In honor of Mother’s Day, we interviewed a military mom from each of the past eight decades. We enjoyed hearing what has changed and what has stayed the same. From fads to parenting techniques to timeless advice, moms have an opinion on it all. In addition, each interviewee holds a special place in the interviewer’s heart.
For more from this series, find “Motherhood Through the Decades: 1940s and 1950s” here. And 1960s, here; 1970s, here; 1980s, here; 1990s, here; and 2000s, here.
Rachel Carpenter, 33 years old
Relationship to interviewer: fellow blogger and friend
Four children: Anya (2004), Lorelei (2007), Addison (2009), and Leonard (2015)
Wife of an Air Force TACP (Tactical Air Control Party) since 2003
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN BEFORE KIDS?
We started our family very young, but we enjoyed seeing movies, browsing the bookstore, and just spending time together since we spent part of our relationship before marriage apart (and still do).
DO YOU HAVE DATE NIGHTS?
Date nights were sparse for awhile; we were young parents, I was still going to college, and we only lived on one income. Despite that, our kids have always had a reasonable bedtime so that we can be adults and spend time together. Now that our kids are a little older, and we have more financial capability, we try to get a date night in at least once a month. We love trying new restaurants and food, especially if it is local to wherever we are living. We travel whenever we can and started hiking since moving to Hawaii!
WHAT IS CHALLENGING AS A MOM?
The most challenging thing for me has been combating the stigma of being a young wife and mother. It feels like everyone is waiting for you to fail, and let’s be honest – divorce rates are high and even higher in the military among young couples. My decision was right for me, life would be beyond difficult but the only way to prove people wrong was to live my life.
The other most challenging part of being a mom is the pressure to be “perfect.” Downfall to social media – it seems like everyone is always doing everything right and living the best life possible. I tried to be that mom who is there for every event, who bakes and cooks and sews in a spotless house, who can work and provide an income, who can have time for friends and a social life, who can parent flawlessly … and it’s a myth. If I can remember that all parents are struggling and just doing the best they can, it is a lot easier for me to be a mom.
ARE THERE THINGS THAT KEEP YOU FROM FOCUSING ON YOUR KIDS?
Military life! The constant changes — from having Dad home and gone constantly, to moving every 2 to 3 years, to government shutdowns and adjusting to all the newness of everything — are still an issue and a balancing act. As the Mom and the person who is consistently home and picking up the slack, it makes it very challenging.
DID YOU HAVE A NURSERY?
For my first girl, I went with a lot of green and yellow (and Care Bears). Pink is not one of my favorite colors. By our next two girls, we went with pink and brown. I am fortunate that my mother-in-law made all the bedding for my babies. We were burned with having a girl with no pink and people always assuming she was a boy (that is beyond annoying). We decorated with superheroes for our son! We are a comic book loving family, and I took a lot of ideas from Pinterest for his room. Masks mounted on the walls, vintage looking comic posters, and lots of red/blue/green/black.
BREASTFEED OR BOTTLE?
Both – you do what works for you and your baby. I breastfed Anya and Lorelei for a few months but liked the help with bottle feeding. I did strictly bottle with Addison because I knew that having 3 kids under 5 years old was going to be tough. I was going through that “touched out” phase and wanted to be able to have someone else help feed her. With Leonard, I only breastfed a few weeks. I had severe postpartum depression with him and needed to take some medication to combat this; I did not like the idea of potentially passing this through breast milk, so we bottle fed after that.
WHAT ARE THE PRESSURES OF NORMAL, EVERYDAY PARENTING?
Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding – a constant argument that I have always felt was irrelevant. Every person and situation is different, and why are we dragging each other down over something as simple as eating? As long as babies are fed, I’m good! Mothers are so hard on one another. It often feels like no matter what choice you make – from types of schooling to cosleeping to dietary choices – every decision is dissected and debated. We are all just doing the best we can!
WHAT DOES DISCIPLINE LOOK LIKE?
Time-outs and redirection for the most part.
DO YOU PACK SCHOOL LUNCHES?
I occasionally do, but I’m all about the school lunch. It’s cheap and one less thing to worry about in the morning. Our kids have been exposed to different cuisines and cultures through school lunch, too. They still talk about the bratwurst lunches in Germany and the kalua pork in Hawaii!
