If I had $1 for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t know how you do it,” during the decade I’ve been a military spouse, let’s just say we could probably afford a house much closer to the ocean.
In all seriousness, though, military spouses hear that statement a lot, and for good reason. We play the part of both mom and dad while our husbands are away, and it’s hard. Really hard. Actually, it’s really stinkin’ hard, if I’m being honest. While solo parenting isn’t like single parenting, we’re still left with all the responsibilities of life, and if you’re already a stay-at-home mom, you’re likely with your little people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for who knows how long. And that’s a lot of one-on-one time with tiny humans.
When someone tells me, “I don’t know how you do it,” my typical response is, “I don’t know either, but you just do it…because you have to.”
Military families often—very often—don’t have family nearby. Depending on the situation, it’s harder to make friends because we’re up-rooted so often, so we don’t have very many close people near us that we can trust. Shoot, simply filling out those emergency contact forms can bring over a sudden wave of panic, because we haven’t lived anywhere long enough to know someone to jot down. How can we entrust someone we’ve never met in an emergency situation with our kids?
Not to mention, not having family close means we can’t just drop off the kids at grandma’s house; we have to hire a sitter if we do want a night out or even just some respite. Needless to say: we find out what we’re really made of when our spouse is away.
So I’m here, sharing every military spouse’s deepest darkest secret of how we actually do it. Lean in close…
You put your big girl panties on every morning, and you suck it up, buttercup, because you have to.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not strong. I’m not brave. I’m not some supermom.
What I am is exhausted and frazzled; my kids and I probably fight more often than not; we eat ice cream for breakfast (and sometimes dinner), because it’s easier to give in than have one.more.fight. I ask, pray, and beg for grace and patience all throughout the day, and I find myself saying, “I’m sorry,” more often than not. Also, feeling overwhelmed makes me break down and cry more times than I’d like to admit.
Honestly, most days I don’t know how I keep it all together, but I do it because I have to.
I do it, because this is our life. Whether I “signed up for this” or not (another phrase people like to remind military spouses often), this is where we’re at right now. My husband’s job requires him to be away from us for days, weeks, months, and sometimes a year at a time, and the only way to survive those seasons is to hunker down and find our new normal, while looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Doing it looks a little like this:
- It means waking up every morning knowing you are filling the shoes of both mom and dad (and housekeeper, chef, babysitter, chauffeur, etc.).
- It means letting the kids eat ice cream for breakfast and cereal for dinner.
- It means I consider an afternoon in the kiddie pool as their bath for the week.
- It means sometimes paying for someone to come over to your house so you can take a nap or a shower in peace—the one time I let my mind relax.
- It means doing that direct sales business so you have money to pay for an angel to come clean your house once a month (aka my favorite day of the month).
- It means being on a first name basis with your Starbucks barista and the crew at Chick-fil-a.
- It means having not having him around for OB appointments or possibly even the birth of your child.
- It means finding your new best friend and praying she doesn’t think you’re crazy when you tell her a week later that—surprise!—she’s your emergency contact.
- It means crying on the phone, or over a letter to your spouse telling him you don’t think you can do it anymore.
- It means trusting him and believing in yourself when he says, “Yes you can.”
- It means waking up the next morning to a brand new day, pulling on your big girl panties, and knowing you can do this.
- It means hiding in the garage or pantry and devouring some chocolate, because sometimes Mama really needs to indulge in peace.
- It means tucking the kids in at night and wiping away their tears, because all they want is their dad.
- It means celebrating Christmas in July, anniversaries after the fact, and birthdays via FaceTime.
- It means not just accepting, but asking for help when you need it—even if it’s for someone to just bring over a gallon of milk (and maybe coffee/ice cream; I mean, if they’re already out, get yourself something since you’re clearly having one heck of a day).
- It means going to bed and waking up alone day after day after day.
- It means finding or sometimes creating your own village, and clinging to your military family and friends while you wait for your better half to return.
- It means putting on a brave face when talking to you kids about where he’s hat and what he’s doing.
It means you do it—however, and whatever “it” is to you. You settle in for the ride, buckle, up, and survive…because you have to.
Are you a military spouse? What does “doing it” look like to you, and how do you do it?