going back to work. Mom and daughter sit at a table while mom works.
Parenting

The Working Mom Military Spouse

Let me be clear, this is not a post about why I decided to go back to work. Honestly, the reasons are irrelevant because for any stay-at-home mom (SAHM) on the precipice of making this decision, the reasons will vary.

I want to talk about how I decided to go back to work. Because quite honestly, pulling the trigger on a decision like this is hard.

Let me back up.

I was always a career girl. Before I married my husband, I had invested five solid years into a blooming career in political communications. Then I fell in love with a Soldier. Fast forward through five moves, give or take nine jobs, and there I found myself as a SAHM to a spunky newborn in rural Germany. Though I relished the break from full-time work, I threw myself into volunteer work as a substitute; and I knew deep down I would go back at some point.

Sidebar…this is by no means a referendum on whether SAHMs, especially military spouses, should or shouldn’t work.

I’ve walked in your shoes. I’ve been a career woman dating a Soldier, a working military spouse, an unemployed military spouse, a stay-at-home military spouse, a SAHM military spouse, and now a working-mom military spouse. I am by no means an expert, nor have I experienced every experience. But I’ve seen a lot.

Because I’ve seen many sides, and most recently decided to assume the new role as a working-mom military spouse, I want to talk about my decision-making process to help those of you considering whether you should do the same.

This is my advice to you:

  1. Weigh the cost 

Daycare is expensive. Ordering take-out after a long day at work because your energy is sapped is expensive. A new wardrobe is expensive. And aside from the financial costs, there are emotional ones. How will I feel going to work? More importantly, how will I feel after work? If work is a burden on your emotional and mental health, it’s not worth it. If you come home energized, excited and professionally fulfilled…it won’t matter what your take-home pay is.

2. Find the right job

Just because it’s a good job offer doesn’t mean it’s the right job for you at that particular time. Don’t be lured by dollar signs. If you have any hesitations or if you notice any red flags, hold out for the right opportunity. And manage your expectations! I was fortunate enough to be offered a part-time, flexible contract job doing marketing for a local organization. At the time, I was disappointed because I expected to land a full-time gig. But once I saw the flexibility in a part-time schedule, I understood the value of rearranging my expectations. Be open to all kinds of offers and situations.

3. Accept that you may never LOVE your job

You just have to love it enough. You probably had some amazing jobs in the past. But the love you have for your spouse and kids is insurmountable to anything else. This makes it impossible to love a job now as much as you may have before you had kids, or even before you were married. When I looked at what I loved about my favorite jobs in the past – the travel, attending fabulous events on the weekend, dictating how I used my time off – I realized all of these things would either impact our family now or be impacted by our family.

4. Embrace the guilt

Working outside the home does not eliminate the guilt you felt as a SAHM. The guilt you feel as a SAHM (spending money you aren’t making, letting the kids watch too much T.V., ordering take-out because you were too tired to cook) morphs into a different type of guilt (“I can’t believe I didn’t accomplish anything at work today and the kids were at day care for nine hours”). As women, and particularly mothers, we have to face the fact that we will always feel a certain level of guilt; it’s just the context of the guilt that changes.

5. Know that everything may still fall on you

You’re still living at the mercy of the military. So steel yourself to do all of the drop-offs, pick-ups, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework, discipline, bath time, etc. despite having a job too. Know you will likely be the day care’s first call when Sally gets pink eye or Johnny is vomiting profusely. Don’t expect your service member to turn into a magical unicorn who has a say in splitting everything 50/50. You need to fully accept this before you even look for a job. You don’t want to resent your spouse in the end. To their credit, it’s not their fault. They may want to help you with all the life things in the new world order, but the military does not share the same priorities as you.

Though I found a good job that works for our current situation, I’ll be honest. The days can feel long, and I feel guilty on the especially busy ones when I miss a milestone or forget to check the daycare app. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed trying to balance it all. We eat a lot more Trader Joe’s.

Yet it’s been beneficial in other ways. I am more present with our daughter because I know our time together is so limited. My husband has stepped up when his schedule allows it to share some of the daily responsibilities. Our daughter is thriving in a school environment I could never have replicated at home. And I feel fulfilled professionally, with a creative outlet that I didn’t have as a SAHM.

Weighing the decision to go back to work is tough. But as military families we are conditioned to be resilient, embrace change and face the unknown head on. Whatever you decide, know that your family is capable of adapting to a “new normal” and overcoming any challenges. It’s what we do.

Tell us! Did you recently go back to work after a break? What advice would you add to Kristine’s list?

 

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