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The career-less spouse

2020-07-03

When I was visiting LinkedIn, a notice popped up to congratulate a high school friend for working 26 years at the same company.* Twenty-six years at one company! When you are a military spouse and you see these notifications, it totally sucks is extremely depressing.

Many of us have changed jobs every time we have moved. Personally, I have never held a job longer than three years. I’ve wanted to. There were jobs that I was happy with, and I could have built a career around, but I chose to follow my husband.

Some civilians are probably thinking that I should shut up be quiet because it was my choice. Civilians have said to me, “Well, I wouldn’t move away from family or give up my job.” So I ask them if that means they choose:

  • divorce
  • live without their spouse for [unknown number] years
  • have their spouse resent you for the rest of the marriage because you forced them to give up a job that they love

The civilians then look confused because they really haven’t understood the options or the consequences. I chose to sacrifice my career (and future earning potential, company pension, professional relationships, sense of self-identity, etc. etc.) to keep my family together. If I had the choice to do it again, I would still choose my family over my career.

I have always had jobs. Most of them were short-term, part-time contracts at minimum wage. An American study indicated that up to 90% of military spouses are underemployed. I haven’t come across Canadian statistics but in my experience, the results would be similar. For most spouses, the choices are to stay unemployed, find a job at one of the local businesses, or create a portable business of your own.

Some spouses choose multi-level marketing schemes, such as selling candles or kitchen goods. This might seem like a great idea until you get posted. Then you have to build up a new client base at your new location competing with business owners already well-established in the community.  Finally, once you become profitable, you have to move again. At least nowadays, there are more opportunities for virtual jobs and remote work. (I’m a virtual assistant.)

More companies should hire military spouses. This article in Entrepreneur magazine gives five reasons (there are many more) to hire a military spouse. These include:

Adaptability & Flexibility: We can orchestrate a household move to another country in a few weeks’ notice. Pivot is our middle name.

Sense of Duty: We understand loyalty, honour, ethics, communication, and team cohesiveness. We work together to get the job done.

Pressure & Stress: We live in a town where we don’t know a soul while our husbands are deployed in a combat zone halfway around the world, the kids have trouble with homework in a language we don’t understand, the cat puked all over the bed but washing machine blew up so we can’t wash the sheets. That’s an average day.

Planning & Vision: Military spouses don’t have a plan. They have many plans. They understand strategy and tactics. They can take the bird’s eye view (strategy) and implement all of the details (tactics). We can do it rapidly and seamlessly.

Soft Skills: Integrating into a new community, often many times, we have worked, volunteered, and socialized with people from many diverse backgrounds. We understand different languages, cultures, and perspectives. We don’t whine. We know circumstances change rapidly and may be beyond the control of our employers. We get that. We carry on.

Don’t write us off because we don’t have a “career.” There is a lot of talent that you can’t and won’t ever find on a résumé.

 

*I respect the friend who had 26 years at her company. I think she is kick-ass extraordinarily skilled at what she does. Honestly, I am happy for her and I told her so.

 

Research Study: Resilience in Military Families

2020-06-25
military family resiliance project poster with survey

Download the pdf version.

It is no secret to me how resilient military families are. We go through a lot. Moving to a new city every few years and living far away from our family and friends. We have to build new networks, attend new schools, and find new jobs. What is it that makes our families so resilient? Research being done now!

I would like to introduce Danae Laut, a Ph.D. student in the Counselling Psychology Department at the University of Calgary. She is currently recruiting participants for her doctoral research project looking at the impact of occupational stress injuries (OSI) on military families, as well as resilience in children (11-18yo) in military families.

Her goal is to study the ways military families are resilient and what strengths can be drawn upon to support other families. There are two “strands” to her project.

The first strand is a survey. Parents who are current or former members of the Canadian Armed Forces and whose mental health has been impacted by an OSI fill out a brief questionnaire about their symptoms. Then their children (ages 11-18) fill out a longer questionnaire about their relationship with their parents, their own mental health, and their personal strengths. The idea is to better understand the impact parents with OSI have on kids and what protective factors might buffer kids against this stress.

military family resiliance poster interviews

Download the pdf version.

The second strand is a 30-90-minute interview with teens (ages 14-18) of a military parent with an OSI, who feel they are coping pretty well. For this portion, they want to get a better understanding of the experiences of these youth as well as how they cope with and manage with a parent who has an OSI.

People can participate in one strand or the other, or both strands if they want to. The long-term goal is to gain insights into what sorts of prevention and intervention programming we can provide for military personnel and other first responders and their families.

