Tag Archives: military spouses

Mastering the Art of the Empty Nest!

I thought I had this Empty-Nester thing figured out; I spent over 20 years raising children and preparing them for all life has to offer. And, last month, when I drove off to take my youngest daughter to college, I was excited for my new future. The possibilities seemed endless!


The 1200 mile road trip to drop her off was fun–she and I are two peas in a pod. We’re like the Gilmore Girls: she’s basically my best friend (I know what they say: you shouldn’t be “friends” with your children – you should be their parent). But she is special, she’s an old soul. I felt like I was losing my best friend.

The good-bye was actually easier than I anticipated. I was confident her father and I had prepared her for pretty much anything. She was ready to fly the coop.

Upon returning home, things felt weird. My husband went TDY, and for the first time since 1992, I was HOME ALONE. What should I do first?! I could do anything I wanted. My responsibilities had dramatically decreased, so I could sleep all day, lie around watching old movies, or spend the entire day at the gym. Instead, I went to the grocery store. And I didn’t bother with the commissary this time. Heck, it was only my husband and I now, and we don’t eat that much, so I could afford the name brand stores this time! I wandered around aimlessly in a daze, and walked out with a loaf of bread, a six pack of beer, and a rotisserie chicken (and I don’t even eat meat!).

Was this how my new life was going to be? Wasting time wandering around and accomplishing nothing? I felt like I needed a plan. For over two decades I’ve always had a regimented plan and schedules to follow. I’m not used to down time…I need to be productive.

I allowed myself the full weekend to be a big mess of confusion. Then I decided it was time to get myself together and figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It was only three weeks into Empty Nest Life, but I still wasn’t sure what that is. For 25 years, I’ve been focused on everyone else. A few months after marrying my spouse, we PCS’d for the first time. I had to quit the big job I got right out of college, and put my career on the back burner so we could pursue his together. Then I had babies.

For years and years, I raised those kids and supported my husband through many PCS moves, deployments, and TDY assignments. I got whatever job fit my schedule. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to find work that allowed me to see my kids off to school, and be there when they returned home. It was never about me and always about them.

How does one go about deciding what she wants and needs, when for most of her life, she’s always been what everyone else wanted and needed?

The possibilities are, indeed, endless. I can finally pursue my group fitness instruction again. My evenings are free to teach classes, since there are no more softball games to attend, no more back-to-school nights, no more homework to help with (let’s be honest: my kids quit needing my help with that years ago). Maybe I can go back to work full-time. My day can now start and end when I want it to. Maybe I can do both?!

Maybe I need to cut myself a break and give myself a little bit of time figure it all out. For 25 years, I did what had to be done. And now it’s only been a month…

In the meantime, I will continue my projects around the house, and continue walking the dogs twice a day (they’re very confused by all of this, and although they enjoy the walks, they are a little tired from all the attention!).

Do I miss my kids? You bet I do. Am I sad to be an Empty-Nester? Nope. I’m excited. And I’m pretty sure I will master this Empty-Nester thing after all.

Are you an Empty-Nester? How did you navigate your new “free time?”

cindyPosted by Cindy Jackson, Finance Manager

Military Life, Work, Motherhood, and Grad School? Yes! You Can Do It All!

If you asked me to describe my graduate school journey and “life” a few weeks ago, I would say I was doing what anyone else would do: I work. I have two small children. My husband was active duty when I started grad school, and had three sets of deployment orders, then ended up going through a medical board and was granted honorable separation from the military. Did I mention I had our daughter during grad school, too?


I’ve held the titles of working professional, military spouse, mom, single parent, expecting mom, and graduate student. And for short periods of time during my three year pursuit to a Masters degree, I held all of those titles concurrently.

Parenting, work, and grad school is hard.

How did I do it?

First, rally the troops. By this I mean, let your work-life, family, and friends network know you are attending grad school (or whatever you’re pursuing). There will be days where you’ll need extra support and understanding after pulling an all-nighter with a fussy infant and finalizing a research report. You may appreciate the latte a co-worker picks up, or a freezer meal you stashed in your refrigerator for a gotta-feed-the-kids-but-I-can’t-keep-my-eyes-open-to-cook night.

Keep an eye out for child care. If you are working and going to school, you’ll need child care. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one child care option for your working hours and your school hours. I had multiple child care arrangements; I swapped play dates with friends when I had to have quiet, dedicated time to write and research without the distraction of kids; I utilized on-base resources, neighbors, local child care providers, my parents, and a series of teenage babysitters. Your college may even have child care resources available. Call a Military OneSource consultant, ask for child care resources through your college, and ask your nearest installation to help you access local child care resources. You may even quality for a fee assistance program.

