I've haven't posted much on my Military Monday blogs over the past few weeks, not for lack of things to post about, but because I had SO MANY things I wanted to post about, and didn't know where to start. I'll admit, I hadn't planned a post for today. Today is 'Family Day' in British Columbia. A provincial holiday designed to encourage family together time. A great initiative, even when together time means posting on your blog while your teens snore happily from their beds at 9 a.m..
This weekend I read two blog posts. The first one, posted by a friend of mine who is currently on a duty station in the United Kingdom, entitled The Military Family Vaccination Problem. You can read it here on Canadian Army Wife's blog. It struck a cord with me, having dealt with this very problem a few weeks ago, so much so that I wrote a long, drawn out comment. Incidentally, the same blog was reposted this morning on the Canadian Medical Association's Blog which you can find here.
The second blog was by Dr. Psych Mom on Huffington Post's blog, entitled: 7 Reasons Your Wife is Stressed Out All The Time. It can be found here.
Both blogs highlighted real problems. One was more military-centric, the other more general. But they got me thinking. I have many, many friends who are military wives who somehow manage to hold down a job, raise healthy, happy children, and meet the 'expectations' of being a military wife with panache. I'd even like to include myself in this group. These ladies take the term Supermom to a new level.
What you don't see, though, is the exhaustion beneath the facade. Why? Because even though they might be stressed out, they have learned to put on a brave face. Their problems are minimal, because hey, their husbands job is so much more stressful than anything they could ever do.
1. Military Wives are Judged Differently Than Other Wives.
This may sound picky, but it's the truth. How many times have I heard, 'But you must be used to it by now'. Or: 'You should have known what you were getting yourself into when you married him'. The thing is, there is nothing you could do to prepare yourself for three days of barfing kids in a snowstorm a thousand miles from your family while your husband is under fire in Afghanistan. Nothing. But it happens.
2. Women Need More Sleep Than Men.
I love that Dr. Rodman included this in her blog, and I'm reposting it here, because in the military lifestyle, the sleep thing is even more complicated. There is no way a military wife would suggest her hubby gets up to deal with the crying baby when she knows he's going to be training with live ammunition the next day. Or flying a multi-million dollar aircraft. Or searching in broiling ocean waters for a lost fisherman. And when hubby is deployed, she's on her own...often for months at a time. If she doesn't get up to soothe the crying baby, no one will. And the toddler gets up at 5 a.m....
3. Help Is Often Far Away.
The closest I have lived to my mother (i.e. the go-to person for mothering matters) is 600 km away. Right now she is an entire country away. More than 3000 km away. And my bestest friend (other than my husband) is almost the same distance. Add time zone differences and busy lifestyles, and I'm lucky if I speak with either of them once a week. That's pretty typical for military wives. And if their most trusted friends are not nearby, they won't ask for help.
4. The Help That's Close is Inaccessible.
This one is tricky. The military is wonderful for providing help for military spouses. We have many, many resources available to us. Social workers, support groups, discussion panels, gym facilities, casual childcare... the list goes on. Especially in Canada, the Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) are a huge help in navigating the lifestyle we have chosen to lead. The problem is not lack of resources. The problem is accessing them.
Occasionally getting to the resource, i.e. basic geography, is the issue. Take Ottawa for example. The city is vast. The MFRC is wonderful. But for most wives, the actual programmes are at least a 45 min drive to access.
The biggest problem with accessing help, though, is the stigma associated with it. Military wives, like their husbands, do not want to be seen as weak. They want to be supermom. They want to look like they've got it together. So walking into an MFRC to access a support group for deployed spouses is the last thing they want to do. Nor do they want to tell hubby (who is getting shot at on a regular basis) that they need help.
It's a problem with no ready solution. The MFRCs continue to search for one, though, and for that they should be applauded.
5. Military Wives Deal With Many Life Stressors At Once.
Moving itself is a stressor. Move to a new country, new job, new doctors and new schools with a new rental agreement, an unsold previous home, two toddlers and a newborn? That's a lot of stressors. Add a husband that leaves three days later for a 1.5 month 'indoctrination course'? Yeah. And don't say that would never happen, because I've done it.
Military wives deal with this stuff every one to four years, Sometimes less. Moving is hugely stressful, and there are always issues. Always problems. And mom often takes the brunt of it. The vaccination issues that Canadian Army Wife illustrated are just the tip of the iceberg. Finding a new family doctor (read about it here) is one of my biggest headaches. Same with dealing with new schools and trying to explain an educational issue for the umpteenth time to a new teacher. It's hard to explain how stressful that is to hubby, because as Dr. Rodman says, women are judged differently than men. A dad who walks into the school with a child with learning difficulties is much more likely to be listened to. Especially if he's still wearing his uniform.
Add PTSD into the equation, and life gets even more complicated. Great articles on the PTSD struggle can be found here and here.
6. Tradition Is A Harsh Taskmaster.
Oh boy. Tradition. The unwritten code of etiquette that dictates the everyday life a military family. Rank, duty, honour, expectation. All difficult to manoeuvre and all without a handbook. And each post has it's own micro-culture that you have to figure out upon arrival. Talk about stress. And a lot of military wives have no previous military experience, so learning how to manoeuvre life on base is like learning a completely new culture. With no course to explain it.
Guilt is a four letter word masquerading as a five.
In most military families, the husband is the breadwinner. His job--a soldier/airman/marine/sailor--dictates where the family lives, when he works, how long he works and what he does. The military 'owns' him, so to speak.
Most military wives get it. They don't want to complain. They understand that his job is hard. They get that they have to move...again. They understand that hubby has to be deployed...again. But they have to reconcile that understanding with the complex difficulties of their life. They wouldn't dream of asking for help because they see that as weakness. They feel their problems are minuscule compared to hubby's 24-hour-a-day job in the desert. He needs to focus on staying safe. He needs to know that everything's okay at home--his wife is managing, his kids are alright, the bills are being paid and the household is just fine--so that he can concentrate on his dangerous job. So they feel guilty that they even think about being stressed, which only makes them more stressed. And then they feel guilty that they themselves are stressed when hubby's job is just so much more stressful.
And do they talk about it? No.
As I mentioned above, the good news is that there are resources available. And military leaders are aware of these stressors and are trying to help. Talking about stressors for military wives is the first step. Are you a military spouse? What stresses you out? How do you deal with stress? Do you talk about stressors with your husband or do you go elsewhere? What do you find helps?
I'd love to hear below.