If your family falls into either or both of these categories, please participate. The results of the study can help society build stronger families and more resilient children.

Contact Danae Laut directly in order to participate.

After One Year in Ottawa

2020-05-25

diploma and mortarboard hat for graduation
Last year at this time, we made our big move from Winnipeg to Ottawa. I can hardly believe that a whole year has passed. 2019 was stressful enough with my husband deployed, but 2020 has been a wild ride.

I am thankful that we moved to Ottawa in 2019 because this year (2020), my husband is moving from his overseas position to Ottawa. We will be able to stay in the same (rented) house for another few years. And, another bit of exciting news, a year after registering with Health Care Connect, I was assigned a family doctor – in my neighbourhood! I’m quite excited that I have somewhere to transfer my medical records.

It seems like yesterday when I wrote about our oldest child leaving the nest, but it was four years ago. This year she graduated with a B. Math. Honours (with distinction) and a minor in Computer Science. Can you tell we are proud parents? Of course we are sad that her convocation is cancelled because of the pandemic. We can’t even have a private party. We’ll have to find another way to celebrate, maybe later in the year when my husband comes home, and our younger daughter is able to visit.

I hope everyone out there in Internet land is practicing social distancing and reaching out virtually to their friends and neighbours.

Canadian Army Mom

2020-03-16

My husband was back home from abroad for almost two weeks. During that time, our younger daughter had her graduation parade from Basic Training in the Army Reserves. The whole family did a quick trip from Ottawa to watch and cheer her on.

soldiers in uniform on parade

A few days later, my husband travelled back to his post overseas. Fortunately, he was back at his post before the COVID-19 situation got any worse. Many CAF members have had their holiday leave cancelled. It is a sad and stressful time for military families who have members serving abroad.

If you are a civilian reading this, please know that some military families are new to your city/town. They may not know where to turn to for help. They may not have any family or friends they can rely on if they get sick. They likely don’t even have a family doctor. Please reach out and offer support where you can. Do a grocery run for them. Let them know what resources are available. Phone, text, reach out on social media. Social distancing does not mean ignoring our neighbours.

Stay safe everyone!

2019 The Last Half

2019-12-31

I realize it has been six months since I’ve written here. It’s been a long six months. My husband is on a restricted posting. He left in early July and returned for the Christmas holidays – five months away. It hasn’t been easy but it hasn’t been too bad either. Here is what’s been happening.

In August, we had a family wedding to attend in Hamilton, Ontario. It was a fast trip but the driving was pretty easy. On the plus side, the kids are old enough to drive now so it wasn’t all up to me. It was nice to see family members again. Some of them we hadn’t seen in 10 years or more.

In September, our older daughter moved in with me. With only one credit to finish her degree, it made (financial) sense that she moves in until she graduates and finds full-time employment. Also, having her here keeps me company. It was a few weeks before her cat and our dog started getting along but now they tolerate one another’s existence.

Our younger daughter decided to join the army reserves and spent most weekends training so didn’t visit as much in the fall as she did in the summer. However, she did come to Ottawa every weekend that she was not training.

On a sad note, one of my uncles passed away but, now that I am so close to where I grew up, I was able to attend the memorial service. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. We’ve connected on social media and I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with them for coffee. It made me realize how hard it has been to be away for so long.

Most of the past five months, I’ve been working for my clients. Keeping busy and keeping the mind occupied is a great way to not feel quite so lonely.

Fortunately, December rolled around quickly and my husband came home for a few weeks. Of course, after travelling for over 24 hours to get here, then having some dental surgery the day after arrival, he ended up with a bad cold. Then, I caught it. We weren’t that sick, just too fatigued to do anything but watch movies. At least we were together and that’s what matters.

He has returned to his post for now but his next vacation home is only weeks away instead of months. However, the next two trips home will be paid almost entirely out-of-pocket. The flights are about $5000 CDN return so we’re trying to save money like crazy. And in case you’re wondering… yes, he’s worth it!

Moving from Winnipeg to Ottawa

2019-07-19
various sized rocks on beach

The past two months have been quite a blur with moving from Winnipeg to Ottawa. If I haven’t been cleaning, organizing, or doing administrative work, I’ve been working for my clients. That hasn’t left me much time to keep up with Army Wife Blog. However, things have quieted down and I have a few free hours so here is a quick summary of our move from May 17 – June 3

Pre-pack Day

Never again will I have a pre-pack before a long-weekend. We ended up unpacking boxes to find stuff over the three days. It didn’t help that my husband was away training the week prior to the pre-pack and did not arrive home until after the pre-packing was done.

