Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trials Of A Trailing Spouse

Trailing spouse.  That is the quaint term bantered about within the State Department and DOD when referencing those of us who follow our better halves from one job posting to another.  Sometimes these moves are from state to state while other times they are international moves.  Regardless of the locations, the general logistics are the same.  The trailing spouse sacrifices their own career to ensure that household goods, medical records, and the family pet make it from one location to another.   We make sure the new house is set up and the children are enrolled in new schools.  We find the new doctors, grocery stores, and playgrounds.   We make sure things run smoothly at home while our spouses are at work.  You get the idea.

Did I ever imagine that I would join these ranks?  Heck no!  I worked hard on my undergraduate degree, graduated, and worked my way up in a career field, that while not what I had pictured myself doing, was fulfilling. I went back to graduate school with the hopes of giving myself an additional step up in my career. 

And then I met Glenn.  Ah, the things we do for love.  I lived and worked in Massachusetts and he was in Virginia. I had more flexibility in my job-  being in the Navy does not provide any flexibility!- so I was the one to quit my job.  My friends thought I was crazy; my family thought I was crazy; heck there were a few times that I also suspected I really was crazy.  I did it anyway and I can honestly say that I don’t regret it. However, as an educated, independent woman, I thought I knew what I was getting into.  But alas, perception and all the research in the world does not equate into reality.

With each  move, I’ve been able to find a job.  I count myself lucky in this respect since so many Americans are currently unemployed. Ironically, with each new job I find myself with fewer “professional” responsibilities and  a corresponding reduction in pay.  A recent peak at my paycheck showed me that I am making less money now than I did during my summer breaks in college.   Yes, I am now employed and I have a job outside of the home, but it is by no means a career. 

A few facts about us trailing spouses.  Despite the common perception, we are well educated.  Among my “trailing” friends, the majority of us have advanced degrees and most of us have attained more formal education then our spouses.  The majority of us did have careers are one time.  We are independent- we manage 6-12 month separations from our spouses and keep the home fires burning.  We are adaptable and flexible- maybe not by choice- but regular  moves, ever changing orders and unpredictable work schedules require us to be.   We can quickly turn strangers into friends.  Moving to a new location at regular intervals requires us to get to know our surroundings and make new friends (it’s a lonely life if you can’t manage to do this). 

AFN has recently begun airing a new infomercial that lauds the skills of trailing spouses. They don't call us this but we are the audience they are targeting.   The very skills I mentioned above are the ones this infomercial points out as making us more marketable in the job force.  An all too cheery voice tells us that employers want us and we too can have meaningful careers when we return stateside. 

Yes, we have the afore mentioned skills but how do we translate them onto a resume and more importantly into an interview?  Flexibility, ability to multitask, independent thinker are all key catch phrases but under what title do we label our job?  “Move Coordinator”, “CEO of the Home”, or “Organizer in Chief”?  

These are but a few of the thoughts I have been pondering as of late.  How will I be able to find a meaningful job, or gasp, a career, when we return to the United States?  What will my resume say about me and my experiences?  I don't know.  But if any of you are looking to hire an organized yet flexible, dedicated, multi-tasking military spouse, please give me a call. 

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