Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Life is all about choices.  Some of us are privileged to have a larger menu of options to select from but we all have decisions to make and what we decide helps to shape our past, present, and future.  Hindsight is always twenty-twenty and some of us may have a lot more "coulda, woulda, shoulda" moments than others.  I do my best not to dwell on the poor decisions I may have made in the past but rather I focus on where I am now and what decisions I can make now that will shape my future in positive ways.  Some decisions I have control over while others are really dependent upon other people, institutions, and situations.  I find the hardest decisions are the ones we may fully regret in hindsight or simply wish we had either made different decisions or our circumstances had simply been different at the time.  I call these the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" choices.  One of the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" debates I see many of my (female) peers talking about time and time again is the ongoing family-career-life balance issue.  And in particular, with my peers the conversation is most heated amongst my fellow military spouses and the choices we have made regarding our individual work-family-life balances.

One woman on a military spouse board I participate in posted a comment recently regarding her frustration with not being able to have a fulfilling career while supporting her husband's ever changing and mobile military career and keeping the the home fires burning.  While her post received a handful of supportive "I'm right there with you" comments, the vast majority of people condemned her for complaining about her situation, not making her own happiness, knowing what she had gotten into when she married her husband and therefore not being entitled to complain, and generally not being supportive of her husband and children.  Really?  When did we women become so critical of our peers and the dilemmas we all face at one time or another?  I have a hard time believing that so many of us are perfectly content with every aspect of their life but it is comments like these that stifle us into silence.

Some of us might have thought we knew what we were getting into when we married into the military or a family decision was made to join the expansive military family, but did we really understand the full scope of our future situations?  Sure we'd heard the propaganda (I love the Navy's "you'll see the world" motto) and perhaps through friends or family we even witnessed what it might be like first hand, but until we are walking in those shoes we really have no idea what it will be like. As try as we might, at the end of the day, our military member's job and commitment to service drives each and every decision we make as a family. As a military family sometimes you may be able to live in one location for an extended time while at other times you may be moving every two years.  If you are able to put down roots are you able to find a job if you want one?  Is that job in your career field or at a minimum satisfying? And what happens when your spouse gets orders to pick up and move across the country or halfway around the world? If you want to keep your family under one roof, you really don't have that option of keeping your job.  So you pack up and move to a new location and perhaps start that job search all over again.  Most likely you'll lose seniority and at a minimum start all over again with vesting into a retirement fund.  When your spouse is deployed for months at a time and you find yourself in the role of a single parent, are you still able to give your job your all?  Without anyone to share car pool duties, homework, and parent teacher conferences with, it is possible to commit to your paid job to the degree that is necessary?  This begs the question of whether it is even worth trying to work outside of home in the first place.  When does the juggling game just get to be too much?

When I met Glenn I had a fulfilling career. I worked, travelled, had plenty of friends, and essentially answered only to myself.  I recognized that moving thousands of miles away from my home and marrying him would mean giving up my upwardly mobile career.  I was OK with that, or so I told myself.  It wasn't easy essentially starting over in a new city where my education and previous professional experience was dismissed for a variety of local political reasons. Still I pushed on and slowly found my professional niche. And then in the same year I got pregnant and found out that we were moving to Albania.  Neither circumstance would allow me to continue my job but these life choices were the best ones for our growing family.  This decision was neither the first difficult one I had to make nor will it be the last one.

Personally, I love being a mom but I know that if I did not have a job to go to each day I would want to gouge my eyeballs out.  If there is one thing I've learned about myself during various transition periods when I've found myself not working is that I need significantly more intellectual stimulation than being at home all day affords me.  This isn't an insult against women (and men) who feel fulfilled with this life choice, but personally, it just isn't for me.  I know I am happier when I have that balance and a happier me makes for a happier family. Is the juggle aways easy?  Absolutely not.  There are days when I feel as though we would all be better off if I wasn't trying to do the daily juggle but in the long run I know it is this balance that actually keeps me sane. I also recognize that I am very fortunate to have the option of making the decision about what to do with my time.  If I wanted to stay home I could without it costing my family a financial sacrifice.

I know that working outside of the home is important to me and something I will always try my hardest to do. I also realize that it may not always be possible but like everything else in this transient military lifestyle, it is only temporary.  Eventually we will land back in the States and Glenn will someday retire from the Navy and we will be a civilian family.  We'll likely put down real roots and perhaps that is when I'll be able to settle into a lasting job.  I love what we are doing now but a part of me I truly look forward to that day. Glenn has alluded to my being able to resume my career and perhaps being the primary bread winner after he retires. As wonderful as this sounds to me, (it truly does), I need to be realistic.  With each passing month and year where I can't document meaningful employment on my resume, the possibility of my having a career oriented job fades. When I hear about the amazing careers and job promotions my college friends are experiencing, I feel a twinge of sadness knowing I will never have that.  Because it is so important to me, I know I will find meaningful work someday.  I won't be CEO but I will do something that matters to me and provides me with the intellectual stimulation I so crave.  Perhaps one day I will be the one telling Glenn that I have to work late, he needs to figure out the menu for the week, do the grocery shopping, and put dinner on the table.  (A girl can hope, right?).  Thinking about personal fulfillment and what gives me satisfaction doesn't make me less supportive of my husband and his career and it doesn't make me less of a mother.  I can dream about having it all (whatever that means), but in reality I do have it all because I'm making what I have work for me.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda? Nope, I wouldn't trade my decisions for anything.  Good, bad, or somewhere in between, all of them have help shaped me and my family into what and where we are today.

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