A recent SpouseBuzz poll on whether or not a service member's career should always come first demonstrated something I never expected -- an almost even split among all the options.
Early last month we asked you if your troop's career should always be most important. I expected most people to say that, yes, it does because it has to. I expected far, FAR fewer people to say "no" for various reasons or "sometimes." Instead, here is what our poll found:
In case you can't see that nice graphic -- of the over 1,500 people (at the time of this writing) who took the poll, over 27 percent said "yes," as I expected. But only one percent less said "no, but there's nothing we can do about it" and only two percent less than that said "no, they are equally important." Finishing in fourth at 21 percent were the "sometimes" folks.
What surprised me even further about this debate were the comments. Here on SpouseBuzz we tend to get two kinds of commenters -- the shorties and the diatribes. This post was full of diatribes. Readers, passionate about this issue, went on and on and on about the "why" behind what they chose. Some judged me for asking the question. A few people said something like the hateful "suck it up, you knew what you were getting into" line.
I've been thinking about this issue a lot since writing the original post. And I've realized that this debate is, in a way, not about economics or ambition or personal worth or equality so much as it is about values.
There are some of us who hold more traditional values. For those, no matter what happens the women's role will always be first childcare and homefront holding and second career. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. But it is a values choice -- and it means that the husband's job which, for all of us, is the military, like it or not, will always come first. It comes first because we want it to. It comes first because we are not willing to take the drastic, purposeful steps needed to make it NOT come first.
Because that's exactly what they have to be -- drastic, purposeful steps.
Then there are those of us who do not hold those same traditional values. For those, there is a fight for everyone to have the same role in childcare and household duties. The weight of those things naturally falls on the person who is most present (often not the service member), but it does not mean that there are not purposeful, practical steps to keep that balance in check when possible. They do that because it is most important to them. And it means the sacrifice of other priorities for the promise of feeling more fulfilled or having a more secure financial life later, when the military is in the rear-view mirror. And that's totally OK, too.
It's important for our military leaders to pay attention to the way people make these kinds of decisions. Because there will always be people towing the line on a very clean-cut version of those priorities, and there will always be people in the middle, trying to figure out where they fit in that dichotomy. Maybe they want a job -- but only if it means they can keep their home role, too. Maybe they NEED a job for financial reasons, but hate the idea of giving up that home life. Maybe they NEED a job for emotional and psychological reasons, but feel stuck in the home-rut because the military lifestyle leaves them with few other options.
If our military leaders want to help spouses get careers and keep careers, they need to understand who they are working with. If they want to help they need to know that not everyone is a cookie cutter version of any given description.
How do we help them do that?