Hello, and welcome to my brand new Q&A for military spouses, Ask Jen.
But, why would you care what I have to say? Well, you may not. And that's ok! But sometimes, you want to hear from someone who's already been down the road you're traveling. I'm hoping that my experiences and hard-won knowledge can be of some use in your military spouse life.
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Who is Jen McDonald?
I started my military spouse journey nearly three decades ago as an Airman’s wife, unsure and overwhelmed at this unfamiliar world. As the years went on, I served as a Key Spouse, Key Spouse Mentor, and volunteered for spouses’ club boards, deployed family events, and other activities. By the time my husband retired from his 31 years of active duty, we’d visited numerous bases and met with military families to hear their concerns, and I’d served as a volunteer and mentor spouse on the Air Force squadron, group, wing, NAF, and MAJCOM level and briefed at numerous spouse events. We also acted as a mentor couple for Air Force level Chief and Command Chief orientations.
Aside from all that, over the years we raised four amazing children and handled multiple deployments, innumerable TDYs, and over a dozen PCS military moves, including several overseas tours. I’ve juggled the challenges that go along with military life, including complete career changes, and spent years as a stay-at-home mom.
So while I don’t pretend to know everything about military spouse life, I have learned a thing or two from experience, and I’d love to share with you. We're in this together! If I don’t know an answer, I’ll direct you to someone who does or to another resource. I adore my fellow military spouses, so think of this as a chat over coffee!
Ask Jen: Why Can’t I Get Male Spouses to Come to Military Spouse Events?
Just last year, I was at an Air Force senior spouses’ conference round table when this question was posed to me by an attendee, a question I’ve been asked to discuss numerous times.
Q: We know they’re out there, so why can’t we get the male spouses to come to our events?
I’ve been in military spouse groups where male spouses formed a vital part of the group, so I definitely had some thoughts on the topic. But before I could answer, another spouse stepped in and went on a little tirade. What do they expect--I mean, they know they’re invited--are they looking for special treatment...and on and on, finally finishing with this:
We’ve invited male spouses to our clubs and events...do they want us to roll out the red carpet for them?
I was so disappointed in this answer. And every time I think of it, I’m still stunned. After all, about 15% of our active duty military forces are female, and while all aren’t married and many female service members are part of a mil-to-mil couple, there are still a growing number of civilian male military spouses.
At that particular conference, it took me a moment to regroup and form a coherent answer. I'm certain my answer came across a bit heated, because this is an issue I feel strongly about, not to mention we had several male spouses sitting in the audience. So if I sound a little blunt, it's because I am. Here’s some of what I said then and what I stand by.
If you really want male military spouses to attend your events, make them inclusive to ALL.
Take a look at your messaging. Does it scream “all are welcome”? If not, you've got to change it.
I’m talking your spouses’ group website, your social media, your flyers, any of your ‘branding.’ You can’t send invites to your bunco night in a hot pink swirly font and expect it will appeal to anyone other than a certain type. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that type, but you’re trying to appeal to all spouses here.)
In fact, for the love of God, lose the endless Bunco Nights.
And the “Little Black Dress” outings or the like. Those are better for subgroups of your main group or a private gathering.
Seriously, please remove the wording “wives” from any of your flyers, titles, handouts, etc. You would think I wouldn’t have to even say this in 2018, but a friend recently showed me an invite she’d received from her husband's unit titled “Wives’ Coffee.”
Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do.
On that note--be sure to host nighttime as well as daytime events.
If you’re an event planner for your FRG, unit spouses’ group, or whatever iteration it takes in your service branch, remember that many spouses, male or female, have their own careers going and will never be able to attend a daytime gathering. Don’t immediately cut out that group by only planning daytime events. Plan activities at a variety of times: play groups for parents at home, evening get-togethers, etc.
ASK male spouses what they want.
One male member of a base spouses' group I was part of suggested Football Frenzy and tailgate parties for our fall activities schedule. They were a hit for everyone! Another planned an evening at a great gastro pub.
Ask men to serve on your spouses’ group boards or simply extend an invite to come to an upcoming event. Don’t patronize or act like you’re doing them a favor, but make a point to actively include male spouses in your group’s planning. (And men, please take them up on the offer!) We’re stronger overall as military spouses when everyone is respected and included, and they will probably have ideas you've never thought about.
They’ll probably find each other, but if you know several male spouses, make sure to connect them with each other. Point them to existing resources for male spouses, such as Macho Spouse.
Treat everyone with kindness and respect.
Whether female, male, gay, straight--all spouses should feel welcome in the greater military family. Be that person who makes the change and transforms the look of our spouses' clubs and groups to better reflect modern day life.
We all like to joke that our ‘clubs are not our mother’s clubs’ and we’ve lost the garden parties and white gloves, but we need to go farther than that. (In fact, I suspect that in ten or so years, our military spouse clubs will look completely different than they do now, but that is a topic for another post…)
Often, others see a military couple and assume the male is active duty and respond negatively when they find out differently. I wish that wasn’t so. You and I can change this! When my kids were younger, I took them to the base pool on a summer weekday and saw a dad corralling his small ones in the kiddie pool. I’d seen him before and noticed other moms stayed in their little groups and skirted him, whether unconsciously or not. I struck up a conversation and found out he was a brand new stay-at-home dad who was unable to find work at this overseas location (and all military spouses can relate to that!!). We ended up exchanging BBQ recipes and potty training tips like all young parents and often met at the park or pool for our kids to play. He was truly just another parent trying to make it through the slog days of summer, and was lonely and feeling unsure like many military spouses do, having just moved there. So, reach out! Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, military families have so much more in common than what divides us and we need to support each other.
For more info about supporting male military spouses:
- Macho Spouse
- Male Military Spouses: “Invisible” Family Members?
- Military OneSource: Life as a Male Military Spouse
- Military Spouse Magazine Our Pride Is the Same: Life as a Male Military Spouse
Maybe one day this won’t even need to be a conversation. I hope so. Until then, be kind, reach out, be human, and treat others how you’d want to be treated.
If you're a male military spouse or part of a spouses' group, I'd love to hear your comments! How have you helped your milspouse group be more inclusive? We need you to be part of our groups and speak up for the changes that need to happen.
Have a question or comment for Jen? Leave a comment, click here to send it via form, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows? I may answer YOUR question in an upcoming column!