Befriend an academic advisor. Set yourself up for success by exploring all of the resources your college provides. Even if you are attending school online, you should have a point of contact to help you navigate online and in-person resources, such as access to your library, career services, tutoring support, networking opportunities, and more. Instead of jumping into an academic program, explore the support services the college provides before you need them.

For example, I had a good relationship with my advisor and in my first semester realized full time graduate school with full time work and parenting wasn’t going to work for me. I was able to reduce my course load to a part-time schedule during times when my life was very busy. The flexibility to change my course load really helped me during those unpredictable life changes. It is important to understand the length of time you have to complete a degree program, the withdraw dates, and the downfalls for changing your academic plan or program completion pace. While I was able to keep up my course work and stay enrolled in school while I had our second child, I do know other classmates who decided to take a semester leave of absence. Life will happen while you are in school – plan for the unpredictable by befriending an academic advisor.

Be kind to yourself. As a military spouse, you are capable of juggling many competing priorities, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Be kind to yourself. There may be some activities you have to give up while pursuing your academic program. I had to reduce my volunteer hours and social activities. I often missed weekend events because I was working on school work. I had to learn to say “no” and prioritize what must get done, and what could wait.

Keep your eye on the prize. Imagine what it feels like to complete your degree program. How will your new degree enhance your skills set or propel you into a new career? When life gets busy you may have to remind yourself why you are going to school. It’s not an easy task to balance being a military spouse, mom, working professional, AND student – but I know you can do it!

Have you had multiple things to juggle in your military life to finish school? Share your story with us in the comments!

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

In Their Words: September 11th Through MilKids’ Eyes

Fourteen years have passed since the sunny Tuesday morning that would change our nation forever. As we reflect each year on the lives lost that day, and the years following in our nation’s longest war, there are some who haven’t seen the history unfold for themselves.

Many military kids weren’t alive when September 11, 2001 happened, though many of their parents joined the military as a result of the attacks. Many have seen their parent deploy, miss birthdays, even miss the birth of other children.

Some military kids may not have lived through our nation’s darkest day, but they’re left to grow up in it’s wake.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

World Suicide Prevention Day: Change the Direction of Mental Health

September marks the start of Suicide Prevention Month, with today being World Suicide Prevention Day—a time when to reflect on the lives taken too soon, and focus on saving lives. We know suicides within the military community are growing at an alarming rate, with more than 20 veterans taking their lives each day. Studies are only beginning to track military family suicides, but we know this number is unsettling, too.



Mental health and the military community has long been an issue swept under the rug…but why? Some service members say they don’t seek help for mental health illnesses for fear of getting in trouble with their unit, being teased by fellow service members, or being discharged altogether. Family members face their own obstacles when dealing with mental health care, ranging from their own embarrassment in seeking treatment, to the lack of mental health providers equipped to understand what military life is really like.

The National Military Family Association is committed to ensuring the nation’s military families have access to programs and initiatives that strengthen and support them, like proper mental health care. One way we’re doing that is by joining forces with The Campaign to Change Direction and pledging to share, with at least 200,000 military families, the Five Signs of Suffering.

“Those who serve our nation, and their families, face unique challenges and stressors that can place them at higher risk for the development of mental health concerns. The Campaign to Change Direction gives us the opportunity to ensure those in need receive the care and support they deserve,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, the backbone organization leading the Campaign.

So what is The Change Direction initiative? On the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Give an Hour and a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector came together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

“We are honored to partner with the National Military Family Association in this critical effort to educate all military families about the Five Signs of Suffering,” Van Dahlen adds.

This story will spark a movement to change the way we view mental health and help us to recognize signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others.

five signs of suffering

The most important piece of information we can learn from the Change Direction initiative are the Five Signs of Suffering:

  1. Personality Change. This can happen suddenly, or gradually, and can sometimes look as though they’re acting outside of their values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down.
  3. Withdrawal. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy.
  4. Poor Self-Care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

What happens if you see these signs in someone you know?

Change Direction offers this advice, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The face of mental health within the military community is all too often ignored—by policy makers, military leaders, and even the service member and their family. Through NMFA’s pledge with Change Direction, we will make sure that you and your military family continue to have the support you need, and we will continue to fight for the benefits and programs your family has sacrificed for.

Join NMFA and The Campaign to Change Direction on today’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and make a pledge to create a culture where mental health is valued and achievable.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

What is STEM and Why Should Military Spouses Know About It?

