Someone's Got To Give


A friend of mine .has a child who is having some serious behavioral difficulties, and it is causing a lot of stress in her family. They are seeing a therapist, and trying medication, and an assortment of other things. As my husband and I talked about it, I said, "You know, I would be totally pissed if someone suggested this to me, but she needs to quit her job."

Here is the thing: they aren't military. In a military family, the choice would be more clear. By choosing to be a military spouse, you know that you are choosing to be more flexible, more adaptable, and to build a life around being flexible and adaptable. There are very few military spouses who hold down full-time, high pressure jobs while their children are young, and with good reason: it is hard for everyone. Military families know that up front and plan accordingly.

From the time we married, it has always seemed right for me to stay home while the children werelittle, to keep consistency in their lives while Daddy was gone, and tobe available to pick up a sick child, go on field trips, or volunteer intheir classrooms. There were more than a few patches where I felt thatI was being consumed by the Mommy-ness of it all, and dreamed of afancy job with grown-up clothes. I never pursued those thoughts becauseit seemed a poor choice for our family as a whole. It is fairly obvious when you are married to the military that ifsomeone is going to keep the family running, it is probably going to be thenon-military spouse.

I've read enough articles in Parenting to know that is less clear in the civilian world. Why can't both parents have full-time jobs? Many families choose tohave two full-time jobs and it seems to work out OK for most of them. As long as everything is going smoothly, civilian families don't have the big question of who will give up their job to tend to the family. Instead, they findthemselves grappling with smaller decisions on a daily basis: who willleave early to pick up a sick child? who will take a day off work whenthe kids have a snow day? Who is going to get Susie from ballet to soccer practice? And when faced with a serious situation, thechoice for one parent to stay home is a hard choice for many families. The ideathat someone might have to give up their job because of the demands of afamily seems a little outdated or unfair.

Myfriend's husband has a job that requires him to be gone a lot, and itisn't the sort of job that you can quit and go back to a few yearslater. My friend's job, on the other hand, would be easier to give upfor a while and then go back, or she could possibly take a leave ofabsence. From my perspective, the solution seems obvious, but I canalso see how hard that decision would be for my friend, who has adifferent perspective.

Even though we rarely understand it all ahead of time, the decision to be a military spouse is basically the decision to be the person who picks up the slack at home, who adapts to make things work for the family, and who smooths over the rough edges of a busy life. We fill in when our military member can't be flexible and keep things running anyway. It is understood that someone is going to have to bend and it isn't always possible for the military member to do the bending, so it falls to the spouse. There is no question of "whose job is more important" or "whose job pays more."

I see my civilian friends struggling with these decisions a lot and I'm thankful that my decision was easy. I am sure that if my husband was not in the military, we would be struggling with these same questions. But for me, the choice was clear.

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