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A Different Perspective on Roles and Responsibilities in a Military Family

Nickola Fam

I don’t often write about our military life; partly for security and partly because I just usually don’t think of it as being unique or noteworthy.  I often take for granted that being a military family is really a good gig.  Unlike others, I feel like there are very few things that make it harder than the average American.  I like the tough stuff: the moves, the changes, the new friends.  My perspective is rare, though, since I  tend compare our lives to those of family’s throughout the world that we’ve visited on our travels – people with no running water or limited electricity – instead of comparing to a ‘regular’ American family like most folks.   I grew up as an Air Force brat, though, so my perspective is often wildly unconventional.  We lived overseas.  A lot.

My life was very in and on the base.  I grew up in this environment that valued hard work ethic, that had people of all shades and genders and backgrounds being paid on the same pay scale, wearing the same uniforms, getting the same healthcare, performing the same duties, and getting the same housing.  My world didn’t discriminate; at least in my view as a child. Obviously, we were missing some key members of a real community: elderly, impaired, or (at that time) people of non-conforming  gender.  But, and I speak with the general strokes of child, it was a childhood that presented equality as the norm. My friends were so varied and came from such different parts of the USA, that I was naive to racial or socioeconomic tension back in the states.  And, contrary to popular belief, military members have quite varied political stances.

My point is, that I grew up in the military immersed in an environment where everyone had the skills and education to be independent, but chose to commit to a community of shared purpose and value.  Everyone – both men and women, active duty and dependents, were strong resilient individuals taking on all the roles as parents, homemakers, and employees.  Again, these were my observations as a child; the things I really took to heart that looked perfect and glossy.

With a childhood like that, I never expected when I got married that I would ever need to rely on my husband to do, well, anything.  I fully expected that I would need to be able to parent solo, run the household, hold down a job, fix things, handle problems, and manage finances.  I expected there would be times when I was going to be the one responsible for all things adulting in this relationship.  There would be times he simply would not be around, whether physically gone on deployment or TDY, or mentally drained, or on such an odd schedule that it would be inconsiderate for me to rely on him. I had seen many family’s with one or both parents in the military, and this is how they ran smoothly.  My attitude toward the purpose of married partners is simply that we are in this for the relationship – for the love, the companionship, the commitment to sharing of a life together – not for being assigned roles and duties.

OF COURSE, my husband is dependable and reliable and responsible and fixes stuff often when I am incapable. He digs really good holes in minutes compared to my hours.  I can fully depend on him to do all those things and more if I ask; I just don’t expect it.  Big difference.  There are times when he becomes the one responsible for all things adult.  In fact, I fully believe he can also say of me the entirety of the previous paragraph. Neither of us has the expectation that there are roles to play in this relationship; we assume the roles necessary at the time. We are both capable of any role, and because of that when real life happens and one of us needs to do more work than the other we aren’t bitter, we aren’t judgmental, we don’t begrudge each other the task at hand, because we never put those expectations on our partner.

This kind of understanding is necessary for most relationships, in my view, but really essential for those in the military.  He needs to be completely at ease with my skills in handling the house and the life of our kids while he is gone; my dealing with things on the homefront should never be a stressor for him downrange.  Likewise, I never stress about him handling these same things if I am away.  He is an amazing parent and homemaker.  I don’t concern myself with his job or daily life either on the homefront or when he is downrange; he is a skilled fighter pilot and a grown man who is trustworthy and intelligent.  He has been given the training and practice necessary for his duties and will handle any good or bad situation that comes.  I DO NOT worry about him. I miss him, but not because he can open the peanut butter better than me, but because I love him.

It isn’t always perfect; resentful feelings occasionally do come up, but in those moments I always need to remind myself that my life is my choice.  I cannot resent my husband for choices I made – I can use my skills and education at a job (paid or otherwise),  I can go on a trip to somewhere I’ve always dreamed of, I can write a book, whatever the issue is I can take care of it.  Sometimes this takes lots of time and work, but in the end it’s always my choice to be content and it’s only my perspective that is holding me back.  He, also, does not resent me and instead supports my choices and goals. I cannot resent my husband for choices the Air Force makes on his behalf, either… again, it was my choice to join him in this life; its also my choice to have a perspective and an attitude of positivity.  And when we can’t handle it, we use the resources at hand; every base offers counselling via the Military Family Life Counseling (MFLC – pronounced mif-lick).   We’ve used it; confidential, helpful, and free.

I got to thinking about all this; about how military family members are, by nature or necessity, self-contained, because this year we had a glimpse into what civilian life is like for many Americans.  My husband grew up within a 10 mile radius of lots of family and never moved locations (just houses), so he had to adjust more than I when we were first married.  Since then, the closest our family has ever lived was when we were stationed in southern Georgia; they lived in central Pennsylvania.  It was a good two day drive.  We have been, by my nature and by necessity, independent forces.

Now that we are back in the USA after years overseas, my parents decided to come visit for an extended stay.  They got their own little apartment and became…. neighbors. And for a month, it was life changing. All of those things Bryan and I take upon ourselves were able to be shared out a bit. We shared biking to the grocery, we shared homeschooling the kids, we shared driving to activities, we even shared meals! If we wanted a date, the babysitting was free. If I had a doctor appointment, I didn’t need to bring my children.  If I simply wanted to grocery shop alone, I could!  It was such a luxury, and really eye opening how different our military life is.

I have to say, though, that the best part of the month with Nan and Grandpa Joe was that they were simply here.  They lived in our town.  We could see them in less than 10 minutes.  My children could have a relationship with their grandparents that I never had, and I could foster my relationship with my parents. Do not take such things for granted if you have them.

Not long after they arrived, my siblings decided to visit as well.  It was like a family invasion, but fun.  Bryan and I needed to be out of town that weekend for a squadron function, so mom and dad took the kids, picked people up at the airport, showed everyone around, and took care of our place.  It was seamless, when that weekend would’ve taken lots of logistical planning without them. We came home to a happily full house and loved every busy minute.  Now they have all been gone for a few months and I still wonder at the difference; not goods or bads, but just how different our military lives really must be.  It’s all I’ve known, but its taken 40 years for me to figure out that my perspective on life and relationships and responsibilities is really quite unique.




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