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The After SAHM Party

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There ought to be an After SAHM party for military spouses. After all, there is an after prom party to let you know the prom is over, but you don’t have to go home just yet. 

So why can’t there be an After SAHM party that lets you know the Stay At Home Mom (or Dad) party is ending, but you don’t have to get another job just yet?

Because one of the keys to making the jump from SAHM to dream job is being aware that your gig as a Stay At Home parent will end. 

When you are in the middle of it -- when you are trying to read the teeny tiny letters on a bottle of liquid Tylenol while a baby screams, or when you are convincing a sobbing preschooler that you will, indeed, return to pick him up, or when your servicemember’s unit extends the deployment again -- the job seems like it will never be over.

But it will, even for military spouses. Perhaps especially for military spouses. Because more than 40 percent of all military spouses are currently working as at-home parents. This is nearly double the rate of SAHMs in the civilian population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 23 percent of married couple families with children under 15 years old had a Stay At Home parent.

Why is that? You could argue that some military spouses are SAHMs or SAHDs by default. They live overseas and are bound by SOFA agreements. Or they can’t find a job in their area. Or maybe they have a giant barrel of bonbons to work through. Whatever.

But I would bet that the majority of SAHMs choose that gig because it works with the demands of military life. Between PCS moves and constant trainings, work-ups and deployments, having an at-home parent is a strategy that compensates for the absence of the servicemember.

Still, the SAHM job does end. And when it comes to figuring out spouse employment, knowing when and how to make the transition back into the work force is key for military spouses.

One of the problems is that the After SAHM party -- that moment when you know your days as a SAHM are over -- comes at different times for different people.

When I asked our readers about when they knew their job as a SAHM was ending, they offered all kinds of answers. 

For many, getting the kids in school at least part of the day opened up hours that felt empty. These moms said they yearned for an intellectual challenge, especially one that they could do during school hours.

Some parents felt a loosening of the load when their kids started driving. They said they felt like they weren’t needed as much and that they could see a time when the kids would all be gone.

Others found that they were needed more at home during the teen years than every before. These parents worked full-time when their kids were young, but once multiple kids were involved in multiple afterschool activities, they felt like their time was needed more at home than at work.

Finances, military separation and military retirement pulled some SAHMs back into the workforce.

Finally, there were those last lingerers at the After SAHM party who didn’t feel their job was done until the baby of the family went off to college.

I think the mixed timing of the After SAHM party is one of the reasons that military spouse employment is so hard for other people to understand.

They think that spouse employment is strictly about the 26 percent unemployment rate among military spouses. They read that stat that says 81 percent of all spouses would like to work (given that you could get your dream job and your childcare situation was perfect) and they think all people want to do is get a job.

Some of them do. And some of them really want to work as Stay At Home parents. This is a job they want to do while they feel that job needs to be done.

If the military is going to help military spouses navigate their way back into the workforce, spouses have to be considered in terms more broad than current paid employment.

Instead, we need to think about how the SAHM or SAHD period works for a military family and what to do when that work is finished.

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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