WHAT IS THE WEIRDEST TREND THAT YOUR CHILDREN WERE CRAZY ABOUT?
It’s not weird, but I’m so glad we have passed the Dora stage – I’ve been immersed in Dora for nearly 14 years! Dolls like Monster High and Ever After High were first introduced with my oldest, and my girls were obsessed (and still are).
WHAT ARE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS WITH OTHER MOTHERS LIKE?
Here’s the thing: friendship in the military is challenging even without kids. I tended to gravitate toward spouses from my husband’s squadron or those with kids around the same age as mine. If you are my friend, I am there for you in every hour of need/stress/insanity. I will let your kids destroy the house with mine, knowing you will return the favor another day. I can call you when the husband is gone (again) and I need an ingredient because I just cannot stomach going to the store with all the kids for one thing. That is my best definition of friendship with military moms – you have to be there for it all, so finding that is difficult.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST SOURCE OF PARENTING STRESS?
Feeling like I am the one who has to handle everything, the one who has to remember all the details of the kids’ medical histories and school records, the one who has to make sure all the bills are paid and that the house is running smoothly. I’m the one coordinating the calendars and ensuring everyone is where they need to be. These are only a few of my responsibilities, without even touching those of my actual job. It is hard to be the person “most in charge.”
HOW DO YOU RELIEVE STRESS DURING DIFFICULT TIMES?
I have to stop, admit I need help, and tell others what I need. I’m stubborn and do not like to admit that I cannot do it all, but it is ab solutely necessary. I do not always do this well, and it’s still a work in progress.My biggest stress reliever is alone time. Even if this is just 10 minutes of solitude in my room, with no one asking me anything, it helps.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST SOURCE OF PARENTING JOY?
I take great pride in knowing that I have great children. They are by no means perfect and make the same mistakes that all kids make, but they are GOOD kids. They do not hate or bully. They are kind and considerate of others. They try very hard to behave, follow rules, and to make life as happy as possible. It makes me so happy that no matter what they choose to do or be in their lives, they are great children and people.
WHAT PARENTING ADVICE IS TIMELESS?
Kids bounce. Someone told us this with our first child, as we were walking around trying to protect her from every fall or possible obstacle. They meant this physically, emotionally, and mentally. Kids who are loved and supported can bounce back from nearly anything – a broken bone, a broken heart, a missed goal, a failed assignment – and it’s true!
IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND DO IT ALL OVER, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY AS A PARENT?
If I could guarantee that I would get the same kids but could have them 4 to 6 years later, I would. I think that time of being a young adult is so important without the responsibility of being a parent, and I know that I missed that opportunity.
WHERE DO YOU FIND SUPPORT?
My mom was and is my sounding board. She can help me remain calm and has given me the confidence to assess situations and stick by my decisions. She’s also my go-to for that “do I need to go to the doctor or not?” as she has been a nurse for over 33 years! Support was also key with all my military wives and friends. When you live far from family, you learn to lean on each other!
WITH THE CURRENT TECHNOLOGY, IT IS EASY TO FIND AN OPINION ON EVERY ASPECT OF PARENTING, WHAT DID YOU DO?
YES. Google anything and you can find a million differing opinions. Like I said, I often called my mom or a friend who could help me figure out what to do. I read pregnancy books but have only read a couple parenting books (on sensory processing and strategies, as my daughter has this).
DESCRIBE YOUR FAMILY SITUATION?
My husband, when home, was generally gone for workday hours – left by 7 am and usually home by 5pm. Every squadron is different, so this is just a general estimate. However, he was and is frequently TDY. There were years where he was gone for at least one week a month or where his time home was shorter than the time away! I spent many years going to college and hold a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, but I did not start working outside the home until 2010. I was fortunate enough to go to school without working and to stay home with the kids during that time, but I have always wanted a career. With every move, I find a new position and make the best of it!
WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR A NEW MOM?
Follow your gut. There are so many opinions about how to be the “best” parent, but you generally know what is right for your children and your family. Your gut is usually correct, so listen to it and tune out the other loud yet well-intentioned voices.