By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health and Wellness Contributor
It’s become our routine. On the third Wednesday of each month, I wash my 25 year-old son’s Army uniforms, prepare him dinner, and kiss him goodbye.
“Check in with me along your travels.”
“I will, Mom.”
“Let me know when you arrive safely.”
“I always do, Mom.”
Early Thursday morning he drives several hundred miles in an aging Chevy to another state. He proudly serves in the National Guard as a Platoon Leader and Abrams Tank Commander. On Sunday, exhausted from several days in the field with no sleep, he drives back to Colorado on remote and dark roads. I hold my breath, pray for God to keep him safe, and try to sleep.
The routine is familiar to me – always saying goodbye and holding my breath. I did it for my Navy father, my Air Force husband, and now my Army son.
Let’s face it. Most civilian spouses (unless they are married to police, a firefighter, or some black ops contractor) just don’t get it. Their idea of normal is totally different than ours.
The definition of normal in the dictionary is, “Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” I would suggest that none of these words really sum up military life. Military life is up and down with twists and turns like a roller coaster. Military spouses live with incredible uncertainty. While we try to make life fit into a perceived “normal” box, circumstances often dictate otherwise. What is normal, anyway?
For a military spouse, probably something like this:
- You try. To be a good spouse. To make something temporary feel good for your family. To be a good parent and step in when your partner is physically absent. To make new friends. To stay connected with old friends. To be connected in your community and make a difference.
- You wait. For your spouse to leave. For him or her to come home. For the next promotion. For the next assignment.
- You balance. The needs of your children. The needs of your partner. The household. Your finances. A career IF you have one. Everyone’s emotions.
- You flex. Because things change…and change, and change again.
- You worry. If your spouse will come home. That he or she will be different upon return. You will grow apart. About how to pay the bills. About where you will end up.
- You celebrate. Every homecoming. Holidays. Personal triumphs. Sometimes you go over the top, because you don’t know when everything might change.
- You cry. Out of frustration. Out of anger. Out of sadness. Because it helps.
- You learn. To be independent. How a car works. To solve problems. Patience.
- You hope. With all your heart. For good outcomes. For the future.
And what if you are having difficulty navigating the uncertainty of military life?
- Control what you can. Not every aspect of your life needs to be chaotic. Establish routine in your household where you can – like your children’s bedtime, for example. Routine streamlines life and makes it more manageable.
- Be in charge of you. Don’t let circumstances get the best of you. You have control over how you react to situations.
- Develop a network. This can include other military spouses, friends, your place of worship, or other local resources you develop. Consider making a Military Spouse Advocacy Network mentor part of your “team.” Social media is okay but don’t get caught up in its drama. Uncertainty is always easier to deal with if you are not facing it alone.
- Embrace the chaos. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but remember that chaos is usually a temporary place. Do the best you can with the circumstances given. Work together to get to a more stable place. Successfully working through chaotic times brings families closer.
- Ask for help. Know your limitations and don’t be afraid to reach out. None of us has super powers and it is okay to admit that we are temporarily O.B.E. (Overcome by Events.) Every installation has resources in place to help spouses develop life skills and strategies to cope with military life’s twists and turns.
I reach for my cell phone early Monday morning and look for the text. This month it came at 3:08 am.
“Made it home.”
This is our normal.
For mental health and wellness resources, visit the Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s (MSAN’s) website at https://www.milspouseadvocacynetwork.org.
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Embrace the Chaos