It’s a joke that’s as old as time, “If the [insert branch] wanted you to have a spouse, they’d have issued you one.” The implication being that spouses might hinder the motivation and mission of any given service member because of family needs and all — of course. And, while that might not (um, pretty much) be true, what about spouses who aren’t necessarily thrilled with their implied expectations? What’s it like when Command Spouse was the last thing you wanted?
Command Spouse: Don’t Sign Me Up
I’ve spent almost 22 years telling my husband, “I’m not that wife.”
In fairness, I’ve had my share of not-so-kind stereotyped imaginations of what that wife actually was like, and to be fairer, I’ve even had interactions with a few of those wives that have fueled some of the fire.
What I specifically mean, though, is that I am not — nor have I ever been — what I’ve considered Command Spouse material. I’m an introvert (though I wear extroverted clothing really well), and while I rock organizing all the things, organizing events and activities for other spouses is just not my forte. I love helping people, but find a lot of the fraternization expectations that exist often restrict me from being and doing what I really want, so I end up doing nothing. I’ve been lucky enough to have many incredible and fantastic command spouses in my life, and I look at all of them and think, “Yeah, I am just not that put together.” (And, I am honest enough to admit that most days, I don’t want to do the work to be that put together.)
White Gloves, Pearls, and Calling Cards — Anyone?
I’m opinionated and loud, and I’m the one who writes letters to newspapers (or did, when that was a thing). And then I was the one who had generals calling my house (and almost giving my then-2nd Lieutenant husband heart attacks regularly) to talk to me about them. People tag me in social media because I should know the details for something unit-affiliated, and I seriously have no clue because I’m just not that involved.
I get annoyed when it’s expected I attend every function that my husband has, but never once did I ask him to attend any back-to-school nights when I was a teacher.
Yes, I know, I know…it isn’t expected — (cough, cough) it’s a privilege. I know. I know the party line.
It’s just a lot of work that I never wanted, and often among my peers, it’s not talked about. Which is mostly because doing so makes one sound awfully ungrateful for this amazing life, the celebration of tremendous accomplishments, and the opportunity to help those military families who are following in your footsteps have the fantastic experiences you have.
Retirement Dreams Versus Command Spouse Duties
Trust when I say that I really am grateful for all of those things. It’s just that I wanted to…well, I was ready to be done. I was done with expectations, done with limits — done and ready to be warm for the rest of my life. (hello, Florida retirement). I know, I know, retirement also has its own longings for the familiar military life. I know the grass is not always greener, but for me? I was ready to at least give cutting a new lawn a go.
When taking command of a squadron became an option for my husband, I vehemently, unashamedly, and with every ounce of begging I could muster voted, “no,” and I was outvoted. I get it, though — it’s an excellent opportunity for him, and great experience for life after the Marine Corps.
It’s just that command spouse was the last thing I wanted.
Welcome Aboard! Check Your Expectations at the Door.
Though we don’t take command for another few months, I’ve had some time to think about what I’ve always done when we were in the last place I wanted to be. (Jacksonville, NC, circa 1999, I’m looking at you!)
I bloomed where I was planted. Doing whatever it was that was expected, not out of obligation to my husband or because of concern that people would talk if I didn’t, but because I had so many fantastic command spouses before me who showed me just how to do it.
For 22 years, I’ve watched strong, smart, educated women mother their kids, go to their real jobs, (ha) and foster relationships within their husband’s units like the bosses they were. And I watched them do it with honesty (it’s lonely at the top) and grace (honey, you call me any time you need me because I care), which spoke volumes — not about expectations they were trying to live up to, but about who they were and what they were making the role of Command Spouse out to be.
Because that’s the thing with expectation. It often talks one right out of enjoying opportunity because it feels so heavy-laden with unasked-for responsibility (don’t get me started on the whole, “You signed up for it…” argument).
Trade Expectation for Opportunity
So that’s I want to keep in mind — and hope anyone who feels the same trepidation about a position you never really wanted does as well. It’s completely OK to be honest that it may not be your cup of tea. It’s completely OK to feel overwhelmed when the Cornerstone Conference invite comes in, and it’s completely normal to express some despair that the things great for your spouse’s career may not be so great for your passions or interests.
Pretending that it’s all rainbows and glitter because it’s such an accomplishment doesn’t really benefit anyone. I don’t think that all of a sudden I’m going to feel super psyched at the change of command and be ready to tackle all that comes (officially or not) with being that spouse.
But, I will say that I’ve had legendary spouses go before me, showing me that command spouse, or any other spouse position, is really just what I want it to be. The only expectations I need to meet are the ones that I set for myself, and looking at it from an opportunity-versus-expectation viewpoint makes a difference.
Especially since some of the last things I’ve ever wanted to do in the last 22 years have turned out to be some of the things I’ll go to my grave calling my best memories ever.
Becoming a Command Spouse comes with a lot of expectations, sure, but what about the unknowns that follow your spouse being Passed Over for Promotion? Learn what to expect.
Photo Credit: Pixabay