For Better... or For Worse...
Jan 15, 2004

There is a very popular cartoon by military wife Sophie Patenaude that depicts a couple kneeling before a clergyman as they prepare to exchange wedding vows. The groom, handsome in his dress ­uniform and the beautiful bride in a swirling white gown are looking into each other’s eyes as the ­clergyman reads the wedding vows “….for ­better or for worse,” just then, the bride whispers to the groom “Well… how ‘worse’ are we talking???” Yes, just how bad will things get?

From my point of view, as a young military bride of the late 1960s, life as a military wife has improved one hundred percent. There were no support networks in place to help my generation deal with all the challenges this lifestyle presents. The only support we had was what we provided to each other. Our friends became our family, and our family became our friends. We quite often felt that the military didn’t know that wives and children existed!

That certainly is not true today. We have military family resource centres well established on every military base, and the many support programs they offer from employment assistance, to resume preparation, babysitting, self-defense courses, etc., are much appreciated. The creation of a Quality of Life directorate should go a long way towards offering not only support but also understanding of the difficulties we face in this challenging lifestyle.

Although these wonderful support networks weren’t available to my generation, we didn’t have the worry of today’s spouses who deal with constant deployments, more partners with psychological and medical problems and more ­children suffering the affects of a father/mother who is away more than he/she is home. Today’s military spouse certainly deals with much more stress coming at them from several directions, and sadly, many are questioning whether they can continue to deal with all that is asked of them. I can’t count the number of times a military wife has declared, "I don’t know if I can do this anymore…." The number of overseas tours and the amount of training to prepare for these tours, as well as the number of exercises, courses and overtime work commitments, are all taking their toll on our families.

The role of the military spouse is changing. Now, more women are working outside the home and although the phrase ‘You marry the man, you take on the lifestyle,’ is one we all accepted, many wives today are choosing not to take on the lifestyle. They are young, professional women who prefer to see their partnership as ‘He has his job and I have mine.’

Granted, the majority of military spouses are as supportive as ever, but this new breed of military spouse has taken on a different mindset. And who is to say that they are wrong? Many have looked at the sacrifices of my generation – no job security, no seniority, moving every three years; they’ve looked at today’s demands on their partners, the long work hours, the frequency of foreign tours, the danger of these tours, and the too-long periods of time away from home and family; and they have decided they want more stability in their lives – for themselves and their children. And so they look on their partner’s occupation as a job. He can come and go as his job dictates, but spouse and family stay put. With today’s lifestyle dictating the need for a two-person income, military spouses want to progress in their own occupation and some are not as willing to pull up stakes and follow their partner wherever his job takes him.

Some have said that today’s military is more like a corporate business and less like a military community, and one has to wonder where all this will lead. Is the support DND provides to our military families enough? Is it too much? What will happen 20 to 25 years down the road when today’s military family leaves the lifestyle? Will they be able to cope on their own, or has DND in its eagerness to correct the wrongs of not supporting my generation, created a mindset whereby all those in the military community depend too much on the system and not enough on themselves. You might say that DND is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. Life has no guarantees, and the military lifestyle is, unfortunately, a challenge that some can’t meet to the end.

The loss of our soldiers in Afghanistan has taken a toll on families already dealing with way too much. When you attend a civilian funeral you grieve for the deceased and for those left behind. When you attend a military funeral, you go through the same grieving process but you also worry will your partner be next? Will he come home the same as when he left? How much more of this constant emotional turmoil can military spouses handle?

The majority of us are looking at the future with a blend of heavy hearts, guarded optimism and fervent hopes as we realize that the quality of our future does not lie solely in our own hands. Those that make the decisions affecting our lives have a heavy responsibility to ease our burdens. A responsibility they must take seriously.

Dianne Collier is the author of Hurry Up & Wait and the upcoming book My Life, My Life (Creative Bound Inc., Janaury 2004)
© FrontLine Defence 2004