Nurses, accountants, teachers, counselors, marketing professionals—I have encountered all of these well-educated, talented, and brilliant individuals in my military spouse circle over the years. Like me, many have found themselves putting their careers on hold, either temporarily or indefinitely, in order to support the calling of their military spouse.
Throughout nursing school and my novice nurse years, my teachers, classmates, colleagues, and supervisors would point out my innate talent as a nurse and my inherent ability to lead. I was encouraged to pursue my masters degree and beyond. “Someday you will run a unit or a hospital,” was something I heard all of the time. I believed that I could.
Fast forward to now–this is my last week of work as a nurse for an indeterminate amount of time, and I can’t help but feel like I am letting down everyone who has ever believed in me. Not only that, but in today’s social landscape, a badass working mom is heralded as the ultimate feminist proving you can do it all. I can’t help but feel like because I’m transitioning to stay-at-home mom, I will now be less badass and, thus, less of a true modern-age woman. I feel like people will look at me with pity, thinking, “What wasted potential, all for the sake of her husband.”
Pivoting from how I thought my career would look
The truth is, I DID have big dreams as a new nurse. I wanted to save babies. I wanted to do important research. I wanted to make a name for myself in the field. I wanted to pass the torch on to tomorrow’s Nightingales through education and mentorship.
Somewhere along the way though, after four moves and six jobs, I did not end up where I had hoped.
But along the way, another path started emerging, and before I knew it my heart was being tugged in a much different direction than I had ever anticipated. I used to swear up and down that I could never be a stay-at-home mom. I always remained very prideful about being able to support and take care of myself. I very much liked bringing home a salary that matched my husband’s.
When I returned to work full-time following the birth of my son, my employer refused to give me even a half day off of work to spend with my husband before he would be leaving for two months. It was in that moment that I realized there is something far more important than a paycheck.
I realized that the 10 hours a day that my infant son was spending in daycare could not be compensated for. I realized that the family I wanted to create and nurture and cherish would not be a reality unless we made some changes. After many sleepless nights, heart-wrenching goodbyes at daycare, and more than a little whining on my part, we finally agreed that I would transition to stay-at-home mom by way of part-time employment until our next move.
While this is ultimately what we decided is best for our family, it is not a decision without conflicting emotions.
Sometimes, becoming a stay-at-home parent just makes sense
The working schedule of a service member can often be incredibly variable—rotating shifts, rotating days off, weekends, holidays, deployments, training, special duty assignments, etc. Working a full-time (or even part-time) job that provides the consistent schedule and income that is beneficial for a military spouse, while allowing for the never-ending flexibility demanded by a service member’s work, is nearly impossible to find.
Employers often struggle to understand why you always have to be the one to stay home when the kids are sick, take them to their appointments, or attend their school or after-school functions. And most importantly, all the fluctuations in a service member’s schedule can cause family time to be limited. Nothing tears a parent’s heart apart like having to walk out the door to work on the one day the whole family gets to be together.
Nothing tears a parent’s heart apart like having to walk out the door to work on the one day the whole family gets to be together.
On top of that, moving every couple of years—while exciting and adventurous—is anything but conducive to career advancement. By the time your supervisor is ready to push you up the ladder, orders drop for your spouse’s next assignment, and the moving trucks roll up. If you work in healthcare or a field that requires a state license, the process from state to state can become expensive, time-consuming, and straight up exhausting. This is before you even begin to try to explain to a potential employer in an interview why you have never worked anywhere for longer than two years.
Sometimes, it’s really hard
Being in the workforce really helped me feel like a contributing member of society. You have responsibilities, colleagues counting on you, obligations for your time, and of course, you’re earning money and paying taxes.
The work of a stay-at-home parent is just as grueling as a traditional job. You’re always on call, there are no annual evaluations or merit-based incentives, and there are no kudos at the monthly staff meeting for a job well done. For us overachievers who thrive off of positive affirmations and recognition for our efforts, it can be an incredibly difficult adjustment to transition from one to the other.
For us overachievers who thrive off of positive affirmations and recognition for our efforts, it can be an incredibly difficult adjustment to transition from one to the other.
After becoming a stay-at-home parent, it can also become difficult to justify things like new shoes, a manicure, or a lunch out with friends. After all, it’s not your money (per se) and sometimes spending it can make you feel riddled with guilt. It also rocks your previously established identity as an equal partner in household decisions—now that I’m not bringing home any bacon, how much say do I have in vacations, cars, home-buying, or whether or not my husband really needs a new Xbox?
As someone who loves being constantly challenged and stimulated, I’ve found that I can only spend so long playing blocks, reading the first three pages of a book, or trying to keep crayons on paper before I start to get a little crazy. I am a huge proponent of self-care and do my best to prioritize myself as a member of the family. But, let’s be honest, just getting out of the house alone is not easily achieved as a stay-at-home parent.
As I sit in occasional boredom, feelings of uncertainty and resentment can creep in. Why is it always me giving up my time, shower, sleep?
Am I cut out for this?
It always matters
The truth is that, regardless of all of my conflicting emotions and the challenges I’ve faced in transitioning from working mom to stay-at-home parent, I take my role as CEO of the home quite seriously. I value my time with my husband and our family more than anything else. By doing the grocery shopping, the budget, the bills, the laundry, the pet care, and the social calendar, I ensure that our family can focus on each other during our time together.
The job of a military spouse, whether they work inside or outside the home, is first and foremost to support the service member’s career by serving the family. People don’t like to hear that, nor admit that, but it is an undeniable truth. It’s not always fair or fun or tidy, but it is absolutely important. Retaining well-trained and experienced members of our Armed Forces is crucial and never for a moment do I underestimate the integral role that spouses play in that. We have to keep things together at home so that our spouses can do their very important job without worry.
The job of a military spouse, whether they work inside or outside the home, is first and foremost to support the service member’s career by serving the family. People don’t like to hear that, nor admit that, but it is an undeniable truth.
It’s not a perfect science–we are all human, of course–but the efforts, dedication, and sacrifice of a military spouse cannot be discounted. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that while military life presents its own unique set of challenges, this conundrum is not exclusive to military families. It is a battle being waged in the heads of stay-at-home parents from all walks of life.
My hat goes off to all of us. It is not a job for the faint of heart.
There are no paychecks because it is truly invaluable work.
This story was originally published on April 8, 2019.