We’ve moved, yet again, to a new town, a new unit and a new life (kind of). My spouse has added my contact information to all the things. And then the requests come flooding in. Not requests to be friends, but to volunteer my time in a professional capacity.
Folks, it’s 2019. And military spouses just don’t have the time to be doing all of the work for free.
Why Are Military Spouses Still Being Called on To Do All the Things?
I love volunteering. I’ve actually volunteered since childhood. From planting gardens with my Brownie troop to collecting clothes for the less fortunate, I honestly like to give of myself and my time.
Even in small ways, like taking care of a friend’s children for a few hours so they can run errands, I know that performing acts of kindness for others without expecting compensation makes the world a better place.
Here’s the thing: the military seems to run on volunteers. No, I’m not talking about our all-volunteer force. I’m talking about the spouses running things behind the scenes.
From homecomings and welcome aboard briefs to larger organizations on base, military spouse volunteers are the glue that is holding it all together. Many spouses are spearheading large roles and tasks, jobs that a professional would be overseeing in the civilian world.
And they’re doing it all for free. Sometimes there might be a certificate of recognition or hearty thanks offered, but often these tasks are just completed without acknowledgment.
Volunteering Looks Good on Your Resume
Or so I’ve been told, countless times. I’ve yet to use my volunteer experiences, formal or informal, as a stepping stone into a paid position as an adult.
Instead, it’s my paid work – in any of my varied jobs over the years – that has paved the way to a new position. When I’ve brought up my volunteering, the interviewers didn’t really seem to care.
So, does volunteering look good on resumes or is that just a line?
Honestly, I’m not sure.
Unpaid Work + Extra Costs = What?
If I wanted to volunteer today, right now, I would need childcare for my youngest. Preschool isn’t free and neither are reliable sitters.
Conveniently all of the positions most likely to lead to employment happen exactly when my spouse is at work. They’re also not child-friendly. Especially since most of these roles aren’t just a quick pop-in or work-at-home gigs. Nope, they’re all multiple hours per day, several days a week.
Which means that I will be paying to volunteer.
Sure, I might have that extra cash to throw around in order to give of myself. Then again, we’re a military family and not exactly rich either.
So what exactly am I going to be going into debt for? I’ll be working for free in the hope that one day, maybe, this organization will pay me?
Why would they do that when I’m, wait for it, working for free to begin with?!?!?
The roles available to spouses are professional-type positions. Center staffer (USO), financial consultant (NMCRS), event organizer (family readiness assistant) and medical records assistant (Red Cross). Yet we have military spouses filling them, for free.
Unpaid Work is Extra Stress
I ran myself ragged as a family readiness assistant. And now I see other military spouses doing the same thing in their volunteer roles.
We are treating these positions like jobs, even though we are not being paid. Likely, we are paying for childcare and support in order to fill these volunteer roles. Ironic, isn’t it?
At the end of the day, we take all that stress home with us. All the stress of our “fun” volunteer role becomes our baggage.
It’s extra stress on the level of being in paid employment, but without the paycheck.
This dedication is what makes our military community tick and hum. Military spouses take ownership of every role they are given. We take this stuff seriously!
But is it fair to expect employee-level work from a volunteer?
What Would Happen Without Volunteers?
I don’t think the youngest military spouses (and some of us older hands) are quite buying the line about volunteer roles leading to employment. We haven’t see the fruit from that tree yet, and it’s a line that’s been tossed around for at least a decade.
More and more military spouses are achieving advanced education, earning professional credentials and seeking paid employment. Their family needs two paychecks to make ends meet. Just the military earnings alone won’t cut it.
We might be coming to a reckoning in the military community: a world without rampant volunteerism.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. It’s time that we weigh just how much benefit unpaid military spouse labor brings into our communities daily. Then, it’s time we start paying people. Because these things don’t run themselves.
If you’d like to still have family readiness groups, relief societies and community spaces to use, someone needs to be there running things. It’s probably going to be a military spouse. And that person should be paid.