|The Foster Family|
Ball and Chain-of-Command:
How to Survive and Thrive as a Navy Family
I will never forget my husband’s first week on a ship. After getting married, leaving my house, my work, and my friends we trekked from Annapolis, Maryland all the way to San Diego, California. After staying in a hotel for a week while we were waiting to move into our apartment, my husband came home and broke the news to me: the ship was leaving for two weeks.
My response was not as understanding as I wish it had been. In fact, it was totally selfish. “Leaving?” I exclaimed, “I don’t even know how to get to the grocery store!” And so began our Navy experienced. At that moment I realized that he wasn’t in the Navy, we were in the Navy. Two years later, when our daughter was born, I knew what we had gotten ourselves into, and I knew that we could handle it.
Though the life of a Navy wife is tough, the life of a Navy wife and mom is even tougher, but I can say without any reservations that my child has probably one of the most amazing childhoods for which one could ask. I am not professing to be an expert on motherhood or Navy life, but I have lived this lifestyle for a while now and I am proud to say that we have survived and thrived bringing her up with her dad in the Navy. Here are a few things that I have learned along the way.
- How things work out for you is 95% attitude, 5% circumstances.
To say that I had a bad attitude about living in San Diego would be a gross understatement. I hated leaving everything I worked so hard for to go across the country and have to start all over. My husband was constantly gone, I had no job (it took me about 8 months to find one), I had no friends, no church, no family, no support, and, honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. Filing for moving expenses back, trying to get my medical insurance set up, trying to find a government job- I had no clue what I was doing and no idea who to ask. (The Navy still owes us about $2,000 for doing a Do-It-Yourself , or DITY, move. Despite filing our receipts over and over again, they still claim that they do not owe us almost four years later.)
To add insult to injury the ship that my husband was stationed on had no family or spousal social groups until about a year after we arrived. I was just plain mad: mad at the Navy, mad at the ship, mad at my husband for leaving, and mad at my circumstances. The truth is that my husband didn’t ask to be sent underway, he didn’t want me to be miserable and he wished there was a spousal support group to which I could belong. The circumstances were crummy, but it was my defeated attitude made my entire two years in San Diego awful, not the Navy.
Fast-forward two years to being stationed in Charleston, SC. Within a month of being there I realized that there was, again, no spousal social group and several young married sailors who were experiencing the Navy for the first time in Charleston. Knowing that many of these young women would be like me at our first duty station, I hosted a very small Christmas party for the wives. Of the 15 or so that attended I believe that everyone had a good time, and we were able to meet a few other times during our husbands’ assignment to the base. Just from deciding that I was going to make the best of my circumstances, I ended up with great friends and having a lot of fun with these great ladies. I still keep in touch with most all of them.
Now, saying all of this is not for the purpose of patting myself on the back or bragging, but simply to illustrate how I had made up my mind when we got to Charleston that it would be a good duty station and, by golly, I was going to make it a good duty station no matter what.
Bear in mind that your attitude is something your children are constantly monitoring. Have you ever heard the quote, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? This quote is so true. Mothers are the heart of the home and so often are the only visible parent in Navy life. If you have the attitude that the next move or change is going to be an adventure, your kids will, too. Get excited about it! Before we moved I spent the whole month before telling my daughter about how she was getting a new house and acting like it was the coolest ever. Kids need to see your excitement. Tell them about the awesome new changes coming their way. There is always a silver lining. Maybe there is a park close to your new house, maybe a neighbor that is just their age down the street, maybe your new house is only a few hours to Disneyland, etc. If you act excited about the upcoming change, not only will your children feed off of it, but you’ll be surprised how much it can sway your own attitude by focusing solely on the positive.
- Take advantage of every chance you have to make your new duty station more like home.
