In (late) honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day: May 7, 2010
Military Spouses Deserve Recognition That Elicits Pride Instead of Groans
© May 31, 2010
Military Spouse Appreciation Day is the most awkward holiday ever invented. The military means well. After all, the research says that spouses are the No. 1 determinant of retention, thanks. So why do I cringe every time some admiral or general falls all over himself trying to thank us?
It is embarrassing. Sometimes they thank spouses for our contribution- as if we've just made a deposit into our IRA. Or they thank us for the "tender care" we take of our service members- as if these guys were baby sea otters caught in an oil slick.
Why is Spouse Appreciation Day so hard? I think it is because they thank us for all the wrong things, as if they can't understand what we actually do. I do. So I made up a list of some of the things for which you should be thanked:
You deserve to be thanked for marrying someone who is not normal.
It isn't normal for a guy to think world peace is his personal responsibility. It isn't normal for a woman to put the needs of 300 million Americans above her kindergartener's "Fairies Come to Camp LeJeune" play. But that's what our service members do all time.
At a certain point in the marriage, we spouses recognize that our husbands or wives are men and women who were born with something inside them that makes them different from everyone else on the planet. They don't want to sell things or buy things or manufacture things. They want to protect and serve.
That quality can make for a complicated family life. But the great spouse adapts to that extraordinary partner- because he or she wants to be married to that person and no other.
You deserve to be thanked for holding the center.
Every time someone studies deployed military families, he or she has always discovered the same thing: The kids' adaptation is based on the mother or father at home. If the home parent falls apart, the kids disintegrate with him or her. If that parent scrapes his or her act into a backpack and lugs in around the block, the kids are right there singing "Climb Every Mountain" dressed in nothing but some old drapes. The family universe revolves around the parent at home, and that makes family life possible for our service members.
You deserve to be thanked for fighting the employment question at every base.
Every time we move, we military spouses have to negotiate the whole job thing. Do you work right away? Do you stay home with the kids this time? Is it worth it to drive 45 minutes each way to Las Cruces just to work retail? Is it time to go back to school? And major in....what?
Those married to civilians don't have to make, remake and constantly agonize over these decisions. We do. Military spouses often make very sophisticated compromises to do the best they can for their families. That is remarkable.
You deserve to be thanked for mastering homecoming.
It isn't just the big homecoming at the end of deployment that spouses anticipate/negotiate/celebrate. It is the entire process of getting the spouse all the way home from being at war.
It is the wondering whether there is a problem when the sixth beer of the night is popped open. It is the constant scan for "changes" that may or may not get better. It's the git 'er done homecoming process that happens after the four-week hop to humanitarian aid in Haiti. It is the daily homecoming rituals that spouses compose so that the family can be as open and peaceful and ready when the service member is home.
That's a lot of thinking and planning for something that civilians just take for granted that spouses do every day. Awesome. Truly.
You deserve to be thanked for committing to your own style.
Back in the day, there was a right way to be a military wife, and everyone knew what it was. It had something to do with paying calls and never wearing curlers to the commissary and keeping your lawn clipped just so.
We don't have those rules anymore. Instead, the military asks that we just do it all: Get a job. Raise those kids. Take tender care of your service member. Spend within your means. Let the military do its job.
There are no rules. Which means there is no praise for doing it right. We each choose to do this in our own way, using our own judgement to figure our what needs to be done, using our own individual strengths to make it all happen. You are a support group of one. Enjoy that.
It will be another year before someone thinks to thank you for all you do. So I hope this is the year that you start looking at that high-and-tight and appreciate that it is so much more than a hairstyle.
I hope this is the year you appreciate that you and only you hold the center of the family.
I hope this is the year you stop beating yourself up for failing to do things the "right" way, and let yourself go with what your own style, your own flair, your own undeniable spark of greatness.
This has to be the year you - along with your spouse, and your command and your mom and your kids - start to appreciate you. Because, believe me, I already do.
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