But I'm a Strong, Powerful Woman...
Many military wives are inspired by the image of Rosie the Riveter. We identify with this icon of women on the home front during the World War II era. I love that picture of strength and the “can-do” attitude of American women. My grandmother was one of those left behind. Brand newlyweds, my grandfather was shipped off to Europe shortly after finding out they were pregnant with their first child. They had no idea how long they’d be apart, and when (or if) he’d return home.
She moved back in with her parents for the duration, and gave birth to a son—my father. My grandfather didn’t see his firstborn until he was 18 months old. (And I think we've had long separations!) Grandma worked in a telegraph office, kept a Victory Garden, and did all the things folks did during that time to scrimp and save and help the troops overseas. When she would tell the stories about this time when I was growing up, it was very matter of fact, without a hint of self-pity. Just the facts. I can only imagine how difficult those years of uncertainty must’ve been for her. She’s my hero.
So with the picture of women like this or Rosie in our minds, what happens when a spouse is truly struggling? There have been some tragic stories in recent times of young wives crumbling under the weight of deployment and separation, and abusing or neglecting their own children. We’ve all known women who spent their husband’s deployment partying or acting as if they were single again. Some can argue that we’re spoiled Americans, that we’re simply not used to being deprived of what we want, when we want it. Probably some truth to that, but what about the spouse who is trying her best, yet who can barely put one foot in front of another and is too ashamed to admit she is not doing well and could use some help?
For those of us who have been around the block a few times, I have some suggestions.
Drop the “been there-done that” attitude.
Sometimes we veteran spouses are too quick to swap our war stories or one-up each other. Yes, women love to talk! And it’s like comparing labor and birth stories. “Oh you had an eight-hour labor? Well, I had a 36-hour labor, which ended in a C-section!” It can be good fun to vent at times, but look around you. If you’re so busy regaling others with what you’ve been through, a young spouse may be too fearful to admit she is struggling and doesn’t know how she’s going to do this One. More. Day. And remember, this isn’t a competition. The gal with the worst story doesn’t win.
Don’t focus so much on being tough.
Are we too quick to say (or have an attitude of) “Just put on your big girl panties and get over it?” By our words or actions, are we conveying that another’s struggles aren’t worth speaking about? I am all for personal responsibility, for being strong and independent, for attempting to keep my sense of humor, for laughing at ridiculous circumstances (Murphy's law when hubby is gone), but… I hope I have never made it impossible for someone to speak up who was truly floundering and in need of more than a laugh or “atta girl” speech. And for ourselves—have we unwittingly created an atmosphere in which it is a failure to admit we need help? Are we so focused on being strong that we don’t allow ourselves to admit when we could use a helping hand?
Give yourself permission to relax.
There is no shame in admitting you need a breather. Hire a sitter for a few hours, take naps when possible, build in time alone. Be proactive vs. reactive. Some of us need to have time with friends; others must have quiet to recharge. Whatever it is you need, create time and space to meet those needs. You do not get a reward for being a martyr and not caring for yourself while your spouse is deployed! (What? There’s no medal for that??)
Do you know the resources available to you?
If you (or someone you know) are struggling, are you aware of the confidential counseling that is available through the Military Family Life Counselors located on most installations? MFLCS are also available for Guard and Reserve families. Military OneSource lists confidential services, including non-medical counseling and specialty consultations, often at no cost. There are also international options.
Do you know your chaplain or a counselor familiar with military family struggles that you can turn to for help? Sometimes, just talking a couple of times is enough to get you over the hump. Other times, it’s not enough and they can refer you for medical help, if you need it. It is no shame.
I’ve held a friend’s hand in the ER as her world unraveled, and she was admitted to the psychiatric unit. You wouldn’t hesitate to take medication for a heart problem or diabetes. Please. Don’t discount warning signs that signify the need for further medical help or intervention. Be a friend to others…but don’t forget to also be kind to yourself.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
(image credit: historicalstockphotos.com)