For my family it is so important to make your new assignment feel like a home. Get out of the house and explore the area. Find parks, local attractions, go to the beach, the aquarium, the zoo, the botanical garden, and the national parks. Learn your new city by living in your new city. People who live somewhere know what there is to do, so get out and do. I have made the mistake of not taking full advantage of the area in which I live and I have regretted it over and over again. Be pro-active and be positive. Make exploring your new city an adventure! Get your kids involved and take them to the concerts in the park or the children’s museum, or the farmer’s market. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find fun and culture.
- Meet new people
When you are new to an area make sure that you are not isolating yourself or your family. The two biggest tips for this are: get your kids involved in extracurricular activities and find a church. The activities for your kids can be anything from Brownies to Karate, free story time at the public library to equestrian lessons. Either way, get your kids around other kids. It not only lets you get to socialize with the other parents, but also helps them to feel connected to the area and the people.
My biggest tip is to find a church. I cannot begin to tell you all of the incredible things my church friends I have done for myself and my family. Many churches will have fellowship groups for specific stages of life: singles, young married without children, married with children, etc. Before I made friends at church I thought I needed Navy wives for support, but I really just needed support in general. My non-Navy friends often flatter me by telling me that they have no idea how I do it, be a Navy wife, that is. They are often in awe of our circumstances and our lifestyle and when we need support they are the first people to give it.
Church groups, if Christ-centered and Biblically sound, are also the least judgmental of any group. If you are not a Christian and believe that all church groups are hypocritical and condemnatory, I would submit to you that they are not. People are not perfect and there are definitely some people who are not living life in a Christ-centered way while part of the church, but the truth is that the majority of people at church are not there to judge people or to be part of a social club. They are there to try their hardest to be like Christ, which makes these friends not only the most supportive friends, but my closest and most precious friends.
- Make peace with your circumstances
I know that when we first began this Navy journey I thought I knew what we were getting into; I was completely wrong. I had no idea about the long the hours, the seemingly endless separation, the constant moving, and the lack of support from the Navy. That said, eight years after our journey began, I can say that I have finally made peace with our circumstances. I have had to accept the fact that my husband has absolutely no say on when the ship leaves, when we move, where we move, and how long he will be gone. It is easy to blame them for your circumstances, and it’s even harder to not blame him when it was his decision to join the Navy, not yours. It’s true; I didn’t choose to join the Navy, I didn’t choose the Nuclear path for him, I didn’t choose the Naval Academy for him, I didn’t choose our first two duty stations, he did because we weren’t yet married. But I chose him.
My husband told me on our first date that he was planning on going to the Naval Academy, he told me that he couldn’t get married until he graduated, and he told me that he would be deployed. Despite his warnings, there is nothing like getting hit in the face with orders to a place you didn’t want to go or realizing that his six month deployment has been turned into a nine month deployment. This lifestyle is hard. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard everyone would do it.” Now, he was talking about baseball, but I remind myself of that quote often. I am doing something that not everyone can do. I am a strong woman and I can take care of myself and my child no matter the circumstances.
I gave up a career to be a full-time wife and mom, because I, personally, cannot handle both, and I am ok with that. I may have graduated from college early, with honors and done it on a full scholarship. I may have worked for years to build a career, but I have made peace with myself and my decision to be a wife and mom full-time.
I am well-educated, yet I stay at home with our daughter to try to do what is best for her. I am married, yet independent. I am on my own, yet I have friends (Navy and civilian) who would bend over backwards for me. I am a wife and mom, yet I am a gardener, an accountant, a chef, a nurse, a personal assistant, a professional shopper, a friend, a dog walker, a nanny, a mentor, and financial planner. The truth is that I am happy in my Navy lifestyle. I am happy to be “just” a wife and mom. I am happy to move every year or two. I am happy to set up a new house. I am happy to see my husband succeed at his job. I am proud to enable my husband to serve our country by taking care of our home.
Whoever said “A Navy wife is the toughest job in the Navy” wasn’t kidding. I am a Navy wife and I am proud of it.
What weapons do you have in your arsenal to help you survive the Navy lifestyle? And most importantly, how do you explain to civilians about the demands of being "just" a Navy wife?