Andrea met her now-husband when she was only 16. It's a familiar path for military couples.
"He always talked about joining the Marine Corps," Andrea says. "He was obsessed with it."
Three years later, he signed on the dotted line and put on his first pair of cammies. Andrea graduated high school the next year and within months, the two were married.
"It was a dream come true," Andrea says. "All [of our] friends were trying to find jobs and working jobs they hated, and we were great. We had money and friends; we weren't struggling."
The next year, they welcomed their first child. Within four years, they had three under three.
1. Time to get a job.
But bills were adding up. Their oldest was about to start grade school. "With the CDC so cheap, we thought about me going to work. I hadn't worked since high school, but I had a friend who worked at the mall and she knew some people who were hiring."
She thought it was a no-brainer.
Unfortunately for Andrea, the hiring managers her friend knew didn't agree. "They wanted someone with experience," she says. "Someone who had more than a high school job from several years ago on their resume."
Employers wanted someone without the "Mom Gap."
As countless women know all too well, the inevitable resume gap that happens when a family starts growing can be difficult to explain. Like many moms, Andrea did not understand how concerned she should be about that gap until she started looking for work.
Being rejected from a job you thought you would get is always hard, but when it's a job at the mall, the sting can be even worse. "It's not like it's rocket science," says Katya.
Katya, a Navy wife, was also turned away from a retail job she thought was a shoo-in for. "I finished college and met my husband at his first duty station," she explains. "We had a splashy wedding and started our family right away. I did well in school, and I assumed that I would be able to start a career when I finished having children."
Instead, she found herself struggling to get even an entry-level job in a corporate office. "I always wanted to be an attorney," she said. "But I was having a problem even getting work as a legal secretary. People looked at my resume and questioned the empty years. Even retail wanted more experience."
2. Start With a Plan.
Tackling the experience question is no easy feat, but it is one that a little planning can make much easier.
If you are done with diapers and wondering about your next step, start asking yourself the hard questions. Is it time to go back to work? Should you be thinking about going back to school? Do you have your old teachers' and bosses' contact information somewhere so that you can dust it off, get in touch, and ask for some advice?
And if you do these things, who on earth is going to care for the kids?
"I started with the CDC," Katya says. "We got the kids in, and that gave me time to formulate a plan."
Katya began by asking herself what her goals were. "Was I in it for the money? Or for something I felt called to do?"
When it comes to planning, you cannot start too soon. "If someone had just told me to think about this years ago, I would feel so much more confident," Katya says. "Someone my age should at least know what they want to be. Past 'mom,' I never really thought about it."
No matter where you are in the diploma, wedding, baby process, it is time to asking yourself the hard questions. If you can think through where you want to be in five years, it will be a lot easier to get there.
3. Consider the Right 'First Job.'
Claire, an Army wife in Georgia, did not spend a lot of time thinking about what she wanted to be when her mom-job was over, but she did focus on what she did not want to be.
"I said no to three different kind of jobs out of hand," she says. "No retail, no call center, no secretary work."
Claire, who married her high school sweetheart right after college and had babies right away, began looking for work after she sent her second child to kindergarten. "I was home with them for seven years, but I have a college degree. I'm smart. I can do better than this, I thought."
Then reality set in. A bad economy, a military town, and a quick PCS quickly upended her job-hunting plans, and after looking for work for a full year, Claire realized she needed to reassess her parameters.
She accepted a job in customer relations for a large bank, "working at a call center," she admits.
Happily, she was pleasantly surprised by her experience there. "There are a lot of military spouses here, so there is a lot of understanding about our schedules."
She adds that by starting with an entry-level job, she was able to "pay her dues" and quickly move up within the company. "They promote from within," she explains, "so I did my time and quickly rose through the ranks. Within a year I became a manager. I love my job now."
Her advice? When it comes to that first job, keep your expectations realistic. "Don't be afraid to start with an entry-level job, even if you think you deserve better. Just get your foot in the door and start building your resume."
4. Think About Education.
If your resume is empty and you are struggling to bag that first post-baby job, going back to school to either sharpen your skills or build new ones might be a good alternative.
Your military education benefits like MyCAA will cover many vocational degree programs, including associate's degrees that you can really put to work. Programmers, paralegals, medical technicians and graphic designers are all in high demand, and chances are that they are hiring where you are, too.
For Andrea, education became the obvious choice after getting rejected from several jobs at the local mall. "I had to swallow my pride," she says. "But clearly I needed to do more."
Andrea says that refreshing her education did more than just set her on a new path, it actually helped her set her sights higher for the long run.
"A high school degree was good enough in my hometown," she explains, "but I need more if I want to do something that actually helps my family with income. I would like to be something I can be proud of."
She is now using her MyCAA benefits to become a medical technician. "I'm already externing in an office that says they will hire me when I graduate," she reports. "I have worked hard and I have a lot to be proud of. My husband is proud of me too!"
Six years ago, Andrea was a high schooler in love with a guy in love with the Marines. Now, she is on the road to professional success. If, like her, you have gone from diploma to bride to baby, and you are wondering what is next, follow these four steps to get your future started on the right foot.
What advice would you add?