‘Super parent’ takes charge of the family when spouse is deployed 


Maranatha Bivens
AUSA Family Programs

Nearly everyone has heard the phrase "things were different back in my day" from someone older (and as they claim, wiser) at some point in their lives.

The response is triggered by everything from fashion ("What are kids wearing these days?") to pop culture ("You call that comedy?"), and usually leads to lively discussions about the long gone glory days, obliterated by technological advancements and tabloids.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the same social commentary can be brought to the military community.

The soldiers in today’s Army face different challenges and have different priorities and obligations than those who served just a few decades ago. As do the spouses serving beside them.

As the new generation is ushered in, what are the primary concerns and interests of the military spouses of today?

Deployment and reintegration

With more than a decade of war behind us, today’s military community has endured unprecedented periods of separation from loved ones.

More than 2 million service members have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, leaving an estimated 3.1 million family members at installations and in civilian communities.

The weight of these separations, often reoccurring in short intervals and longer durations, has markedly affected the dynamic of the modern military family. Moms and dads are now asked to take on the role of "super parent," learning to manage a household for months, if not years.

The idea of one spouse taking on a heavier workload in a military family is not a new concept at all, but taking on that heavier workload for an extended, if not indefinite, amount of time is not only something today’s military spouses are familiar with, but have grown accustomed to.

And for the 113,000 service members living in dual military households, deployment cycles make for double the work to create family stability.

As troops continue to drawdown and return home from combat, the more pressing issues now stem from managing the changes and stressors of reintegration.

Spouses are also learning how to navigate this path to reconnection as a family, in addition to the many spouses now taking on the role of primary caregiver for spouses that return wounded or injured.

Employment and education

Almost 50 percent of military spouses are under the age of 30, and the most recent DoD Demographics Report shows 85 percent of military spouses are actively seeking employment.

Also, 84 percent have completed some college coursework, 25 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 10 percent have an advanced degree.

Getting hired and maintaining employment when your family is continually on the move makes for an anything but stable career path, and many spouses are taking this into their own hands by becoming licensed in fields with maximum portability, or even starting businesses that they can manage.

Portability and lack of consistency also make it difficult for spouses to meet their educational goals.

Though many organizations and schools are working to make distance learning programs available, it is still difficult to find a work/life/school balance.

Career development and sustainment is incredibly important to military spouses, and as such, they continue to invest in their educations and take innovative approaches in their career pursuits.

Connection and community

Being stationed near a small town that seems to have no connection to the 21st century would be isolating for almost anyone.

With well over half of the current military population living outside an installation, and 70 percent of military students attending civilian schools, feeling a personal connection with the community around them has grown to be difficult.

Where my mom waited a month or more for a letter or phone call from my grandpa in Vietnam, spouses are making significant efforts to bridge the gaps between their service member and also each other using social media and other online outlets.

Facebook and the like aren’t just for posting cute pictures of pets in costumes (though those are great, too) – military spouses are finding ways to connect and make an impact from their laptops.

The access to information, the ability to remain connected to loved ones, and to network with like-minded spouses and organizations is unprecedented.

From radio shows, blogs, and mobile apps, and homegrown businesses, spouses have created an extensive network of support for one another. This has forced many support organizations and readiness groups to increase their online outreach efforts.

We look forward to discussing a few of these issues at our Military Family Forums at the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in October.

In the meantime, tell us: Did we leave anything out? What issues are important to you or the military spouses you know in your community?

Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AUSAfamily or follow us on Twitter @AUSAfamprgms.

Family Strong – Army Strong!