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Fine, I’ll Write About It: What It’s Like Being a Working Military Wife

This is, and likely will remain, the most real, raw and vulnerable thing I’ve ever written. And I can honestly say it is only this way because I’m writing it at the close of a particularly difficult week. 


But, I’m a firm believer in being real, and I also believe that writing in our worst moments can be more telling than writing in our best. So here I am, writing something I thought I’d never write.


I have such a hard time even writing this, for quite a few reasons, the primary ones being:


  1. I hate complaining. Writing this feels on the verge of complaining, and it makes me itchy.

  2. I don’t define myself by my husband’s job. I rarely refer to myself as a “military wife” and even feel mildly uncomfortable when other people refer to me as such. I personally feel that what I do defines me, not what my husband does.

  3. So many people have it harder than me. What I deal with pales in comparison to what single parents do on a daily basis. 


But, not talking about it also does a disservice. Because I tend to be pretty upbeat and even keeled, I get plenty of comments like, “how do you do it all?” And not being totally honest, and admitting that sometimes it is fucking hard, would be lying.


I’m pretty lucky in that about 90% of the time, I can honestly say that the life I lead doesn’t feel that hard. 


But there are those 10% of times that look like this:

So this article is about what I’ve learned from the 10% and the habits, practices, and tricks I’ve learned to keep myself in the 90% that feels good most of the time.

The Hard Things

This could easily be a list that goes on for miles if you were to include every little thing. But what really matters are the big things that are hard. And I find they fit pretty neatly into a couple of categories.

Context Switching is Really Fucking Hard

If there is nothing else that this life has taught me, it is this. Most people who work can probably tell you a bit about the difficulties they have in switching gears from “work mode” to “home mode.”


Turning off the workday and suddenly being mom or dad to the best of our ability is not easy. 


Watching a person come home from deployment and have to context switch out of 6+ months of not being a parent, particularly when they are coming from an environment where they are supposed to be basically the opposite of everything you are as a parent, really puts that into perspective.


Being a single parent, if only temporarily, puts into perspective too. When you are the only parent, context switching isn’t an option you are afforded. You are all there is. So whether you are ready to shake the “work day” off and be present or not, you have to figure it out.


I only have a glimpse of what stay-at-home parents have to deal with from the two times I’ve been on maternity leave. In their case, they aren’t even given the option of a context switch. They have none. They have to be on 24/7. Imagine how hard that has to be.


The point is, the life I lead makes it clear to me that nobody has it easy, and nobody really gets the space they need for a context switch.

Who Comes First, and Who Comes Last?

This particular deployment has really hit this item home for me. It has taken me 7 years, 3 deployments, 2 kids, and starting a freaking business to even admit this one.


There is not enough of me to go around.


I wish there was. I strive to be everything to everyone I love. I want to with every fiber of my being.


I want to give 100% of myself to my kids. I want to give 100% of myself to my family members. I want to give 100% of myself to our clients. I want to give 100% of myself to our team.


But I don’t have 400%.


And I haven’t even finished the list of who needs my focus. But every mom knows who goes at the very bottom of this list. Every single time.


Me.


And the hardest part is those times where you feel like no matter how hard you try, you are failing every single one of those people that deserves 100% of you.

I’m Not Going Through This Alone

Deployments, or this lifestyle in general, aren’t overly hard on me.


Unless I do something stupid, like choose to completely remodel my house while having a 5 month old, during a deployment.


Or when something unexpected happens, like getting the worst stomach flu I’ve ever experienced and having to throw up in a plastic bag that I’m holding over my nursing 5 week old baby. This shit is not glamorous my friends.


But, for the most part, I do well with them. And it is easy for me to forget that just because it is relatively easy for me, it might not be easy for others.


And I’m not the only one who is going through it. My kids are as well.


If you were to ask me, this is what I would say is the hardest part. Watching my kids go through something that is hard. Not always having the answer that can help them feel better. Having to explain how long 6 months is.


Fuck, that shit is hard.

The Tricks I’ve Picked Up

Now is where things are going to start getting real (and in some cases straight-up weird). I’m going to tell you, with complete honesty, what I do that helps me deal with all of it.


Please, for the love of all that is good, do not read this and think I have it all together. This helps me 90% of the time. But 10% of the time I still look like this:

I still fail. I still have days that are tough. I still have moments where I hide in my bathroom and breathe for 5 minutes while my children scream in various rooms of the house. 


And I’ve learned that it’s ok. I’ve learned to give myself forgiveness when I don’t get it perfect.


Schedule 

My kids and I function best on a regular and predictable schedule. We all go absolutely bananas if that schedule is always the same and starts to feel boring. I usually find that for me (and my kids as well) that a complete shakeup to the “routine” every 10-12 weeks is the perfect amount. 

