By Sunshine Burgess
Woody Allen is attributed with saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” It is a variation on an old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” However, the same sentiment could be true for military life in general. It is probably one of the most important lessons for new spouses to learn. You are free to make plans, but I encourage you to make fluid ones.
One of the most difficult adjustments for a new military spouse is accepting that for the time of your service commitment, Uncle Sam owns your life. Maybe that sounds a little harsh, but it really isn’t like any other job. There is a reason that people say thank you for your service. Our active duty spouses serve. They dedicate their lives to the service of this country and that is a very big undertaking. You can’t just walk in one day and decide you don’t want to serve anymore until your contract is up. Until that time, they tell you what job you will do, where you will do it, what hours you will work (and those are quite fluid), when you will eat, how many hours you have between shifts, when you will take leave, and when and for how long you will leave your family behind. There are exceptions for humanitarian and medical reasons, but essentially, they plan your life out for the time they have you and as a family, you must learn to make your plans around theirs and be open for your plans to change because their plans did.
I know this sounds like it can be complicated, but after a while, it just becomes a way of life. One of the big hurdles is education and employment. Since as a new spouse you are just starting out, you are essentially getting a head start to set yourself up for success. A good rule for education is to work on programs that you can either finish quickly (like those with a 2 year or less certifications), classes that can easily transfer to other schools if you move or with the availability of online education, taking courses online that you can continue if you have to transition locations. For employment, there is an increasing push within the military community to focus on careers that are portable (commuting from a home office and jobs that are versatile enough to have available positions in even the smallest community) or, you just have to be open to new experiences and willing to take on jobs that maybe aren’t in your typical field. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you just can’t have an overly stringent plan. You may have a general idea of when you want to have kids, but sometimes that two-year separation of kids may have to become a three-year separation because of a deployment and that is okay. The world will not come to an end because your children are born too far apart. You just have to keep repeating…everything happens for a reason…and one day, you may truly believe it.
If you are like me, a severely Type A, overly organized planner, then this could take years to get used to. Birthdays and anniversaries that are seldom celebrated on the actual day, heck sometimes even in the actual month. Trying to plan family vacations and making sure that deposits are either refundable or, at least, worth losing. I cringe each time a family member or friend calls to tell me they are getting married because I have no idea if I can even plan to attend the wedding. To be honest, I usually have a 6-month rule. I don’t make any major commitments or plans more than 6 months out and even then things had to be changed. Back when I was a finance` and planning our own wedding, we moved the date up 6 months because the rumor was that if he made the next rank, he would be hit with remote orders to Korea. Not wanting to take a chance on being alone for my first year of marriage, we changed the date. Two weeks before our one year anniversary, he was on a plane to Korea. Even our honeymoon was at the mercy of the US Air Force. My husband was in training at the time of our wedding and we were told if he didn’t meet a certain threshold prior to the wedding that they would give him the weekend to get married, but he would have to be back at work on the following Monday. He worked hard to make sure he met their deadline and we got our honeymoon, but if not, we would have taken a belated trip. I thought that was the end of the world at the time, but it wouldn’t have been because a couple of years later he was whisking this small-town southern girl off to Europe and I had plenty of amazing trips!
The bottom line is that there are so many opportunities this life affords us. We travel to places others only dream of (and some that no one ever dreamed they would be forced to go) and we have a family of brothers and sisters that grows with each and every assignment. The trade-off is that we have a really hard time answering those “where do you see yourself in 10 years” questions because we aren’t so sure where we see ourselves in one year, much less ten. So, instead of letting the uncertainty get the best of you, embrace it. Sometimes the most beautiful scenery is found on the road you had to take as a detour and you realize that it was the best route all along.