Military Move Tip: Arrange your schedule so that there is never the possibility of a pre-pack on a day before a weekend or holiday. If Monday is a holiday, schedule the truck to load on Thursday so the pack will be on Wednesday and if required, a pre-pack on Tuesday.

Pack Day

The packing went very quickly. They even custom-built a wooden crate to pack the glass top of our IKEA table. Interestingly though, when they disassembled it, some of the plastic parts fell to bits, almost dissolved. I assured the packers that I wouldn’t file a claim and reminded myself to order parts from IKEA in Ottawa as soon as possible so that they would be ready when we arrived.

Load Day

The driver and loading team were super. The only challenge was getting the massive refrigerator out the door. My husband and I ended up taking the door handles and doors off the fridge and freezer. That task is not covered by the moving company. We could have hired a special repair person to do that had we known in advance but we didn’t know. Fortunately, I keep all the instruction manuals to our appliances so we did it ourselves.

On the funny side… I woke up in full-panic mode in the middle of the night because I had dreamed that when we went back for the march out, we found more rooms in the house that were full of furniture that the movers forgot to take and even more rooms full of furniture that wasn’t ours but we were responsible for removing it from the house.

March Out Day and Driving Day 1

9000 years of history in Thunder Bay

9000 years of history in Thunder Bay

Our march out was smooth and easy. Quick tour around the house, read the meters and we were eastward bound.

As we were rolling along the highway out of Winnipeg, I got onto the IKEA website to order parts for the dining table. I couldn’t even find the table listed on their website but their items have such unique names I thought I was spelling it wrong. I did a quick internet search instead and found this: IKEA Canada Recalls GLIVARP Table. So we were going to have to take all the table parts (thank goodness it was already in parts) to IKEA for a replacement.

Driving was thankfully rather uneventful. Manitoba is very flat. We stopped every 2-3 hours to stretch our legs and let the dog run around. We stopped in Kenora, Dryden, and a few rest areas just off the highway. We arrived in Thunder Bay about 21:00.

Driving Day 2

Again, another uneventful day. Lake Superior and the surrounding area is beautiful. There is absolutely no cell phone service. It was kind of desolate too. There were hours at a time where we wouldn’t see another car. It was not in “full tourist season” though. We left Thunder Bay around 7:30. We stopped in Nipigon (home of Canada’s smallest Canadian Tire), Marathon, (Pebble Beach), and Wawa (big goose).

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie at about 21:00. We were quite tired. It was Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.A. so the hotel was busy. This meant the dog barked at all loud noises outside our hotel room. The loud noises consisted of drunk young women cackling at the top of their lungs. The dog scared them enough so they didn’t make any further noise.

Driving Day 3

Another beautiful day driving but pouring rain. We left Sault Ste. Marie around 7:00. We stopped briefly near Algoma Mills and we got soaked when we stopped in Sudbury for lunch. The weather started clearing after that and we arrived in Gravenhurst at about 15:00. It was so nice to stop early for a change. Muskoka is a beautiful area of Ontario. But mosquitoes! Oh my. I had forgotten how vicious they are in the woods.

Driving Day 4 – The Last Day

happy dog in car

After 4 days, still happy to “go car”

We had a more relaxed morning and didn’t leave the hotel until around 8:30. We drove across parts of Ontario that I hadn’t visited in over 30 years. We stopped in Haliburton and Renfrew. Finally, we arrived in Kanata at about 15:00. We checked into the hotel and went to see our house.

The Cleaning Begins

The house we rented had been empty for some time. It was dirty. The furnace filter was black. There was mildew around all the windows. There were layers of dust on the baseboards and cobwebs in the corners of the ceilings. The kitchen and bathrooms needed a good wipe-down. Fortunately, I hired a carpet cleaning company to clean the carpets before we arrived. Our realtor was able to grant them access to the house (Thanks Jan Ayers!). We cleaned for three 10-hour days. Then our furniture arrived.

Unloading Day

The unloading went very smoothly. The team was fast, efficient and put our large pieces of furniture right where we wanted them. Anything that was disassembled at origin, was reassembled – except the dining table. We used a folded plastic picnic-type table as a temporary dining table.

Unpacking Day

mildew around window frame

Mildew around window frames

This was a nightmare. The unpacking team didn’t arrive until noon, just when my husband went out to get lunch. The unpacking crew does a “shelf unpack.” This means that they only put stuff on firm surfaces like kitchen counters (for dishes) or beds (for clothing). They do not put anything in cupboards, on shelves or on the floor. There were FOUR of them on the team. They kept unpacking boxes and filling counter space before I had a chance to put stuff away in the cupboards. Then, they griped at me for not clearing space for them to continue their work. Finally, I gave up trying to deal with them and let my husband handle it. Fortunately, our older child arrived (from downtown Ottawa) to help.

