This Military Life | The “Senior” Military Spouse as Mentor

redo #2 1 Cor 13On our first date, I didn’t know my soon-to-be-husband was in the military. When I found out, I didn’t really give it much thought. I considered it like any other profession – lawyer, doctor, airline pilot, engineer. It was his job. His passion. What he loved to do. A dream fulfilled.

After some time, however, it became very apparent to me that this was not like any other job. This was a lifestyle. One that I would soon be entering.

I was not raised in a military family. I had never been on an Air Force base. I didn’t know what any of the acronyms meant. I was unaware that I would have a role as his spouse. I was no longer considered a “civilian” but a “military dependent”. I had to push through my anxiety of driving onto a military installation and seeing tanks, armored vehicles, men and women in uniform, service dogs, and weapons.

My husband was in the middle of his 20+ year career when I joined him. Other spouses had been doing this life much longer than I. I felt lost in conversations among the spouses as they talked about previous assignments, TDYs, PCS’ing, the Commissary, BX, BAH, COLA and Dining Outs. (Did I lose you?) See what I mean?

The most frustrating thing for me was that I had no clue what I didn’t know. Therefore, I didn’t know what questions to ask. I am not shy about asking questions when I don’t understand something. But, if I don’t even know that I should be asking questions to gather important information for me and my family, well then, that just plain brings me to tears. Nothing frustrates me more than feeling like I am being left out in the dark. And for the first 5-6 years of our marriage, I felt that way.

Currently, as a “Senior” Spouse, I am extremely sensitive to those who are new to this military life. I want to come up alongside them and tell them it is going to be okay. I see their “deer in the headlights” looks. I see their discomfort at formal events such as – when to stand, when to sit, how to address their spouse’s senior leadership, what to do during the presentation of the colors, and on and on. It is all so confusing and foreign. I was a mess for a while. But, I watched, I paid close attention, and I asked my husband and other spouses questions when I could.

For the most part, my questions were answered. But, there were times when I was made to feel like I should already know the answer. As a Senior Spouse, it is my goal to never make another spouse feel that way. I must always remember what it was like to be new.

The truth is we are all a “Senior” Spouse to someone. No matter your spouse’s rank, there is a military spouse in your midst who would benefit from your mentorship. Whether you have been in the military <1 year or >10 years doesn’t matter. There will always be spouses with less experience and great need for mentoring. Step up to the challenge. You have something to teach them. And, if nothing else, your smile and genuine concern for how they are adapting to military life will be a salve for them.

One of our goals should be to raise up the next generation of military spouses. Build their confidence. Empower them. Create in them resilience by being patient, answering their questions, guiding them gently, and giving them greater and greater opportunities for leading in your organization. Even “hold their hand” for a while if necessary. We must assume the role as mentor and engage in a purposeful relationship that is nurturing, kind, and compassionate. We must listen to what they are saying and be prepared to give words of encouragement and support as needed. Sometimes it may require that we do more than we think necessary. 

We must remember what it was like to be a sojourner in a “foreign land”The example in Scripture is set before us. 

He…loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18,19)

Too many spouses are lonely, hurting, and wandering without direction. Too often we are so busy comparing military “war stories” – who had the most difficult move, who had the longest deployment, who has had to relocate their family the most times – that we don’t realize what we are communicating to new spouses.  The message is, Be Tough! As if developing a tough outer skin is going to get them through the difficult times.

I disagree. While it serves its purpose to a point, developing a game face, a tough facade, is only going to cut you off from developing authentic relationships making it harder to reach out when you need help.

I have seen it time and time again. A tough outer facade leads to pridefulness. Being prideful as a military spouse will alienate you from the people you need most during deployments or when settling into a new assignment. Let’s not compare. Let’s not communicate to our younger spouses that we survived, therefore they just need to tough it out. Too often that is the message that is being sent. And, we wonder why spouses stay at home, don’t come to socials, or ask for help when they need it! 

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

Let us be gentle and show love towards the younger military spouses in our midst. Let’s be wise and avoid pridefulness. Let us not neglect our role as mentors. Let us humbly accept our role of raising up the next generation of military spouse leaders.

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I would love to hear from you. In what ways have you been mentored as a military spouse? In what ways have you mentored others? How might your early days as a military spouse been better had a more “senior” spouse come alongside and encouraged you?

Cheers to This Military Life!

jana

 

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8 thoughts on “This Military Life | The “Senior” Military Spouse as Mentor

  1. Almost six years in, and I still feel like I’m getting my feet under me. I remember the first time the Man took me to the commissary at Andrews…I just about cried from the culture shock. I know that two deployments, a couple PCSs, and a handful of TDYs should make me old-hat, but I will learn anything that you can teach me. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

  2. I’m really looking forward to this series, Jana. As a less senior military spouse, I know I will benefit from you sharing your experiences and your heart. I too believe we need to be honest and real about the struggles. It’s exhausting when we try to present the “just be tough” approach when inside I feel anything but tough. Maybe because I’m in the middle of a deployment at times it’s difficult to not be bitter…not sure if that is the word I’m looking for. I’m going through some depolyment weariness. But your words really do hit home to me. Thanks for sharing. Much love and blessings to you this Holy Week.

    • Thank you, Beth. Praying for you sweet friend, during this trying time. Deployments are not easy for any of us, no matter how long we have been doing “this military life”. Wish I could bless you with a hug and conversation over coffee. jana

  3. Great thoughts Jana. I too feel it is important to be honest and real about the struggles of military life. It is a lifestyle. It is so important to encourage young moms to ask for help and accept the offer when it is given. As a mom I learned the hard way I could not get through a 7 month navy deployment without help. We are now in our second year of retirement and I am still dealing with hurt I stuffed down deep and learned responses to conflict that do not serve our marriage well. Mentoring from those who have done it with the right spirit and are not full of bitterness, but instead embrace each challenge as an opportunity for growth is who I try to be and who we need to search out.

  4. I was a military spouse for 9 years before moving to NJ and because we were always stationed in my hometown, I did not do much spouse-y stuff and there was so much I didn’t know. Then I was suddenly “the first sergeant’s wife” and I was expected to know so much more than I actually did. I was thankful for the spouses that were able to answer my questions, make me feel more comfortable in my role, and the friendships that were formed. Jana, you were one of those spouses at that time and I am so grateful for you! My time in NJ really taught me the value of the connection between military spouses in this lifestyle. It brings me great joy to help along a spouse that is newer to the lifestyle and help them to get connected or let them know where to find information.

I would love to hear from you!