There ought to be an after-party for stay-at-home 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-party that lets you know the stay-at-home-parenting party is ending, but you don't have to get another job just yet?
Because one of the keys to making the jump from stay-at-home parent 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, when you are convincing a sobbing preschooler that you will, indeed, return to pick him up or when your service member'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% of all military spouses are currently working as at-home parents. This is nearly double the rate of stay-at-home parents in the civilian population.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 23% 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 stay-at-home parents by default. They live overseas and are bound by the status of forces 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 stay-at-home parents 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 service member.
Still, the stay-at-home parent job will end. And when it comes to figuring out spouse employment, knowing when and how to make the transition back into the workforce is key for military spouses.
One of the problems is that the after party -- that moment when you know your days as a stay-at-home parent are over -- comes at different times for different people.
When I asked our readers about when they knew their job as a stay-at-home parent 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 parents 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 ever 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 stay-at-home parents back into the workforce.
Finally, there were those last lingerers at the after 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 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% unemployment rate among military spouses. They read that stat that says 81% 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 broader than current paid employment.
Instead, we need to think about how the stay-at-home parent period works for a military family and what to do when that work is finished.
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