By Danielle DeSimone
They’re your neighbors, your teachers, your coworkers, your friends. They’re people you see and talk to every day and yet somehow, there is still a civilian-military drift – a natural disconnect and lack of understanding between those who have served in the military or their military families, and those whom they defend, who may have never served or may not know or be related to anyone who has.
That drift can be a challenge for many military families when interacting with civilian friends and family members. Want to know what life is really like for today’s service members, husbands, wives and children? Here are five things you need to know about military families.
1. They’re Like You
Surprise! Military families are not that different from civilian families. It’s easy to believe military family stereotypes about strict households, high unemployment or even a lack of identity beyond the military, but many of these assumptions are false.
Military families are made up of caring, fun-loving and dedicated husbands, wives, children and pets that are not that different from civilian families – they just work around a career that creates a different lifestyle. At the core of what matters when building a family, military families are just like their neighbors. Also, not all military spouses are women.
2. Deployments are Difficult
It might seem like military spouses have their lives together and are handling deployment like champions and the truth is, yes, they probably are. However, deployments are also incredibly challenging for service members, their spouses and their children. Just because the deployment of a service member is “normal” for military families doesn’t make it any easier.
For military spouses, deployments mean 6-18 months away from their husband or wife, who can sometimes be in an unknown or unsafe location. For military children, deployments mean months without a parent or authority figure around. For the entire military family, it means adjusting to a new normal of single-parenting, missed baby deliveries, countdown calendars and an empty chair at the dinner table. When the service member finally returns, even that can take some adjustment and time to get settled in again.
Deployment is a tough time for both the service member and their family, which is why having a helping hand or even just a patient, listening ear from military and civilian friends can make all the difference for military spouses and their children during that time of separation.
3. They’re Always the New Kid
An inevitable part of military life is moving often. Most military families move every 2 to 3 years, and some even more frequently. For a military child, it’s possible to have moved 10 times by the time they’re 12, and to change schools 6 to 9 times between kindergarten and high school graduation – it’s just what happens in the military. Although the military community (and the USO) has programs in place to support military families when they move, it can still be disorienting and challenging to move that often, both for the military spouse who’s making sure all the boxes are packed, and for the military kids who have to say goodbye to close friends.
Being a part of a military family means always starting over and being the new kids on the block. Military families understand that mailing addresses are never permanent, and they must be ready to move anywhere in the world. Although challenging, moving so often also means that military spouses and military kids live all over the country and the world. They are adaptable to new situations and often skilled at making new friends.
4. LinkedIn for Beginners
Moving so often can make it difficult for military spouses to stay on a consistent career path. Not only do most spouses have to switch jobs every 2 to 3 years, which gives little room for professional growth or establishment in a company, some companies shy away from hiring military spouses because they know that they will eventually be leaving.
A career on the road is not for everyone, so this leaves many spouses with limited employment options. However, an increasing number of companies have now built business models specifically around hiring military spouses to support the military community, and the USO has developed its own USO Military Spouse Networking Program.
Through USO Military Spouse Networking events, the USO welcomes up to 50 military spouses and local hiring employers, community leaders and organizations that are interested in hiring or supporting military spouses. Spouses go home from these events with customized business cards, a prepared professional elevator pitch, and many new connections in the surrounding community.
The USO also offers programs such as USO Pathfinder, where service members and their spouses receive advice and support when transitioning out of the military and into civilian life.
5. Balancing Act
Being a part of a military family is always a balancing act. Sometimes, “the job” must come first, and other times family is the top priority. But at the end of the day, when a service member joins the military, their family joins with them. Service members, military spouses and military kids all understand that this life comes with unique challenges and scary moments but working together as a family means that the service member can fulfill the oath they made to defend their country and its people.
Editor’s Note: Danielle DeSimone is the USO’s marketing content specialist and grew up in a U.S. Navy household as a military child.