"I'll never be a stay at home mom."
I remember specifically committing myself to that when we were first married. I considered myself an "independent woman" despite the military labeling me a dependent. I didn't want to be anything like the military spouse stereotype. You know, the one who doesn't work, waits around for her husband's paycheck, wearing his rank, yada yada. Of course, being a bit more seasoned now, I realize that I was quite naïve.
Back then, I was sure that working outside the home was best for us, but I didn't judge other military spouse moms who wanted to stay home.
So with two young kids in daycare (paying close to $300 a week in expenses) and a husband that was consistently unavailable because of _____ (fill in the blank with all the many reasons they're not around), I poured myself into balancing a career in mortgage banking while being wife, mom, chef and chauffeur.
I enjoyed my job and made a good living. However, no matter how hard I worked or amazing I was, my job would always come second to his. Admittedly, it was frustrating to constantly be the person to figure out how to make things work around his schedule.
When my friends who chose to stay at home would ask me why I put myself through so much trouble, I'd give an easy answer, "I like our lifestyle. If we want to pack up and spend a week at Disney on a whim --- we can do that, no questions asked." I was proud of the contributions I made to our family financially. We could essentially pay for anything we wanted without a second thought. We could go anywhere we wanted.
Only we couldn't actually go wherever we wanted. Leave was easier for him to get than for me to get time off work. Although I saw my kids every day, I didn't truly feel like I got quality time with them during the week.
Several years and a PCS later, a tough scenario at work put things in major perspective for me: keeping this job actually made our lives more stressful.
Without much of a second thought, I put in my notice at my job and left what was a great career. I was going into unchartered territory -- staying at home with the kids. I worried whether or not I would be able to handle it, as patience had never been my strong suit. I was good at my job, but would I be good as a 100% available mother?
Later that summer, we went on a month-long vacation. We were driving North on I-95 when I had what I still think of as a life altering "aha" moment. For the first time that I could remember, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission to be present with my family. I actually got to spend time with my children other than getting ready for school, dinner or bedtime.
All those times I justified my decision to work because I loved the way we lived? I wasn't actually living; just existing. But this ... getting to hear how their day was first, and going to all their little programs? This felt like living. It was no big deal when he worked late, and life didn't need major rearranging when he deployed. I didn't realize that while I put so much stock in what other people thought -- trying desperately to not be a stereotype -- I'd sacrificed time with my family that I would never get back. While none of this made me unique, after all women work outside of the home in both civilian and military communities with these same challenges, giving my children a bit of continuity felt right for all of us.
You see, I never understood the value of being there to pick the kids up from school. Now, I never want to go back to getting home after 6; the hustle and bustle that ensued until lights out. I don't ever want to get permission to spend time with my family again.
Not long after I left corporate America, I was able to build a small business from my home and years later it remains my happy medium. I get to contribute to the family financially, but on my terms.
Having been the working mom, the stay at home mom and now the work from home mom, what I've learned is that there is no right or wrong way to raise a family in the military. The most important thing we can do is to find what truly works for you. Don't let anything -- not guilt, not stereotypes other's perceptions -- cloud your decision.
After all, you're a great mom no matter your choice, and that's what matters most.
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