From the cadences to the balls to the homecomings, I love the pageantry of military life. But, while there is so much to enjoy in our community, the pressure to participate can be stifling. It's taken 12 years, but I've learned that sometimes, my sanity is more important than any function.
3 Military Things to Which You Can Say 'No'
No: It's not my uniform.Early in my husband's career, I was the one who made sure he always had a set up uniform and a spare. Crisply folded PT shirts, shorts and pants occupied a very organized corner of the closet with t-shirts for his BDUs (yes, that long ago) next to them. They were washed separately from the rest of the laundry, always put away and ready for use.
I don't do that anymore. Since then, we've started a family, I've gone back to work, and the type of uniforms he wears has changed multiple times. While I still do the bulk of our household laundry because I loathe the look of an overflowing laundry hamper, his uniforms get washed when he puts them in the basket or decides to do it himself. During an argument years ago (that was precipitated by an always-alert baby resulting in my lack of sleep), I blamed my exhaustion on the fact that I had put his uniforms together the night before.
"But, I never asked you to do that!" he interjected.
It took me a few minutes to think back. It was true. It was simply something that I had taken on when we were newlyweds, and the habit had stuck. But, life had changed. With more demands on my time it now felt like a burden, and one that I resented. It was time to let that go.
No: The professional volunteerIf I had to narrow down one single thing that I love about my military spouse friends, it would be the truly astonishing things they can do with a small group of volunteers and plenty of coffee. Start up a fundraising holiday bazaar from scratch? You bet. A concert? No problem. Feed 45 people in a parking lot out of the back of your minivan? Consider it done. Develop nationally relevant programs offering everything from employment training to medical advocacy to radio shows? We got this.
It’s mind blowing. It's also exhausting. Volunteering is a powerful way to meet friends at a new duty station, educate ourselves about available resources and give to a community that needs it. You should do it… if you have the time, energy and mental space. Too many times to count, I've been hanging on to sanity by a thread and a couple toenails when a lovely friend/acquaintance approaches with a need. The FRG/spouse club/PTA needs something and she knows I would do this so well. In the past, I've said yes and put that tenuous grip on life balance at risk.
While volunteering is good for the soul, over committing yourself until you want to run away screaming is not. It’s OK to say you don't have the time required for that commitment but would love to help out in another way. It’s OK to say "no."
No: Mandatory funOh, the dining-ins and BBQs and "fun days" that make up mandatory fun. Looking around at many of these events reminds me of family holidays where the adults have shoved every kid under the age of 16 into one room with a Risk board game, some Sprite and instructions to have some fun together. There have been points during our time as a military family where these events were dutifully logged on the family calendar and everything scheduled around them.
Eventually, like so much else, I realized that these things were really only mandatory for my husband. Are some of them a wonderful opportunity to spend time together as a family? Sure, but he often has responsibilities at these events so we don't actually see him that much. If it’s something that we would enjoy doing anyway, we participate. If not, we let him do his thing and then go out to dinner together or enjoy a movie night at home.
No: The power of a single wordFor years, I wrestled with the expectations that came with being a military spouse: that odd sidecar military life that comes with being told everything you do can impact your spouse's career. I've baked goodies for bake sales, dragged myself out of the house for events, volunteered enough hours to get a pretty certificate from the president and put aside plenty of my own plans and ideas on how to spend a day.
Then, I realized I could say "no."
I can say that I don't have time to take on another volunteer obligation because my calendar is full (although I'm happy to share with friends who may be available). I can regretfully decline to attend events when I already have something planned. I can renegotiate the division of household chores when life has changed.
I can embrace the fact that who I am, and what being a military spouse looks like for me, has evolved over 12 years, three deployments, seven moves, two commands, a child and a career change. I can say no to the parts of military life that make it harder for me to enjoy the things that I love about being a military spouse. Those declined invites give my calendar room to attend a friend's homecoming so I can keep her laughing and distracted during the unavoidable delays. Not attending one event means I can spend an hour video chatting with a friend who is struggling to adjust to a new duty station. It allows me to allocate my resources of time, energy and attention in the way that fits my priorities instead of the Army's.
And, that's OK.