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Rebecca Alwine's picture

We’re really not that different, promise.

Not a week goes by that there isn’t a new blog post or online article talking about the ways military spouses and military families are different from others. (For the sake of this piece, let’s call non-military families ‘civilian families.’) The military community spends so much time playing up these differences that we alienate our civilian friends. I don’t think we do it on purpose, but we do it none-the-less.

I remember the first time I was explaining an article I was working on to my mom. Before I married my husband, there was no real military connection on my side of the family. Everything was brand new to them. I was explaining why a military family where both parents worked and had children was a unique challenge, one someone outside the military couldn’t understand. She poked so many holes in that story, it really made me think.

Are we that different from other families? In some ways, sure. But not as many as we think. Here are some of the things we share, hopefully these things can bring us closer together.

  1. We all struggle to find good childcare. Whether we are single parents, military parents, civilian parents, or dual working parents, we all want what is best for our kids. Childcare is one of those things we just cannot compromise on. It is hard to find someone to trust with your child for extended periods of time. It’s hard when you’re in the military and moving every 2-3 years to find a trusted sitter or provider each and every move. It’s hard to find an affordable, quality program in your hometown when you aren’t moving and you don’t have the subsidized childcare options military families have. It’s just plain hard. For all of us.
  2. We all struggle with work-life balance. This one we forget, as military spouses. Yes, our spouses can leave home for months on end, they can work 14 hour days, they can be called in on a weekend at no notice. But so can almost every other employee. Sure, business trips and deployments are not the same, but each day without your spouse and without a parent to your children is hard. We all struggle with when to put our foot down regarding ‘family time’ and when to take one for the team. We can only learn from each other here. We gain nothing from comparing lives.
  3. We all strive to put our families first. There are roles in our family, he works full-time to provide us with everything we need and I take care of the kids. Yes, I work and he helps with the kids, but Monday through Friday are pretty well laid out. It would be awesome if he could take off for doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, and if I have a meeting, but he can’t. And, as my mother pointed out to me, my civilian father couldn’t do those things either. In fact, I bet my army husband has more flexibility to help with things throughout his career than most civilian employees do. And so, they figure it out, and so do we.
  4. We all want to help out. It’s in our nature to help people. We see someone who has their hands full and we hold a door, or offer to carry a bag. We see a child start wandering into the street and we take action. This is one of those things that we can easily do to “cross over” to the other side of the military-civilian divide. When we see a fellow mother in need of some support, we need to rally beside her. You know she’s not going to ask for help, she may not even have taken the time to realize she needs it, but she does.

Try as we may to keep our military communities close-knit, there is a huge world out there of people wanting to get to know us. We cannot keep ourselves away from the local communities and great families just because we may move in a few years. There is going to be a time when we leave the military behind and want to be accepted as “just us.” If we start that now, it’ll be an easier transition then. Plus, think of all the new friends you can make in the mean time!

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