Sometimes this crazy, unpredictable military life can bless us with some unexpected opportunities and experiences. For me, this came in the form of a three-year break from my career while we were stationed overseas.
At the time, I saw it as an opportunity to step back from the chaos of trying to balance a full-time career and motherhood against the ever-changing backdrop of military life. I hoped this “break” would allow me some time to re-evaluate my career path and long-term aspirations now that my children were in school full-time.
Would it be easier to balance a career and motherhood now that my boys were no longer babies?
Or was working mom life going to get even more challenging as my kids got older?
Should I think about a different career?
It also was a chance to experience, temporarily, life as a stay-at-home mom – something that I had been torn over during the early years of motherhood.
Let’s just say, things didn’t go according to plan … but do they ever?
First of all, life as a stay-at-home mom was not quite what I had envisioned. While I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to be home with my boys, I struggled. Over the course of those three years, I learned a lot about myself and what it really means to be a stay-at-home mom. (Spoiler alert: It does not involve tennis lessons, ladies’ lunches, or a clean house … or even physically being at home!)
And all that pondering I was planning to do about my future and the next step in my career? Those bigger questions were still looming when we boarded the plane to return home at the end of my husband’s tour in Europe.
Would I go back to work and what would I do?
I truly believed that our time overseas was just a “break” from my career. While my definition of a career had changed during that time, I felt certain that I would eventually go back to work. However, this time around I wanted a flexible, work-from-home, part-time job that allowed me to set my own hours. And we all know how easy it is to find those opportunities…
My job search got off to a slow start while I unpacked from the trans-Atlantic move and got the kids settled in their new school. Then, of course, my husband was gone on multiple temporary duty assignments (TDY’s). I just didn’t feel like our family was in a good routine and that I would only complicate matters by adding my job search to the mix. Besides, when you’re married to someone in the military, it feels like their job always comes first.
I continued to feel unsettled and that I was being pulled in multiple directions. Then one day, I came to the realization that perhaps right now I was doing exactly what was needed most for our family.
I needed to be at home.
Why was this so hard for me to admit?
I felt like I was letting people down.
When I was a new military spouse, I was definitely in the minority with a full-time career. People would comment about how great it was that I could still work despite our frequent moves. As time went on, I found myself mentoring younger spouses and helping them in their own job searches. If I wasn’t working, would people think I had just given up? That I was no longer the same person without my career?
Deep down, I was afraid of being judged for my choice, especially by my career-driven friends and former colleagues without children. Really, the only people I needed to be concerned about letting down were my husband and my kids.
I feared losing my identity.
I was in my early 40s when I took my career break. I had spent the previous 20 years working and building my career. It was part of my identity. Without it, then who would I be? I love my husband and could not be prouder of him and his service, but I don’t want to only be known as someone’s wife (or mom). When you’re without an office, a job title, and a paycheck, does that mean you don’t have a job? Without a doubt, the hard work of raising my children is absolutely a job – and probably the most humbling one I’ve ever had.
I worried about other peoples’ perceptions of me.
We are living in a new city, so I’m meeting new people, most of whom don’t know that I had a career for most of my adult life. When I’m asked if I work, I feel so self-conscious saying “no.” I feel the need to qualify my answer with “not right now” and then verbally summarize my resume. The reality is that I probably work harder now than I did when I was in the corporate world. It is a special kind of work and it challenges me in an entirely different way.
Friends, it wasn’t until I started writing this blog post and putting these thoughts on paper that I finally saw it all so clearly:
I “felt”, “feared” and “worried.” Those are emotions – not facts.
I have not let anyone down. I have not lost my identity. Most importantly, I control the image I project to other people. If I’m a stay-at-home mom, then I’ve got to own it.
More than ever, I truly feel that I am in the right place, doing the right thing for my family, right now. Once I acknowledged that, a huge weight was lifted off of me. I could embrace my current role without those insecure feelings and emotions tugging at me. For years, I’ve had a foot in each camp, and I couldn’t decide which way to go. That kept me distracted from my role both as a mother and as a professional.
I’m thankful for this military life because it provided me with this unexpected blessing that I wouldn’t have had otherwise – the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom.
And I’m not sure if I would have been brave enough to take that leap on my own.