by Jen McDonald, Author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse
When I stepped back onto U.S. soil after our military family’s first overseas assignment many years ago, I was struck by the bigness of everything. From the size of the roads to the overwhelming number of grocery store selections, being back in the States after several years away was overwhelming. That was the first moment it fully struck me that I was never ever going back to normal, to what my life had been pre-military experience.
My husband recently retired from the Air Force after 31 years, and the past few months have included quite a bit of reflection, as the whirlwind pace of military life that we were accustomed to came to halt. Still, our oldest son is now also serving active duty, and through my continued work with the milspouse world, I am happy that my ties to the military world will remain strong!
And while I don’t pretend to know your particular situation, I’ll share some lessons I’ve learned since my first days as a bright shiny new milspouse. These are a few things I’d say to you if we were sitting together over a cup of coffee.
1) It’s ok to ask questions.
I remember my first commissary shopping experience. I clutched my ID card from the moment I walked in the door until I got back to my car. I was certain someone was going to question whether I truly belonged there and wanted to be able to prove that, yes I did belong. (Yes, I realize it sounds crazy now.)
If you didn’t grow up in the military world, there’s a lot about military life that can seem scary: relocations, deployments and separations, the acronyms!
Find someone more experienced and get their advice (though steer clear of the Negative Nellies — more on that in a minute). Make a point of attending newcomers’ or new spouse orientations. Dive into all the information that’s available and realize it’s okay that you don’t know what you don’t know! All of us were there at one point.
2) Your friendships may look different than what you’ve been used to in the past.
One of my best friends is a thoughtful agnostic. I love our conversations. We challenge each other’s beliefs, respectfully disagree over politics, and love each other deeply. She is one of my go-to peeps when I need a sanity check.
You’ll meet people of all different backgrounds and become fast friends with folks you may not have ever struck up a conversation with otherwise in this great melting pot that is the military. When you’re headed to the hospital to deliver a baby while your spouse is deployed and you need a friend alongside, superfluous issues like spouse’s rank, where you grew up, or political leanings will easily be set aside.
And while I’ll tell you to be a little wary of the first person who wants to be your bestie within five minutes of meeting (Sometimes that’s the person who’s already worn out all their other friendships before you ever moved there!), I’ll encourage you to keep an open mind about potential friends.
3) A positive outlook will help smooth the transitions of military life.
While recognizing that not every PCS location is going to be your favorite and there are moments of military life when you’re just going to be over it, attempting to face these changes with a positive attitude will put a different spin on it and help you look for the hidden blessings — there are always hidden blessings! And remember that if you have children, they’ll be taking their cues from you about how to handle life’s challenges. Strive to stay realistically positive.
4) Do what you need to in order to find your “tribe.”
I know, tribe can be an overused term in the milspouse world, but it’s true. There are certain people you’ll instantly have a connection with, whether it’s other stay-at-home moms, budding entrepreneurs, thoughtful readers from a book club, or fellow adventurers in a rock climbing group.
What’s your passion? You don’t have to give that up just because you’re a military spouse! Look for ways to connect with others who share the same interest and then get out there. Having an outlet for your unique interests or hobbies will go a long way toward keeping your sanity.
5) You’re going to change, and that’s okay.
Back to that first overseas assignment. I remember an extended family member telling me before we left, “You’re going to change so much.”
I fought against that for some reason; I didn’t want to change! But it’s inevitable. The amazing experiences and even hardships shape us in ways we couldn’t imagine. So embrace it. These moments will mold you into someone who has a broader outlook on life, more patience with people who are different from you, and more resilience than you ever realized you possessed.
And you’re going to have some fabulous stories. I can’t wait to hear them!