What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Jill R.
Twenty-four years ago, I raised my right hand and took an oath to support and defend the constitution. That oath was more than a job prerequisite; it was a promise and it wasn’t conditional. No loopholes for bad days or if personal obligations got in the way.
Twenty-two years ago, I made the decision to become a parent. I knew military service and motherhood might not go together like peas and carrots (thanks, Forest). I decided I was up for the balancing act/high wire.
I blinked, and here I am. Twenty-four years of service under my belt, married, and a mom of 3.
I’m sure there are some out there who might look at my life and think I have it all or do it all. I don’t. I balance, juggle, forget things, mess stuff up and celebrate the good stuff just like any other mom. But I’m not just like any other mom.
This isn’t a “my job is harder than your job” rant, but choosing to combine motherhood with wearing the military uniform has unique aspects. Here are a few things I want you to know about that.
I love my job (well, I love it most days). I’m proud of my service and of being a part of something bigger than me. I didn’t join the military just because I needed a job or because the education benefits were attractive. I joined because I wanted to serve my country. I don’t love my kids less because I love my job and my country.
I have felt imbalanced and torn between my duty to my country and my responsibilities to my family every day for 8,023 days (the number of days I’ve been a mom in uniform). The internet is a wonderful thing; I’m not that smart with numbers. But I looked this up because with a few days off for vacations and stuff like that, I’ve continuously felt conflicted. I manage it. I manage it well, most days. But, it’s there. And sometimes, it’s really hard.
I have missed every holiday and celebration there is, major and minor. I’ve missed everything at least once. Missing Christmas sucks out loud but sometimes it is just as rotten to not be around for Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. I’ve missed days that don’t have a name that are still important: first dance, first menstrual period and one child’s complete potty training, start to finish (okay the potty training one might not have sucked).
I want you to know that while moms in uniform need a strong support system, any support system is second best. We may have stand in’s to go to that band recital or answer that question about sex when we can't be there to take care of mom things. We pick our “B Team”, cross our fingers, hold our breath and say some prayers. (Maybe you light candles, channel fairies or dance nekkid around a bonfire – whatever your thing is.) You accept you can’t control stuff on the home front when you’re not…well…home.
It is hard beyond belief to have no control over when and for how long you can be separated from your kids. Six days. Six weeks. Six months or more. It. is. hard. Yes, I chose this life and have few regrets. This doesn’t make it easy when someone else is tucking your child in at night because you’re halfway across the world.
The phrase “service before self” is as familiar to me as my own name. The military isn’t an inconvenience in my personal mommy world even though my service obligations aren’t always in step with my family’s agenda. I hope my kids will someday understand I wasn’t missing that soccer game because I didn’t want to be there. I hope they are proud of me, even though there were times when they had to share me and didn’t want to. That would be the cherry on top of the sundae (now I want ice cream).
I’m a mom in uniform but I’m also a military spouse, because my husband is a dad in uniform. There are programs in place to take care of the military spouse when her service member deploys. Phone calls, visits, free stuff. Dinners and childcare. Car care. Lawn service. The military community rallies around the spouses of a deployed military member. Sometimes military spouses who are also in the military miss out on this care. The exclusion is probably unintentional but it happens. Yes, we’re tough and yes, we’re used to managing on our own, being both mom and dad. But sometimes, we just need someone to acknowledge that we’re flying solo, too. Don’t forget us.
Don’t feel sorry for me. My life as a mom in uniform isn’t always a cake walk, but what mom can say that? Sometimes my life is pretty darn cool. My kids can say “my mom wears combat boots” and it’s true! Sometimes I need a little encouragement and empathy, but who doesn’t need those things? From this mom in uniform to moms everywhere – I salute you. Thanks for letting me tell you what I wanted you to know.