As military spouses, we often find ourselves explaining away our professional histories: gaps in our resume, frequent moves, things that make it look like we have sacrificed our own dreams for those we love.
We don't have to sacrifice our careers, especially if we get some support from our service members.
We can figure this out.
"The only reason I have a career is that my husband supports me," Annie says.
"That's my fault," she said. "I think about it and I wonder what excuse I made up at the time. Didn't I realize that that was the moment? Didn't I know it would never get easier? Didn't I know he'd support me?"
Annie says it was months of thinking about the career she always wanted that finally spurred her into action. "I'd make excuses about having married an airman, and once you do that, your priorities shift," she said. "But the truth is, I let go of my dream."
Her saving grace?
"My husband never did. After our fourth child, he looked at me one morning and said, 'If you want to go back to work, we can figure this out.' I cried. Because of him, I started the long road back to work."
If you have dreams you want to pursue, the support of your service member will be as vital to your success as it was to Annie's. She is now happily balancing her family life and her job.
"He said to me that I'd followed him everywhere, and I'd done everything for him. That he saw it and understood, and that it was my turn now."
Annie is finally on the road to living out her dreams -- mom, wife and employee. If you are trying to find your way, here are five ways your spouse can help.
Tip #1: Take the Paternity Leave the Military Offers.
It really does start at the very beginning with paternity leave. "It's like it somehow sets the tone for the family," Tracy says.
Tracy is an Army wife who has been a stay-at-home mom for going on 12 years. "We just had our third child, and I had been running a successful direct sales business from home when the kids are in school. I love being a mompreneur, but with a new baby, to do any of the things I needed to for my other kids and to still do something for me, he had to start doing more."
Her husband started with paternity leave. "He actually wanted to go fishing," she said. "I'll never forget it. He just announced one morning that he was going to the lake when I was nursing and the older kids were at school, and I was like, 'Are you crazy? This time is here for you to be around your daughter and help with the new baby. If you aren't doing that, you don't get time off. It was like he didn't understand it wasn't vacation."
Tracy's husband did not love her pronouncement, but when she ticked off a list of things that desperately needed to be done around the house -- baby bottles to wash, soccer cleats to be located and cleaned, countless nursing shirts and uniforms sitting in the laundry hamper -- he relented and stayed at home to help.
"I think it was a really good thing," she said. "It's like he finally realized how much I was doing, and that this small bit of time he has -- two weeks! -- exists so he can do actual parent things and help with those things I always manage to do."
We all know paternity leave in America isn't what it could be, but the military offers 10 business days, and fathers who take it and spend that time with their families demonstrate two things loud and clear: That dads matter, and that their role in their family's domestic life is invaluable.
"Taking that time and really giving it to us showed me that he believed in me, supported me, and that I mattered," Tracy says. "It isn't my job to deal alone with all the new things. That he was there for it, too."
Tip #2: Share the Second Shift When They're Home.
Erin's husband is a sailor who goes to work before sunrise every day. "He's not there in the morning for the kids or to help me out, so he takes his job as dad very seriously once he's home," she explains. "He does all of bedtime. He bathes the children, reads to them, puts them in jammers. I don't have to worry about the kids at that point; I can focus on me."
Erin uses that time to work on her freelance artwork. "It's usually only about an hour and a half a day, but when he takes over as dad, the kids really appreciate it, and so do I. It shows me he understands my load and wants to help me carry it."
Tip #3: Unplug from the command.
This is a hard one for many service members, for whom the constant call of work is real and ever-present.
"Unplugging for an hour a day is really helpful," Annie says. "Even saying to yourself, 'Nothing that immediate will happen during 6-7 when I'm home, so I'm going to eat dinner with my kids and give them my undivided attention.' "
Annie's husband decided to do one hour unplugged without worry when, at their last duty station, their house had poor cell phone coverage. "It basically just never got service in the dining room," she says. "And it was a blessing!"
Annie's husband got in the habit of devoting that one solid hour to his family with work on the backburner.
"When he put us first, it really changed our family dynamic. Suddenly, he was listening to what the kids wanted in ways he wasn't before, and he was hearing me and what I was saying about what I needed. It's part of why he realized I needed to work again, listening to me just go on about the mom stuff. I needed something that was just about me and my identity, and spending time together without distraction, he realized that before I did."
If an hour screen and phone-free seems crazy to your service member, suggest that the phone just be left in the other room -- ringer on high -- for a while.
That way, if anything crazy happens at work that needs to be dealt with immediately, he or she will still hear about it right away, but other than that, the focus can be on your family, your family's needs, and your family's conversation.
Tip #4: Shift -- and Share -- the Conversation About Work-Life Balance.
Whether your dreams are having a new baby or looking for a new job, having a partner who balances the load is key to actually achieving them.
"It's always bugged me that 'work-life balance' only applies to women," Erin complains. "It leaves no room in the conversation for husbands like mine who really want to be there for their kids every minute they're not deployed or away. They should get to have that conversation in the workplace, too, and it seems taboo in the military."
To counter that stereotype, her husband has made sure to be open about his family's needs at work. "Sure, there are times when we can't come first and when he can't come home, but every time he can, he's with us. We're his priority, and watching him be open with work-life balance struggles is good for everyone. The younger husbands get to see that, too."
Even the best SuperMom needs a break, and for her to ever actually take it, her partner needs to understand the demands and stresses on her life.
At its heart, that is work-life balance, and it's something stay-at-home parents struggle with, too.
To keep your balance from being a struggle, keep the conversation open. "I think not talking about it might build resentment," Erin says. "And resentment isn't healthy in a marriage."
Resentment is not healthy in any relationship, but conversation always is.
Tip #5: Keep Checking On Your Partner's Dreams.
This one should seem obvious, but it is harder to manage in real life than it would seem: Keep talking and listening to each other.
"Check in with each other about your dreams," Tracy says. "You never know what might have changed with the other. Sometimes, we just wake up and want something new. The only way your partner knows is to tell him."
Military life offers great stopping points to do just that. From PCSs to deployments, regular life gets overhauled with such frequency that conversations about how to redefine regular life should be a natural fit.
"Make sure you listen, too," Tracy encourages. "That's the hardest part. Sometimes, they don't like to talk, but they have dreams, too, and sometimes, especially when they aren't finding all their dreams in the military, it can be hard for them to say. So you have to listen, too."
Being open, communicative and supportive are the hallmarks of good partners, and when it comes to realizing your dreams, they are all the more critical. Whatever your dreams are -- from entrepreneurship to motherhood and everything in between -- your service member can help you achieve them.
Has your spouse done anything specific to help you? What tips do you have for other spouses trying to pursue their goals?