A couple of weeks ago, I was talking deployments with a military spouse. I mentioned the fact that I tend to be a Nite Owl when my husband is away, deployment or not. I go to bed entirely too late and get far less sleep than I should. I've talked to enough military spouses over the years to know this is somewhat common, especially during a deployment. As it was with this particular milspouse.
But later she said something that took me by surprise.
"Well at least you didn't have children, be thankful for that."
I wasn't quite sure how to take that comment. Was that to say that deployments are easier on childless spouses? Was that to say that being mommy and daddy during wartime is a task so difficult that I should be grateful I wasn't placed in that position? And for the record, I do think that being mommy and daddy is a huge task and my hat goes off to all of you who do it with grace, dignity and class every single day.
In hindsight, I should have asked this lady to explain what she meant because in all honesty, I'm not the least bit sure. And I would like to know. Even though I don't, I have thought about that comment many times since our conversation. That, along with another recent incident, led to this post. I'll try to tie them together and make one coherent point, although I'm bound to jump off the tracks a bit.
It is true that I only had myself to worry about when my husband was deployed. If, God forbid, I was met with bad news, I would not have the heartbreaking task of delivering it to my children. But some childless spouses may think that coming home to an empty house and searching for ways to fill the time is quite the chore. Laughter and the pitter patter of little feet don't fill their household and occupy their thoughts. I've never dwelt on this angle because I'm quite happy with my situation. In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way. Truthfully, if the comment was intended that way, I actually agree. I do think I had it easier than mothers do, but other spouses in my position may not see it that way.
This conversation reminded me of something that Joan D'Arc stresses at each LIVE event - you cannot compare your situation with mine and vice versa. You can't assume that my situation is better or worse than yours because of how it appears from the outside looking in.
I sometimes cringe when I hear spouses ask one another if their husband has been to Iraq yet. As if Afghanistan, Africa, Kosovo, Kuwait or other deployments don't count. Our spouses go where they are told to go and they do their jobs with honor. Each branch is different and it takes all of them to make up the United States Armed Forces. Not everyone is deployable and not everyone is needed in Iraq. Several days ago, someone left a comment on one of the posts here. Spouse A admonished spouse B because spouse A's husband was on a longer deployment than spouse B's husband. Hold on a moment...
Each of us are different. Our home lives are different. We have varied family dynamics and personal situations. What isn't a factor for you may be a huge factor for another milspouse. What consumes you may not even appear on someone else's radar screen. At the end of the day, we're all just trying to make it through the best we can. In one sense, it's normal to examine the similarities and differences between us, and doing so will often give us some wonderful perspective.
A few months ago, I spoke to a lovely Marine wife who went through a deployment in which the unit lost several Marines and she had some personal issues to deal with. She said that she felt guilty for complaining about how harrowing this particular deployment was after hearing the story of an Army wife who endured an 18-month deployment. The Marines deploy for shorter periods of time than the Army. I said to her, "but your husband was gone, right? It doesn't matter if he's gone for seven months or 18 months. Gone is gone and you still have challenges to deal with." If the car breaks down, the toilet overflows and your husband is going to miss your daughter's first recital, does it really matter where your husband is or how long he'll be gone? Great perspective, and I appreciate her outlook, but at the same time, some days just suck and the occasional pity party is perfectly normal when you recognize that yes, indeed, the sun will come out tomorrow. I'm hoping spouse A, mentioned above, was having one of those days when she left her comment.
When we examine our differences in a "I have it worse than you" manner, it can be destructive and unproductive. And not only that, we rarely know what someone else's situation is truly like behind closed doors. The gal who appears to have it all under control may be the one who falls apart when she gets home each evening.
One thing that I love about SpouseBUZZ is our differences. The authors, for all of our commonalities, have very different personalities. So do our readers. You are anything but monolithic and never fail to surprise us or pique our interest with your comments and input. In a sense, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. One thing we've you've managed to do at SpouseBUZZ is to keep it civil around here. We state our disagreements when they exist, but we do so in a grown-up, civilized manner. And for that, we thank you. You make places like SpouseBUZZ interesting and relevant.
It is not our hardships that define us, it is how we deal with them. This is one reason I am in awe of Joan and GBear. See here and here. Dwelling on how much better someone else has it does little to improve our plight, for lack of a less dramatic term. Military life should make all of us stronger. When we decide to embrace it and make the most of it, we give ourselves a chance to become richer persons. I know this life has made me a better, stronger person. One who can see that there is something bigger and better than self. Had I not married into the military, I truly believe that I would have floundered through life missing all of the meaningful things that I now cherish. And I wouldn't have thousands of brothers and sisters in you. That is a true blessing. One I don't deserve, but one for which I am grateful.
The conversation I had with the milspouse, coupled with the comment that was left, prompted me to write about this topic. It's something I've wanted to do for quite some time, but I wasn't sure how to approach it. I'm still not certain I've done it sufficiently. The point is this: Resist the urge to compare whose grass is greener. There are a lot of factors which go into developing and maintaining healthy grass. There are also anthills that pop up along the way. Fertilize your own grass. Invite people to sit on your grass from time to time and learn from them. If someone else's grass looks greener, know that there could be a disease laying underneath just waiting to take over. If someone else's grass looks brown and dead, know that they may be tending to it and it will take a little time before it looks lush and green.