Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thoughts on the military and the idea of work/life balance

I found a new blog yesterday, and have been eagerly reading some of her very thoughtful posts. While many have been bookmarked for later reference, and nearly all have made me think, one in particular has prompted me to think about how the military interacts with mine and my husband's true vocation, marriage.

Her post discusses a strange but true fact of career planning in mainstream America, that:

"The notion of consider the kind of daily life you would like to lead is absent from professional career planning as any of us experienced it. Not in college, not in high school, not back in grade school when we were drawing pictures of What We Will Be When We Grow Up. Sure, there's advice to consider the kind of work you want to do. But the notion of choosing a career path that is well-matched to the kind of life you want to lead outside work is completely foreign."

This has been an issue of some contention for Einstein and I from the very start. I, after all, longed for us to have careers that made family life the center of our lives, as it was for both our families growing up. Einstein, while aware that the military was in many ways incompatible with that vision, felt truly called to his profession, and both of us made what we felt was a mature, well-informed decision that he should stay in the military, that we should marry, and that he should plan on a full 20 year military career*. We had long discussions about the military, about moving around the country, about the moral doctrines of just war and the effects that the lifestyle would have on any sort of academic or library career that I would want to have. We discussed the effects on our future children of frequent moves, being far from family, etc. We have had a series of similar discussions at two other points since then: when he decided to be a pilot, rather than an engineer and when we had to submit his "dream sheet" of aircraft choices.

What we did not discuss, at all, was what our daily life would look like. Mostly, that was because we had no clue. Daily life in the military (at least in my experience) fluctuates so much dependent upon job, base, leadership, and a billion other factors as to be indescribable. Einstein's Air Force uncles and their wives did their best to prepare us, but neither of us had the slightest idea of what we were getting into.

I am not talking about deployments. Einstein entered the Air Force post-9/11. We both understood that deployments were a foregone conclusion. I am talking about the when-he-is-home time. I had no idea that his schedule would be so varied, so unpredictable, so dependent on weather and mechanical breakdowns and the often seemingly insane whims of leadership. No one told me about long hours spent at work studying material in the vault. Everyone focuses on moving and deployment, but no one that talked to me (and I talked to a LOT of people) thought to discuss the long, unpredictable hours, the lack of weekends and ability to take sick leave to care for a child and a million other little details that pervade daily life in the military.

As we constantly evaluate our disposition toward having children, Einstein and I have come to the uncomfortable realization that while we feel equipped to deal with the moves and being far from family, the daily grind of military life and deployments make us feel that our daily life isn't really suited to children. I am not saying that we will continue to try to avoid pregnancy; not at all! After all, our first commitment is to God and to each other, and that commitment includes the promise of children. But if we could go back in time, would we choose this life? Maybe not. At this point, though, we are committed* and so we try to find ways to make our daily life work as we want it with the circumstances we find ourselves in. And in that, I don't think we are that different from any family, military or not.

*I don't know if Einstein will stay in the full 20. With his commitment after pilot training (10 years) plus his time in service before pilot training, he will be near enough to his 20 by the time he can get out to make it a pretty ridiculous idea...but you never know.

NOTE: This is not meant to be a "Oh civilians have it so easy" post. I'm just trying to get some thoughts of my own out and see if I can make better sense of it by writing it out.


Skinnie Piggie said...

Wow, this is so true. Thanks for writing!

bearing said...

Thanks for the link, Nomad. I often wonder how military families do it -- you all have all my respect and gratitude for your sacrifice.