Chores 

Just as I need achievements and growth to feel like I’m doing something valuable, I’ve found my kids do as well. Even at 4 and 2 years old, they each have a chore chart on the fridge and have to mark completed chores off every day before they can have things like TV. 


When I do this consistently, they are much happier, fulfilled and well behaved. Whenever I lapse from this, I see it immediately in tantrums, grumpiness and general misbehavior. This becomes 10x more important during deployments.

Exercise 

Both my brain and body need exercise. A lot of it. Finding the time in the middle of deployment ain’t so easy. The other challenge is that I find I personally need varying types of exercise. My brain needs both yoga and running to not be a raging b-word (for reals). My body needs both strength training and yoga to feel good, loose and not in pain. 


I’ve learned to schedule at least 3 exercise-related activities a week when my kids aren’t home so I can enjoy them quietly, and the rest I do when my kids are home (and be ok with the fact that they will be interrupted). That is the best balance where I find I get some “me time” and don’t have to sacrifice too much time with kids. (Plus I’m a big believer that kids seeing exercise as part of daily life is important).

Exercise 

Wait, what? Didn’t we just cover this? We did for me. But we haven’t even touched on the other two humans that turn into crazy demons without exercise. I have at least one exercise-related activity scheduled for each of the kids every day. (Bonus points if you also make it one of their chores!) Some days it is formal stuff like swim lessons, some days it is having them do sprints in front of our house til they can’t stand anymore.

Food 

Meal prep on Sunday. Allow for 1-2 dinners a week that are legit breakfast for dinner free-for-alls that you won’t get whining or arguments about. Get sneaky as shit about hiding veggies in meals (baked carrot fries will change your life). That is all I can say.

Context Switching 

Highly recommend High Performance Habits by Brenden Burchard here. He has a 5 minute context switching mini-meditation practice he describes. It helps a boatload. Here’s where things are about to get a little weird (or maybe TMI), but I have to include it if I’m going to be completely honest. 


On the days I can tell I’ll really struggle to shift context, I give myself a 15 minute window before I leave my house (because COVID means this is where we all work all the time) and reserve time for an activity that is guaranteed to release a good dose of serotonin and clear my mind. I’ll leave it at that. But it works better than anything else I’ve ever found.

Music to Set the Mood 

I learned some time ago that music has this incredible effect on my brain and I can use it to set my mood or mindset to a place where I want it. I also quickly learned it has a similar effect on my kids. So I use music to get us where we should be frequently. 


We have the “we miss daddy” playlist that is the most Texas country you can get. When things get a little crazy, I play reggae like Iration because it has the most incredible ability to calm my kiddos both down and bring a level of chill to the house. (I’m still not totally sure why it does that, maybe because they were both conceived to it? 😂  Whatever the reason, I’m here for it.) When we are all stressed and need a release, we have a dance party to classic rock.


I also use music for context switching. When I need to be in work mode where I’m super focused and writing, classical music is my go to. When I need to get tedious tasks done that don’t require immense focus, it is music that gets the toes tapping or the body moving like Shaggy or Shakira (I work at a standing desk). When I’m switching context from dropping off kids to come back and work, it is punk rock to get me pumped and ready to go. And then when I hit the middle of deployment my music taste magically takes a shift toward things like Remix to Ignition or anything Al Green (fellow military wives will know what I’m talking about 😂 ).

Rotation vs. Balance

The last item I’ll add here is how I view “balancing” the people who I want to give 100% of myself to. Instead of trying to view it as a balance, where everyone gets a small percentage of me, I view it as a rotation. And this makes it so much easier for me to deal with.


Instead of trying to spread myself too thin, I rotate who gets 100% of me at any given time, and then I try to make sure everyone gets to spend the right amount of time with my 100% attention. 


During the hours of around 4:30am to 3pm (with a small break between 6-7am) my clients and/or my team have my 100%.


Between 6-7am my kids get my 100%. After 3pm my kids get my 100%.


Depending on schedules, there are chunks of the afternoons and/or chunks of time on weekends that my family (outside of my kids) or close friends get my 100% (or as close to 100% as I can give while my kids are also present).


This feels so much better to me than trying to give everyone a sliver of the pie. It is easier on my brain. It is easier on my heart. And it still allows me some small way to give 100% to everyone who deserves it.

Happy Doesn’t Just Happen

The most important thing I can leave you with is that being content or happy, even in situations that may not be the easiest, doesn’t just happen because you want it to. It requires actively learning what habits and practices get you there, and then keeping them up. (Even if those habits might be a touch unconventional.)