I’m probably far from what one might imagine a military spouse to be. Despite being born a U.S. citizen, I was raised in Canada and ended up serving in the Canadian Army years after my parents divorced and re-settled on either side of the border. Having often served alongside U.S. military forces, when I eventually made my permanent home in the U.S. and was able to transition leadership experience and education to a promising career with the Department of Defense as a contractor.


I thought I was rather well-equipped to handle the ups and downs of military life until I married a fire fighter in 2013, who also happened to be a member of the Army National Guard, and whose unit was a one-way 5-hour drive from our home in another state.

Within weeks of our wedding, we received news that my husband would be deploying, and in just two months, he was off to occupational and work-up training in two other states. This subsequently meant he was away most of the period leading up to the actual deployment. Despite an amazing husband and my two decades of working in a military environment, I would be the one to have to adapt to her partner’s erratic schedule, instead of the other way around. Having left the Washington, D.C. area to settle in my husband’s hometown, where no one knew my name, I knew there would be some challenges.

Nothing helped me navigate those challenges more than my other loves: science and entrepreneurship. I began writing and publishing articles online about the relationship between science, technology, and society while developing the concept for my business, when I received news that I was accepted into the Biomedical Engineering PhD program at a research university near our home.

stem-field-military-spousesHaving already graduated from programs in the social and military sciences, I was fortunate to have been able to complete a flexible Master of Science degree in Biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University while still working full-time and traveling back-and-forth to see my then-fiancé. Even as a budding scientist, I discovered I could serve as a bridge between scientists, engineers, policy makers, and operators.

While a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) may not be for everyone, it offers many benefits that serve to meet the unique demands of any military household.

First, from a pragmatic perspective, a STEM foundation offers highly portable job and career opportunities. The foundational knowledge and experience one acquires in any of these areas can be applied across many different economic sectors, from health care to industrial design and mechanics to teaching, regardless of where you live. Practically speaking, it teaches you how to approach problem-solving, and can even enable you to perform basic household repairs – for instance, minor electrical or mechanical problems – rather than take on the expense of hiring a professional.

Most importantly, STEM offers military spouses the potential for independence and personal satisfaction. The skills one acquires in STEM are always in demand, putting the military spouse in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers. These key services and skills allow military spouses to develop flexible careers with schedules that suit his or her needs.

For me, since making the decision to undertake full-time STEM research (like my colleague, whose husband is in the Navy), I get up every day excited to get to the lab. Knowing I have the chance to directly tackle a global biomedical challenge from start to finish, and to work with such an intelligent and diverse group of people, is hugely rewarding. Now that my husband is an Army Flight Medic, along with the EMT knowledge and experience he has as a Rescue Technician, we have even more to keep us connected during the times we are apart, and that’s the icing on the cake.

Have you ever considered a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Share your story with us!

Posted by Hollie Ryan, M.S., M.A., military spouse and NMFA scholarship recipient

I am More Than a Spouse…So are YOU!

I have a confession to make. The #MoreThanASpouse campaign is about me. Well, not just me. It’s about me, and my co-worker, and my best friend, and my next-door neighbor. It’s about all of us.


I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years. I am so proud of my husband and am honored to support him in his career. I am happy to follow him from one duty station to the next, because there isn’t any place I would rather be than with him. I am happy to support him as he studies for promotions, and volunteers his time, and leaves for TDYs and deployments. I am so proud of him.

His career is not mine though. It’s wonderful, and it’s something to be proud of, but it’s not me.

When we move to a new area, the most common first question I’m asked is, “What does your husband do?”

It’s rarely, “What do you do?”

Or even, “Tell me about yourself.”

It’s never really bothered me; it’s the nature of the beast. Military life means you move when they tell you, where they tell you. It means the mission comes first, and sometimes, that means there’s no one for you to rely on but yourself. It means leaving jobs, and being on call 100% of the time. It means doing what you must do rather than what you want to do.

The service member serves. The service member sacrifices. The service member follows orders. Sometimes it feels like the family only follows. But families serve, too; by keeping things quiet and stable at home, allowing the service member to do their job and focus on their mission. So many of us set aside our hopes and dreams to focus on the work at hand.

As we get older, and as the kids grow, I am realizing there is much more to me than just my role as a spouse.

I am so much more than a spouse.

There are things I want to do with my life: I want to be a leader. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world for the better. Yes, I want to support my spouse, but I want to do more. I can be more. These desires are not mutually exclusive.

pinterest-more-than-a-spouseFor the More Than a Spouse project, we sought out military spouses and asked them to tell their story. In recent years, there has been a lot of ugliness directed at military spouses. We’ve been called names, we’ve been reduced to stereotypes. Employers reject us. Communities fail to see our worth. We’ve been told, “You do nothing. You are not special. You do not serve.” (Yes, that was an actual comment we received this week on our Facebook page)

This project was not intended to claim we serve in the same way our spouses do. We know that’s not true. Our lives are deeply impacted by our spouse’s military service, but that isn’t what this video is about.

