Military Spouse (Un)Employment
This was a tough, but timely, read for me. Jason and I have been married less than a year and our lives have changed so much since we said "I do." The biggest group of changes since that beautiful April day was me becoming a civilian, business owning, military spouse in a foreign country. Fish out of water does not even scratch the surface of how I felt the day Jason told me his next billet would be out here in Okinawa, Japan. Livid is perhaps more accurate. I was in such a state because I knew the giant life changes that were coming my way in the employment realm and navigating them in a foreign country seemed entirely too scary to add to the mix. I heard all of my valid, panicked, well-founded, irrational concerns echo throughout Silent Sacrifice on the Homefront. The amazing military spouse friends I have gained out here in Japan have lived versions of the reality Michelle Still Mehta presents in this bravely candid book. Much like my new friends do not represent the entire community of their respective services, her book is not an comprehensive look into the military spouse community then or now. These are the stories of the group of women she selected to interview for her dissertation while living in Germany for her husband's assignment. While it is not exhaustive insight, the book is hugely relatable.
Michelle begins her book by telling her story and giving some statistics that were accurate at the time. I wanted to see what changes have occurred since then and I was sadly not surprised by what I found. Michelle cited data from the DoD 2015 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community report. I found the 2017 publication and on page 128 it references the data from 2015 and the change since - the spouse unemployment rate has increased from 23% to 24%. You are thinking "Sarah, that isn't an earth shattering change." You are right, at first glance it is not a noteworthy change but when you consider that between 2010 and 2015 the rate had decreased from 26% to 23% any increase is a big deal. And when compared to the current national unemployment rate of 4% that 24% seems gigantic and discouraging.
Michelle wrote this book, and pursued her doctorate, not to be a "Debbie downer" but to bring awareness to the disparity between the civilian and military unemployment rate. She says:
Military life has not been designed to support our careers, regardless of how many well-intentioned programs attempt to mitigate this reality. We are fighting an uphill battle, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice absolutely everything, and you don't have to sacrifice who you are. The message of this book is to be thoughtful about fitting the pieces of your life together into a complementary whole: your career, your marriage, your family, and your military life. pg. 9
She identifies three primary roles in a military spouse's life that compete but, if balanced, can be the key to "maintaining a satisfying and successful career...that fits with all the other primary roles in one's life" pg. 13. She calls the roles The 3M's and they are: Marriage, Motherhood, and Military Life. The ladies in the book, my community here, and I have experienced the balancing act with varying degrees of success in our military spouse journeys. We have found ways to thrive in many different arenas, but continued awareness and change must still be brought to this drastic difference between civilian unemployment and the military spouse world. We will explore Michelle's 3M's, and her questions for reflection, in the next post on April 12th. For now, I want to leave you with quotes from the ladies of her book in hopes that they resonate with you on some level - a similar story, one a friend has told you, something you hope to never experience, one that brings you hope, one that opens your eyes to a previously unknown struggle.
"At work, people are looking at you to do your job. And when you're at home, you're trying to get people to look at you...you're trying to get someone to acknowledge that you're doing something of worth." pg. 22
"It takes your identity away and puts it on him. I'd been a military spouse, but I'd never been the military dependent spouse." pg. 43
"To have a career, not just a job, is something that's very challenging as a military spouse. There's what you would like, and then there's what the reality is and what you can get. And a lot of the times those two things don't jive. So, I feel like I'm stuck settling." pg. 56
"I felt like a good stay-at-home mom, and this is a real job too. I just don't get paid." pg. 87
"It's like I'm a married, single mom...I'm married, but I'm a single mom because he's always gone." pg. 98
"I'm proud of my husband, and I'm proud of the military and what they're doing. So it's a small sacrifice that I can do for them." pg. 99
"I feel like my self-esteem is such that I don't feel any depression about myself as a person. But I definitely feel a little bit lost, like there's no set structure to the day." pg. 123
"What's life about if it's not working or helping others? If I had children, maybe that [is] helping someone else...You're raising a new person. That would be satisfying. But what am I accomplishing by not working? I don't feel like I should be able to just do whatever I want just because my husband makes a good enough salary that I don't have to work." pg. 134
"Every time you PCS, your life is in pieces and you have to start all over again." pg. 146
"I've been able to have such great friendships and meet some of the most amazing people, and become part of such an amazing family." pg. 163
I would love hear from you! Please comment below, send me an email, or connect on social media to let me know how this book reached you. Come back on April 12th to read about Michelle's 3M's and how to apply them to your life. You can pick up a copy of her book from her website http://stillmehta.com/