My husband and I have been talking about when he will retire for good. He retired from the Navy in 2008, and now we’re looking forward to permanent retirement.

navy and marine corp flags on lawn
Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

That sounds intimidating and a bit scary – “permanent.”

I remember when he retired in 2008. We thought we walked into that experience with our eyes wide open. At the time, he was stationed at the Navy Yard in D.C., and he already had a job lined up. It was exciting to think of having retirement pay and a “real” job. We planned to stay in the area and have a house built. The world was our oyster.

Then we changed our minds.

The reality was, we had what looked good, but we weren’t happy. We came from an area where life was much simpler, laid back, and easier on the wallet. Did we want to stay in beautiful, fast-paced, and expensive Northern Virginia?

The problem wasn’t where we were. It just wasn’t the place for us.

Retirement expectations

military rank badge on pile of moneyI hear a lot of people saying they want to move back home when they retire from the military. I want to challenge that with this question – what are your expectations?

We left Northern Virginia and headed back to our last duty station in West Tennessee. It wasn’t home – that was either Florida (house insurance was too high) or middle Tennessee. But when we had moved to the D.C. area, we had left our oldest daughter behind to go to college in Memphis. So it seemed logical to move back.

We knew the area, we knew the schools, we knew people. What didn’t we know?

An uncomfortable truth. When you leave an area, many people forget you. Your network – whether it’s the spouse’s friends or the active duty person’s working relationships – just don’t exist anymore.

The first six months

Those first six months were tough! To start with, our household goods got held up somewhere in Ohio for several weeks. We would call about them, and they would say, “I hear an echo.” Well, of course – we had no furniture! We slept on airbeds (thank God I was younger then!).

My husband had reached out to former colleagues and tried to network even before we left Virginia, but nothing happened. It was just before Christmas when he finally got a part-time job at a department store.

In civilian life, they don’t recognize what you’ve been in the military like you think they would or should. You expect to be awarded “points” for the 22+ years you’ve given your country, but the civilian world doesn’t work that way.

I’m not being negative, just pragmatic. It’s something we wish we’d understood before we retired. If you retire and stay in that area, you have a built-in network of people and job opportunities that you just don’t have when you move after retiring.

What about the kids?

We have five kids, and when my husband retired we had four still living with us. One had graduated in Virginia and the other three were in elementary and middle school.

We moved in the summer, and I had bought and packed up all the younger kids’ school supplies and backpacks. I thought they would be delivered just in time for school. Wrong! School starts in early August where we live now, and like I said, our belongings were somewhere in Ohio. I had to break down and buy basic supplies until ours were finally delivered.

Several years later, I found this box in our attic that was still taped up. I opened it and guess what? School supplies! Crayons (melted, frozen, melted, frozen), pencils, paper, and notebooks! I had to laugh. It was kind of like school supply Christmas!

Back to the kids – they had expectations also. Have you ever heard this: expectations are premeditated resentments? Well, my kiddos expected to fall back into their previous life when we retired. That didn’t happen, and I had some angry kids. It was tough on them just like my husband and me.

A new normal

I think what I’m trying to say here is that you have to find a new normal when you retire. What you expect may very well not happen. It’s good to have plans and dream about your future. Please don’t misunderstand me. Just try to be realistic and ready to roll with the punches, so to speak.

Things will be different. For one thing, the active duty member won’t be wearing the same clothes anymore. That was a big surprise to both of us! I actually mourned that. I never expected that to bother me. I even wrote an op-ed piece for the Navy Times about it.

It’s a balancing act

For us, it’s been twelve years since my husband retired from the military with tons of changes. Some were good while others were difficult. Our kids have all graduated from high school. Four have attended college, and the fifth just started in fall 2020. We have grandkids now who live 30 minutes away. My husband worked for the state for almost six years and now works on base. I was able to homeschool our youngest three until they graduated, and now I’m an adjunct instructor for the local community college.

Life is good.

As Terrell Owens said, ‘If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.’ And that’s so true.

couple sitting together looking at the sunset
Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Do your research. Dream your dreams. Have realistic expectations. Cherish the fact that you’ve served your country. Go into retirement with your eyes wide open and looking reality dead in the eyes.

And enjoy life – the new life you choose to make.

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Jen Dodrill is a Navy brat from a long line of Navy brats. Born in Virginia, she moved to the Florida panhandle in 6th grade. After vowing to never date a Navy guy, she moved to Nashville, TN where she met and fell in love with Eddie who was - you guessed it - in the delayed-entry-program for the Navy. They met in June, married the following February, and over 35 years later are still sweethearts. They moved back to West Tennessee in 2008 after his retirement. Jen stayed home to raise their 5 kids, and she homeschooled the youngest three. The “baby” graduated in 2020, but Jen refuses to bow to empty-nest syndrome! She teaches Oral Communication as an adjunct instructor for Dyersburg State Community College and blogs at Jen Dodrill History at Home. Jen also writes curriculum under History at Home at TeachersPayTeachers and Boom Learning! When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her kids and adorable granddaughters. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her favorite place – Pinterest! You can also visit her site "History at Home" at www.jendodrillhistoryathome.com