I have spent the better part of the last two days in my new classroom, taking down old decor from the former teacher and slowly making it MY room. We as a staff will have an official “work week” for school prep in two weeks but since I have to do an entire room overhaul, I have been going up on my own to get stuff done.
While chatting with my sister yesterday she said something that stayed with me— You sound really happy. And truthfully, I did and I was. This is not to say that I have been profoundly unhappy until now, I have much to be happy about. But I didn’t realize how much of myself I had lost in the last five years. As a stay-at-home-mom, society seems to tell us that we shouldn’t complain about our lot. I felt this and took it quite seriously since the choice to stay home with my boys was primarily my own. There were some financial discussions, but ultimately, if I had told my husband I wanted to go back to work after my maternity leave, he would have supported that too.
Let me be clear, I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to stay home with my children. There were days that seemed to never end but, all-in-all, I would not trade the time with my boys for the world! But, staying home with your kids is all-consuming and, at times, isolating. Add the military life in the mix and that isolation hits tenfold. I would never say I was just a SAHM because that minimizes that role far too much. However, I will say that it became my only identity; at least it felt that way sometimes.
So when my sister and I talked yesterday, what she heard through the phone was that part of my life that has been buried for so long. I now have something in my life that distinguishes me as someone other than mom, mommy, momma, etc. I didn’t realize how much I had missed having something that is my own until I began prepping for this school year. And missing that does not mean I am “sick of my kids” or that I regret my choice to stay home with them. I was actually at a point of burn out at my last job before I had my first son. I honestly think this time with them was my reset. I am more mentally ready to start work than I can ever remember feeling before. Of course, there are the typical expected “new job jitters” but I know this next phase is happening at exactly the right time and I cannot wait!
When I first became pregnant, I was advised by many to avoid “mommy” groups, chat rooms, etc. I was told about how toxic they could be and how judgmental other moms could be to each other. I am sure, if you are a mom or you are pregnant, you have heard similar advice. As a first time mommy-to-be, I was grateful for the warning, but it was also a bit deflating—if I cannot turn to mom groups for advice and support, where could I turn? I was the first of my friends to have a baby so I did not have a circle of influence that I could relate to and with.
So I tried the chat rooms and a few local groups, mainly, at the time, for breast feeding support (that is another story for another time). Despite being in a room of women, I felt incredibly alone and isolated. I felt judged for the littlest things and some bigger things, none of which were really anyone else’s business. But when you are a new mom, the feelings of isolation and aloneness are real on their own, so to feel ostracized among other moms is one of the hardest and lowest feelings to endure. When we learned that we would be moving to a new duty station, I felt defeated. I was already struggling so much to feel a sense of belonging at home where I had my family, how was I going to survive when I had no one?
It is an interesting feeling, as an adult, to have to relearn how to make friends, but it is something military wives have to do frequently. I had to decide to go against my introverted nature and “put myself out there.” I remember posting on a spouse page on Facebook, admitting that I felt like I was seven again, but asking how I could go about making some friends here. I got a few responses encouraging me to connect with my “Family Readiness Group” (FRG), but my husband’s command doesn’t have one. Then one woman enthusiastically encouraged me to check out a group called MOPS, informing me the first meeting was in just two weeks. Great!
Then I looked into it… MOPS stands for Mother of Preschoolers. A mommy group? Oh no! I was told to stay away from these and my limited experience had affirmed those warnings. But, I needed to at least get out of my house. I did not go to the first meeting because we were still settling into our house, but I made it to the second one, with my 5 month old in tow. I was assigned to a table and the women seemed friendly enough. I cannot remember who the speaker was that day or what was discussed. But I will never forget the defining moment of that meeting for me—my son was hungry and needed to be fed. I had to take out a bottle and mix in *gasp* formula. “Here it comes,” I thought, “the judgmental looks, the know-it-all comments about how bad formula is for my son even though they don’t know the feeding struggles my son and I had dealt with.”
I took out the bottle with pre-measured water and, while holding my son, attempted to carefully add in the formula, all the while bracing myself for the backlash. Instead, I had one woman offer to hold my son while I mixed the bottle and another offer to mix the bottle while I held him. That was it, there were no comments about the contents of the bottle or my “choice” to bottle feed my son. Instead there were women who genuinely wanted to help. It may seem so small, but to a new mom who had already endured a lot of shaming, it was huge. I continued going to the meetings and, fast forward four years, I am still going and I am now in my second year on the leadership team. I meet some great women each year. Not all of them turn into amazing friendships, but they are what I need at that time.
This a photo of my table this year and, while it may not look like much, it represents a lot—it is conversation, connection, understanding, a safe place to be me unapologetically. While I have continued to go to MOPS and have some incredible friendships that have come from the group past and present, my California tribe is now comprised of women from a few different circles. Going to that first meeting opened a lot of other doors. That was how we found our church and through that I joined some small groups. I now have an amazing tribe of women surrounding me, a group that I am absolutely dreading having to say “good-bye” to in just a few months.
It is so important, especially as stay-at-home-moms, to find our circle. It may look different for you than it did for me, but you need to just put yourself out there and find what fits. I had to deal with some really sour grapes before I found what worked for me, but once I found it, motherhood seemed less daunting; I now had a sense of family while I was so far away from my own, and I had an incredible support system. Yours is out there too, you just have to go and look for it!
