Spouse Freedom of Participation: Good or Bad?


There seems to be a trend of spouses not electing to partake in the traditional military spouse roles.

I have noticed decreasing mentorship, spouses who volunteer, and overall embracing of the military lifestyle.  Spouses are the maintainers and carriers of the military culture; it sure isn’t my husband in the kitchen making banana bread for the new neighbors or arranging childcare for the hospitalized spouse whose husband is deployed.

Will this freedom to choose our level of participation hurt the military culture?

My concern is this: Who will pass on the knowledge and experience to less experienced spouses if no one is around to teach it.  There is a lot to say about the freedom to choose one’s own destiny; forcing a spouse into a role they are ill equipped to play or don't want to play does no one any favors.  I hate being told what to do and if something is expected of me, or even required, I will drag if not stomp my feet and treat it like a chore along the lines of cleaning up my backyard.  And I have a BIG dog.  The unspoken, unpaid position of a military spouse should indeed be a choice, but ask yourself…what is the cost of this choice?

I once came across the spouse of a senior officer who loved attending lunches and dinners at the general’s house, loved attending ceremonies, but chose not to lead the spouses in her husband’s group, which numbered around 200.  Fine.  Her choice completely and her 24+ years of standing by her man earned the right to all the above…all the “fun” stuff.  The spouses next in line after her also chose not to take on that role for many good reasons.  The search travelled down the invisible spouse chain-of-command (c’mon…we all know it exists, even though it holds no true weight) until it ended up with me.  I thought, “Why not me?  I can do this.”

I knew I had no experience.  But I also knew that I didn’t want to see the sinking ship of a spouse group go under when I could at least keep it afloat until a more experienced spouse arrived to take the helm.  I worked myself ragged, took many wrong turns, and floundered my way into keep the spouse group alive.

It was completely my choice to take on that role…freedom to choose in action.  What killed me was the same spouse, who under the old school rules would have been in charge, loved giving me her opinion on what she wanted to see done.  My favorite was when she asked me to send out holiday party invitations to the group’s spouses.  A party she was hosting at her house.  I said no.  Upon her husband’s retirement, she, with a straight face, said privately to me, “Heidi, thank you for all you did this past year.  See…as a colonel’s spouse, I was on my way out and didn’t want to do anything.”  Seriously?  So you just leave me to sink or swim on my own...this is your idea of leadership?  I had no further words for her, turned, and went home to have a drink.  I hope I am not that cynical if I ever am in her shoes.  Thankfully, I did have some more-senior spouses, both within the group and outside of it, who I relied on for occasional guidance.  Still didn’t take the place of my taking a smaller role within the spouse group, watching…learning…how to support my fellow spouses, but it was better than nothing or no one.

Is this the mindset these days…If I don’t have to, I don’t want to?  We can choose how active a role we play in the military community when it is fun, but say no to the dirty behind-the-scene work?  We want all the perks: free theme park tickets, 10% off at stores, discounts at restaurants…because we deserve it based on our spouse’s military service, yet we also want the freedom to dismiss the military culture.

Is this fair?

Is this due to the lack of senior spouse leadership or our own “me, me, me” mentality?

Am I alone in noticing this?

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