Life as a military member is filled with travel and adventure. There are also inspirational acts of bravery and sacrifice, not to mention danger, the fear of injury and loss as well as long separations from Family and friends.
Women who serve in the military face the same challenges of all working mothers. These include trying to balance work and home, taking time off from work because a child is sick, and mommy guilt while fighting the perception that because they work, they are somehow shortchanging their children or they are somehow less than devoted mothers.
There is, however, a harsher reality that military mothers face which most civilian mothers cannot comprehend unless they are in law enforcement or a similar field.
“Being a military mom is sometimes demanding,” said Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Joint Base Deputy Commander, Lt. Col. Jennifer L. Blair, who has served in the Marine Corps for 27 years. Blair is the mother of two sons, Pike, 17, and Jake, 13. Despite the struggle of balancing home and work, Blair said she feels blessed to have two great kids.
“They’ve adapted, and they’ve worked well with us moving, even though it’s been hard for them — but they accept it when we have to move. They really support each move and look at each [permanent change of station] as an adventure,” she said. Blair and her husband have made five permanent changes of station moves since they became parents.
“The most significant challenge juggling motherhood and my military career was deployment,” said Blair, who deployed to Iraq prior to reporting to JBM-HH. Despite the children continuing their daily routine at home with their dad while she was deployed, Blair said. “Dads have their role but no one can take care of your kids like you.”
Today’s military moms [and dads] can stay connected with their Families back home through email, Skype, Facebook and other social networking sites during deployments. “That helped a lot,” said Blair remembering her 10-month deployment to Iraq. “The hardest part of deployment was being away from my Family,” she said.
Many military Families go through adjustments when they return from deployment. “My sons did things with their dad that they had not done with him before so it was an adjustment for the household. They learned to do laundry,” said Blair of the chore she usually did. “They had always helped in the kitchen but they did a bit more while I was away,” she said. “With their dad helping do things I normally did, like the laundry, he also realized what it is to be a mom.”
In addition to deployments, military parents deal with overnight duty and either have someone come into the home to spend the night with the kids or taking the children to another Family’s home to spend the night. “With [nonmilitary] Families, usually when you go to work, you go to work and when you’re home, you’re off work. I know sometimes I’ve gotten calls from work after I was home,” said Blair. “I’ve had to deal with being called and having to respond to something you wouldn’t have to deal with as a civilian 24/7.”
Blair’s advice for new military mothers is: “Be very invested in your child’s education and where they go to school. We always chose the school our children attended, and then found a place to live nearby.”
Sgt. 1st Class Kendra Craven, a flutist in The U.S. Army Band, spent 11 years in service before she had kids, son Ben, 5 and daughter Claudia, 4. During regular work days, her children are cared for at the Cody Child Development Center on JBM-HH. “The staff is great there and the kids love it,” said Craven.
Although her experience as a working military mother has been very positive, Craven said “There was definitely a transition period when I first had children. It’s hard to leave them when they are infants.”
Craven and her husband, also a member of The U.S. Army Band, had to find creative child care solutions. “Our schedule is so widely varied. We work many nights and weekends giving concerts.”
In addition to their varied work schedule, Craven and her husband travel several times a year with the band. “We’re dependent on our far-away parents and sitters to help us out,” she explained. “We’re lucky that we have Family that can travel here when we need to leave town.”
Craven said she and her husband have not had to deal with the situation of long deployments. “We are in a fortunate job where we don’t have to deploy for extended periods of time,” she said. “I feel for the mothers that have to leave their children for long periods of time.”
Through her experiences as a working military mom, Craven’s advice to new military mothers is, “Try to take things one day, or situation at a time. I used to stress out about jobs that were a year away and who would be taking care of my kids.
“Things change constantly and it’s better to deal with each job situation as it comes. Things have a way of working out,” she said. “I [have to] remind myself of how grateful I am for the wonderful benefits the Army has provided for my children. We are very lucky.”