The Military Didn't Issue a Spouse: Balancing Volunteering with Your Regular Life
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Unknown
Phew, I thought, as intermission was called. I’d made it through the formal part of the dinner. My husband and I were seated at the head table, where he’d acted as the guest speaker for the Airman Leadership School graduation. Proud of him and apparently a little too giddy over making it through the meal without dropping a fork or forcing some other awkward moment, I leaned forward to shake hands with the commanding general...promptly knocking over my water glass with my other wayward hand!
Thankfully, he was a kind person who helped me mop up my mess. I even laughed a little. The picture of the 1950s type white-gloved, genteel military spouse I am most decidedly not, and I’ve learned to laugh at myself as I never know when I might a) trip over a threshold entering a receiving line, b) leave food between my teeth, or c) talk too loudly.
My inner klutz always finds a way to shine through! The only comfort I can find in this is that others have told me that my “normalness” has helped them feel more at ease. I will take that, especially as these scenarios tend to occur on alarmingly regular basis.
The longer your spouse is in the military, the greater the likelihood that you’ll have the opportunity to attend a military spouses’ conference or training, whether it’s Key Spouses, commanders or senior enlisted spouses’ courses, or something else.
The military acknowledges the role that spouses fill and invests time, money, and training into helping us do that well. Thankfully, the days of learning napkin folding and flower arranging seem to be behind us! Courses these days are more focused on helping us deal with the real-life scenarios we'll face such as deployed family issues, tragedy assistance, and helping new spouses adjust to military life.
There were years that I lamented my lack of time to be involved in volunteering for the military community. Caring for our family, holding down the fort while my husband was gone, and the kids’ activities were more than enough of a job for those years. So I never want to put pressure on anyone to volunteer or be more involved than they’re comfortable with.
That said, many spouses have admitted to me that they feel an unspoken expectation to be visible or volunteer. Please, take a little bit of unsolicited advice from me: let that go and only do what you want.
And if you do desire to be involved? Find a cause that inspires you! Is it supporting deployed families? Volunteering at your child’s school? Something else entirely? Through the years, I’ve served on boards and later been an adviser to spouses’ groups, supported unit activities, and helped with booster clubs and organizing meals for new moms. It has just depended on the base, my available time, and how much or little help is needed.
You, too, will likely have the opportunity to volunteer in some capacity during your years as a military spouse if you so desire. It can be so rewarding and the options are endless!
But how do you balance that role against your own commitments?
Whether you’re a new or veteran spouse, you may feel pressure to be involved. Understand that if someone is telling you that you’re required to volunteer, they’re simply wrong. Whatever you choose to do is just that...your choice! If you opt to volunteer and help out military families, more power to you! If you don’t find yourself with the time right now, that is okay, too. Those of us who have been around the block a time or six completely understand: life is all about seasons.
Whatever you choose to do--or not do--within the military spouse community, here are some guidelines that may serve you well.
Be kind. The power of simple kindness is sorely underrated in this era of social media and instant feedback. A smile or kind word can make such a difference to others. (“Do to others what you’d have them do to you.” Luke 6:31).
Be yourself. You don’t have to change who you are simply because you’re a military spouse! The unique qualities and experiences you bring to the table are enough.
Don’t gossip. This rarely turns out well. Have a trusted friend or two to vent to, but realize in the small military world, your words may come back to haunt you.
Don’t burn yourself out. The saying “How do you get something done? Ask a busy person!” has a ring of truth to it, but it’s not necessarily healthy for the busy person.
Choose one or two things and do them well. As I mentioned above, one hint on what might be the best place to serve would be the answer to the question, What are you most passionate about? By limiting yourself to your strong points, you give others the chance to step up, too.
Take your cues from the military member. Ask your spouse what’s important to them. You may be surprised at the answer! The events and activities that are important to my husband are usually much less than what I’d thought I ought to be doing (or even what pressure others have brought to bear). At the end of the day, your own spouse’s opinion is more important than what so-and-so’s spouse thinks.
Do what you can and let the rest go. Permission granted to lay aside unnecessary guilt. Whether you choose to be involved in your military community a little, a lot, or not at all, make your decision and go on with your life!
Some final thoughts to ponder:
- Begin to see your activities as the ministry to others they can be. Such simple things as being available to drop a meal off to a new mom or making a quick phone call or email to check on a deployed spouse may mean more than you realize.
- Take inventory of your volunteering. It’s easy to get caught up in busyness and neglect your own personal and family life ending up replacing the best with the good. Is there an activity you need to let go of?
Excerpted from my book, You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse.