What is “having it all?”
For me, having it all means having a job in my profession with my spouse also working in his field. It means a decent house in a safe neighborhood and reliable child care. Having it all means the ability to take a vacation every year. Having it all means that my marriage, family life, professional life and personal interests are able to work together.
With the recent release of their study, The Force Behind the Force, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) lays out some troubling statistics.
Essentially, this study tells us what military spouses already know: we are underemployed and unemployed in staggering numbers as an almost direct result of our spouse’s military service.
In his opinion, 2012 Military Spouse of the Year Jeremy Hilton dissects the results and reaches the conclusion that military spouses cannot “have it all” in the traditional work/life/family balance. And he’s not wrong.
The “powers that be” offer solutions: volunteer, work for the government or work remotely. Which is great, for those lucky few who have the skills in the markets that allow those kinds of flexible jobs.
In my time as a military spouse, I have sacrificed almost a decade of professional teaching experience so that my husband can honorably serve this country. Since receiving my master’s degree in 2009, I have taught in a school district for 2 years. I know that my personal job prospects suffer for each year that I am out of the classroom. Even with writing an education blog and being active in professional learning networks online, I am moving out of the loop.
My salary expectations are suffering too. My peers, with similar degrees earned at similar times, are several steps ahead of me. This way of paying teachers is not unlike the military and government method: years of experience and education combine to indicate a salary. With only 2 years on the books, I’m earning at least 4 years – 4 steps – below my peers.
When I have voiced concerns about this in online forums, some military spouses have been dismissive and down right critical.
If not, I should be prepared to walk away from an expensive education and a profession that I am passionate about. Or find a different passion or cobble together some other wage earning position(s). No slack should be cut. I should be happy with what I get, even if it is scraps compared to what my professional peers rate, these critical voices tell me.
Here’s the thing: I have seen how I could have it all.
I had it all for a very brief window. I had my dream job in my dream school. My spouse also had an assignment he loved. We were both being paid competitive wages, with the opportunity to advance. We had reliable and affordable child care.
And then we got PCS orders.
Suddenly, my career was at square one. Child care involved endless waiting lists and it was just easier to stay at home with my child. I gave in. I stopped fighting. I told myself that I couldn’t have it all.
Then we moved again. So I started again.
Now we are expecting another child, which is amazing, except that it means that my career will once again take a back seat. If I wasn’t a military spouse, I would have been in one or two districts over the last 6 years. I would have earned tenure on the faculty. I would have earned Family Medical Leave Allowance. I would have been able to bank sick days for years to compensate for the post-birth time off.
So, can military spouses have it all?
In short, yes. Sometimes.
When all the stars align and the pieces of the puzzles fall into place, for brief periods of time, military spouses can have it all. I have been to that promised land and I have been kicked out again.
Most of the time, military spouses will probably not have it all.
By the time we line up the child care and the best job, orders will be imminent. Or another child will be on the way. Or deployment and training will pop up again.
And we will be back at square one: new location, no job, a few kids and gaps in our paid job experience that no amount of volunteering or blogging will ever hope to fill.
We will be chasing our professional licenses, hunting on the job boards and calling child care places to see if there is any hope of an opening.
We become part of the statistics for unemployed or underemployed military spouses.