Memorial Day—the “unofficial kickoff of Summer”— is a wonderful three-day weekend for most American families. But for military families, the national holiday, which memorializes those who lost their lives in service to the nation, holds special significance.
We (Jill and Liz, co-founders of Motherly) are military wives. Our husbands are both are graduates of the United States Naval Academy, and each served multiple deployments in far-flung corners of the globe. Liz’s husband Colin still serves the Navy Reserves; Jill’s husband Pete was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2014. Many of our friends remain on active duty around the world, and we are holding them and all military families, particularly those who have lost their loved ones in military service, in our hearts this weekend.
As Americans observe Memorial Day, we’re sharing research and wisdom from military spouses.
Here’s four things that military wives want you to know:
1. They’re damn resilient, but they are also human
After more than a decade of war, many military families have experienced the separation and stress of repeated dangerous deployments to war zones and support missions. Military spouses and experts note that many families have found meaning and purpose in the service member’s work, a value system that helps to build resilience in these families. “Many Army families savor the positives, survive the hardships, and blossom into resilient families within an often demanding environment,” one report found.
However, researchers also note that “some families, especially young families, are bombarded by stressors that overwhelm already meager personal resources.” Military spouses (95% of military spouses are wives) experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than civilians, particularly when their spouses are deployed to dangerous situations. Their children also struggle and many plan their military careers in ways that help give their children maximum possible stability. But the reality is that for most military families, moving every two-to-three years can be the norm. A sizable number of spouses struggle to find flexible work that accommodates the constant uprooting. Despite all of that, military spouses remain symbols of strength for many Americans, and for good reason. They have to do it all on the home front, often under high stress, and with little appreciation.
Want to help a military spouse during a deployment? Writes Army wife and journalist Kate Shellnut, “Instead of saying, ‘tell me if you need anything,’ be there to recognize a family’s needs and make specific offers.”
2. They’re bringing sexy back
Okay, so this one is less serious, but have you ever tried to cram nine months of alone time with your partner into one week-long leave session? HOT. Military wives do it all the time. (Literally.) Military spouses fell in love with a person who happened to be in the military, so they find ways to work their love lives around this reality. Speaking of: Have you ever tried to bring an XL luggage bag full of lingerie and chic new outfits to your first visit with your spouse in nearly six months only to have the airline lose your bag and then wind up wearing your husband’s military sweatshirt around Europe for seven days straight? Okay, me neither. Let’s just say military wives know how to bring it. As long as Swiss Airlines cooperates. (Read more ‘Sexually Deprived Spouse Confessions’ at MilitarySpouse.com)
3. They’re independent
Military vernacular might refer to the spouses and children of service members as “dependents,” but wives are often models of independence that would do Beyonce proud. Try complaining to a military wife that your husband is away for a week-long work trip! Ha. Ha. Ha. Not funny.In addition to having to move frequently, military spouses are accustomed to finding new friends, homes, schools and jobs in new cities. They know how to function alone (even if they’d rather be with their partner) and form informal and structural support groups to help one another along. Many wives and partners, often unable to find permanent employment in their new temporary homes, instead generously volunteer with military support organizations, sharing what they’ve learned with others. Go girl.
4. The sacrifice is real
Military spouses sacrifice. Some spouses sacrifices everything.
“Military wives earn 25% less than their civilian counterparts,” one government study found. Many put their own personal and professional ambitions on hold in service to the country in a role that is crucial and yet under-appreciated in American life. The sacrifice is very tangible in the daily lives of military wives.
But for some military spouses, whose partners have been profoundly injured or killed in service to the country, life will never be the same. Most recent numbers from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) shows just how vast the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been on American service members and their families. This Memorial Day, we’re remembering each spouse, father, child behind the numbers. For more about the lives lost, read ‘Faces of the Fallen,’ at The Washington Post.