YDU: That Military Family Life Requires a College Degree?

Why didn’t you tell me … that the framed degree I have hanging on my wall would have nothing -- yet everything -- to do with my real “job”?

Does that statement make you do a double take? My college degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (News/Public Relations) and a minor degree in Business Administration. For the first seven years I was married to my sailor,  I worked happily in my career field. Then I became a mom to my beautiful twins; a boy and a girl. The plan was that I would stay home until the twins started kindergarten.

Those plans changed when my son, at the age of four, was diagnosed with high functioning autism.

I was thrown into a world that I didn’t “think” my degree could have possibly prepared me for. I found myself spending countless hours on the computer after we were lucky enough to put my son to bed (children with autism don’t have good sleep patterns). I spent hours sifting through mounds of information on the internet about autism and things that could help my son, trying to discern truth from fiction because my son’s initial pediatrician in rural Virginia (ah the joys of following a military hubby) was less than helpful. After much prodding, we were told to try occupational therapy (for sensory integration dysfunction) and maybe speech (he was less than 40 percent understandable) and hope for the best.

That wasn’t what I was willing to accept for my son. That wasn’t what I had been trained in college to accept; accepting information status quo without additional research. Unfortunately, no university offers a Masters degree in “Parenting an Autistic Child.” If they did, I and thousands of other parents just like myself would hold a degree in this important field.

So did my college pay off? Absolutely. Life has made my college degree useful. I use it every day. I am my son’s chief “public relations” advocate. I have to be a constant advocate for my son’s issues (and they are many) to his school, therapists, TRICARE, the US Navy, friends and family. I also use my business minor on a daily basis, navigating our family budget to make sure that my son’s medical needs are met while still keeping the rest of the family financial boat floating right side up.

I have spent a lot of time struggling personally with understanding that my degree I worked so hard for is not “wasted”, but that God had a different plan for how I was going to be “employed.” I do not get paid – in money. I get paid in hugs and love from my son and seeing his progress. This is something that is worth far more to me than any compensation plan any company could offer me. I have aspirations to someday go back and complete a Masters degree. When I graduated from college, I was SURE that would be in Accounting or Business Administration. Now, I’m not so sure. Is there a Masters in Helping Military Parents Navigate Autism? Maybe there should be.

Brenda Eatough is a Navy wife “homeported” in Jacksonville, Florida.  She is the mother of eleven year old boy/girl  twins  and one very active four year old boy.

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