This project is intended to encourage military spouses to take a closer look at themselves. Forget what the world says. Forget what the “haters” say. What matters most is what you think, and what you want to make of yourself. What matters most is who you are, and who you want to be.

Recently, I sat down with some of the military spouses I admire most. These spouses are leaders in their communities, and wonderful mothers and fathers. They are supportive. They are doing amazing things at work, at home, and in their communities. I asked them two simple questions:

“What is special about you? What are you proud of?”

I handed them a marker and a piece of paper. They laughed nervously, shifted their weight in their seats, and sighed. They stared back at me, shaking their heads, and it broke my heart.

“I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what makes me special”

But we do. We see you.

We see you at home. We see you comforting children who just want to talk to Daddy while he’s in the field. We see you when you have the flu, but you’re up anyways, caring for your sick children because there’s no one to call for backup. We see you delivering babies alone while your husband is serving 3000 miles away. We see you attending parent-teacher conferences alone while your wife is downrange.

We see you in the community, volunteering with the booster club, or the FRG, or in the thrift store on base. We see you attending college, writing papers long into the night. We see you bringing meals to other spouses, being there when someone needs support, and helping wash the uniform just one more time as your spouse packs their go-bag.

We see the pride on your face when your spouse is promoted, and the hurt in your eyes when they hug you goodbye. We see your strength and your heartache.
We see your potential. We know you have hopes and dreams. We know it will be hard.

But we know you can do it. You’ve shown us that again and again. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are capable. You are valuable. You are important.

What makes you special? What do you want to be?

Share your “I am” pictures with us on social media using the hashtag #MoreThanASpouse, or email us at social@militaryfamily.org.

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

The Trifecta: Find The Perfect Job for Your Military Life

When I have conversations with military spouse friends, it’s a good bet one of them is in search of a job at any given time during the year. They are trying to find a job in the field they studied in school, or trying to find anything in the little rural town they are now stationed at. Whatever the challenge is, we all know it can be a beast to make the same career work with a military lifestyle.



One thing that we all need to believe is that military spouses can, and should, tame these beasts!

During my work with NMFA, I have come across many spouses in all kinds of situations. With this firsthand knowledge, paired with a little research, I have figured out there’s a key to taming the beast…and it’s called the Trifecta.

When in the market for a job, or even when you are considering going back to school, the Trifecta should be at the forefront of your mind. Too often, military spouses pursue education or jobs that are lackluster, and definitely not Trifecta material. Whether these spouses chose convenience and cost, before considering stability and longevity, it’s important to know that the Trifecta will make those precious dollars spent on your education and career well worth it in the long run.

If you’re returning to school or applying for jobs, keep the Trifecta at the top of mind and you will be one step closer to a more lucrative and durable career to compliment your military life. Consider what could happen if you don’t take these questions seriously: What school should I go to? What degree? What certification? What job?

Remember: don’t settle. You can tame the education and career beast!

So, what’s the Trifecta, and why should it matter to me? A job will fall under the awesome Trifecta if it’s:

  1. In a high demand field: ‘High demand’ can be defined as urgent or pressing requirement. Jobs in high demand will have more opportunities and more availability for new positions. In nut shell – they will be hiring!
  2. Financially sound: Consider what the pay will be and what the pay potential can be. People who are getting paid to their satisfaction are more likely to be happy and more likely to stay in those positions. According to the Social Security Administration the national average wage index for 2013 (last reported) was $44,888.16.
  3. Portable: This is the elusive golden egg for military spouses who are moving around every few years. If the job or career is not portable, you may have to start from square one and get back in the job market all over again.

But what does a Trifecta job look like? Here are some careers that fit the bill:

After researching statistics with the Department of Labor, I have determined these jobs not only are in high demand, but they are financially sounds jobs, which could be portable. This certainly isn’t a complete list of all the Trifecta jobs out there, but these are options that should be highly considered.

Think your ready to go back to school, or find your new career, but not sure where to start? Join us tonight for a Facebook party, where NMFA will be giving away $5,000 in scholarships, and where you’ll have a chance to chat with panelist and other military spouses who’ve gone back to school, found Trifecta jobs, and who want you to know their secret to finding it! The fun starts at 9pm ET! Come join us in your PJ’s and network with other military spouses!

Believe in Yourself

Have you had any luck finding a job that fits the Trifecta? Tell us about it!

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Program Manager, Spouse Education + Professional Support