There is a saying that goes: take it with a grain of salt. It basically means, “take this lightly”, usually when referring to advice. I have had to learn to take this expression to heart in my life. Often times, “tried and true” advice simply does not, and cannot, apply to the military way of life.
I remember, three years ago, we had a speaker at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group come and talk to us about keeping the spark alive in our marriages. I went to the meeting full of anticipation and an excited heart, ready to listen and learn. At the time, we had a one-year-old and I was pregnant with baby boy #2. Our marriage had become about babies and pregnancies and I looked forward to getting some tips on how to bring it back to “us”. Some of the advice was great, but then he talked about “two of the most important things you can do for your marriage”—make date night a priority, scheduling one at least once a week, and intentionally talk to each other, face-to-face, for at least 20 minutes a day—and my heart just sank. I honestly don’t think many people understand how hard it is to have a “normal” life when you are a military family.
Currently, we live on the opposite side of the country from our entire family (in-laws included). We will never have the luxury of grandma wanting to take the kids for a few hours, we don’t have “built-in babysitters” at our disposal. We are fortunate enough to get a date maybe twice a month, thanks to a wonderful program at our church out here. We love those, and we cherish the time, but to expect more than that is nearly impossible.
Another mom in my group that day was a fellow Navy wife and her husband was currently deployed. She asked the speaker, during the Q & A time, what he suggested a couple do, regarding the suggestion of intentional, face-to-face conversing, when a spouse is gone a lot for work. Now, I knew what she meant by this, the other few military spouses in the room knew what she meant by this, but our speaker had no clue what she meant. His answer showed that, suggesting that when you can’t guarantee face-to-face interactions, plan to at least talk on the phone daily. I’ll be honest, at this point, I was defeated and getting a little bitter. I just remember thinking: not all of us have that privilege, when my husband is gone, he is not staying at the Hilton on a business trip… I am lucky if he has access to a computer for a weekly email.
So, does this mean that military couples are doomed? If you had asked me that day, I probably would have said yes. My heart was heavy. But, I realized that when it comes to our marriage, we just need to do what we have learned to do so well in every other aspect of our lives—adapt. My husband and I still can’t have a weekly date night, but you know what? We are OK. We survived 8-months of only communicating through texts while he was deployed to Afghanistan. The fact that I could text him almost daily made me very lucky, the fact that we got an occasional video chat made me the deployment-lottery winner.
My point is that, sometimes, we will hear advice that just cannot apply to us as a military family. It will be easy to get angry and cynical. But, we need to remember that our marriage and our lives have stood up to struggles much greater than finding time for weekly date nights and we have met those struggles head on, coming out stronger on the other side. My husband and I are still intentional about the date nights we’re lucky to have, we make time for each other in our day to day, and we continue to actively seek each other in ways that work for our current situation. Working on our marriage will not always “follow the rules” right now, but that does not mean that we don’t try, it just means that we read between the lines and take that advice with a grain of salt.
I am a planner. I like my lists. I like having all my ducks in a row and I like to have a sense of control in my life. There are times in life when this behavior is helpful, but as a whole, I know that this is actually one of my bigger character flaws, especially as a Christian woman. By desiring that sense of control, I am taking control away from God, relying more on myself than on Him. I think this is why he had me marry my husband!
Military life means that I have no say or control in some of the biggest aspects of our lives. Currently, where we will live is at the top of that list. We are in a state of limbo right now as we wait to hear where we will move next. My husband’s contract here in CA will be up this summer and we will be moved to a new location. This go-around for picking orders has been a whirlwind. We have had our selections denied twice now, and we are waiting to see if any of our round three selections will be accepted. If they are not, then we fall into a category where the Navy decides for us, we get no say, we are just told. To say my anxiety is through the roof is an understatement. Sitting and waiting with no ability to do anything to influence the outcome is debilitating.
It is amazing to me how God uses our defeated spirits to let his voice speak the loudest. While in the car the other day, I was listening to K-LOVE and singing along to the Casting Crowns song “Held” and a line stopped me in my tracks:
I knew, without a doubt, that God was using that line to remind me of how much he has taken care of us in our often-uncertain lives. I was blessed that, during our first year and a half of marriage, my husband’s station was “home.” This meant that all of the transitions of being a newlywed and new mom were ones that I was able to make in the comforts of the familiar, with our friends and families close by. So when it came time to move, I was unprepared for the throws of military life. I was terrified when we got orders to CA, clear across the country from everything I have ever known. I cannot remember a time where I needed to trust God as much as I did then.
When we moved, it was an incredible growing experience, especially in my faith. When we found the church we have now called “home” for the last 3+ years, the sense of peace and belonging was so strong. There was no doubt that it was where God wanted us. The friends and connections that I have made here happened so quickly, but they have been so strong. I have a village and they have showed up when I needed them the most!
When I heard that song lyric, I was reminded of how beautifully our lives here pieced together. I was reminded that we may not know where will be in six months, but God does, and he has been preparing our lives there already. So for now, I need to go against every instinct and impulse I have to worry, to obsess over the unknown, and just trust. Trust that God will continue to take care of us, continue to provide the people and support we will need during our time in a new place, and continue to grow and stretch us. My life as a military wife may be full of uncertainties, but God will always be my constant, and I can find peace and rest in that promise!