. At the same time they are responsible for the mental and physical well being of our families. We have little to no family support. We may or may not have support from other military families. Most people don’t have to start over every year, often without the support of their spouse or family. So to have these people then turn and suggest we are somehow entitled is insulting. Despite my luck, I have to see a therapist every week in order to cope and be okay, because having my life in flux constantly is terrifying. Nothing is certain. I don’t take for granted that things will be okay, because I have far too many examples of where it hasn’t been okay for military families. Too many military members and spouses have been crushed under the weight of the uncertainty, of the strain, of the war.
Military families need to advocate for themselves. We need to speak up, even if the public, like my “friends” and my “family” calls us names, even if they spit on us. No one is looking out for military families. No one is looking after my friend, whose son is having panic attacks, or my other friend whose children are convinced that every time their dad puts on the uniform it means he’s disappearing from lives again. No one is looking after my friend who is suicidal from the strain, or even my friends who aren’t, but who are showing the signs of the constant wear and tear on their lives.
I learned a poweful lesson last week as my life was thrown into flux again. A couple (as in 2) of my civilian friends did offer to help. Many of them told me that I didn’t have the right to feel what I was feeling or acknowledge the stress of having my plans thrown out the window again, of facing down the yawning maw of uncertainty. Ironically the only people who acknowledged my fears and who set about to help me face them, were Snarky Navy Wife, Kimba, LAW and Unlikely Wife (as well as few others who do not have handles and so will remain nameless). These women blew up my phone and email with messages of love and support, as well as tips on how to face the next uncertainty. It made me realize that although I interface with civilians everyday, most seem to be under the delusion that the military is a job, like stocking shelves at Walmart. They don’t see the uncertainty, the strain, even when it is under their noses. When military spouses speak up about the challenges we face, we aren’t being entitled, we’re informing people that our lives are different and we do in fact need the help and support of the communities around us.