The After-Unpack

As it was Friday afternoon, the crew just left all the packing paper and boxes in our garage for the moving company to collect on Monday. That was very lucky for us because the crew did not unpack everything! Over the weekend, we found stuff missing and we were able to go through the boxes and sort through all the packing paper to find our stuff.

However, in doing this on Sunday evening, I managed to get a paper cut on my eyeball (scratched cornea) and ended up in the emergency room until 02:00 Monday morning. I did not yet have my Ontario health care card but, being so fortunate to live in a country with universal health care, the triage nurse only had to scan a copy of my Manitoba health card and I was able to see a doctor. I got ointment for my eye and was back to normal in about 4 days.

Summary

We got unpacked and somewhat settled. The house is livable but I’m nowhere near finished organizing. But getting the administrative work done was the next step.

Why Imposed Restriction is sometimes necessary

2019-07-04

General’s apartment rental tab picked up by taxpayers for the last seven years

This article in the National Post by David Pugliese caught my attention – and made me rather angry. I’ve written about Imposed Restriction (IR)before as well as the 2012 budget cuts to IR.

I do not know LGen Wynnyk. I do not know his family. However, after reading his official biography, I can understand what his family has endured.

So, to journalist David Pugliese, let me describe the family perspective for you and perhaps you’ll understand why IR is not a “perk.”

Military families are expected to pick up and move whenever the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) says so. We give up our homes, our jobs, our friends, and family. This is not easy for us. We are not employed by the military and yet, we are expected to serve. Many people say, “Oh it’s your choice you married a military member.” Well, I ask you, would you give up someone you love, the parent of your children, just because they get a new job in a new city? Really think about that. If you’re thinking yes, maybe your marriage/partnership isn’t as strong as you think.

Let me tell you Mr. Pugliese some of the other reasons a military member might choose IR. As I am sure you are aware, it is a challenge for many Canadians to find a family doctor. Imagine never having one. Imagine being on a waitlist so long that you move to another city before you get referred to a doctor. Now, imagine that you have a spouse or a child that has special medical needs. Now, imagine dealing with all of that far away from a support network of family and friends – and possibly in another language. Imposed Restriction allows the member to move so the family can remain in one place and have consistent medical care.

For a military member to move, spouses (and children) quit their jobs. Many do not meet the criteria to collect employment insurance. They either did not work the required number of weeks because they did not live at that location long enough, or they had to work part-time because the military member’s job was so demanding. And what about daycare you ask? Finding quality, affordable daycare in a new city is like winning the lottery. Waitlists are long – so long in fact, that you might be posted out before your children get placed.

This assumes that spouses have a job to resign from. Many spouses are unemployed. If you are posted to a part of the country where you don’t speak the language it is almost impossible to get a job. Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) offer second language training, but learning a language well enough to be employed takes time (so much time that you may be posted out before you become employed). The MFRCs also have a spousal employment service, but if the Cheesi-Mart is the only place in town that’s hiring, listing your PhD in bioengineering on your résumé is not going to help you get a job bagging groceries.

Is it so wrong that LGen Wynnyk recognized the sacrifices his family made over the years and he chose IR so his family could have someplace to call home and his wife could pursue a career?

I guess in your eyes Mr. Pugliese, not only should military families endure hardships (little access to healthcare, daycare, employment, and living as a single parent) but we should also pay for it out of our own pockets when the government expects the CAF member to perform their duties. Have I got that right? Or do you just believe that military spouses/families should just be quiet and keep the home fires burning because we happen to love someone in uniform?

Mr. Pugliese I suggest that if you continue to write about the military, you investigate what military family life is like before you start ranting to the taxpayers about subsidies that you don’t fully understand.

A whirlwind of activity

2019-05-01

The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of activity

Last week I…

  • Travelled from Winnipeg to Ottawa on a house-hunting trip (HHT)
  • Looked at 3 different houses to rent and put in offers. The rental market in Ottawa is so intense that landlords choose who they want as tenants – and there can be bidding wars on some houses.
  • Wrote two articles for a special “Army Wife” project (details will be shared soon)
  • Wrote three articles for clients and did other client work.
  • Enjoyed some time with our older child who is finishing up at Carleton University in Ottawa.
  • Was successful in renting an excellent home thanks to my amazing realtor!

Our new home has 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a fenced backyard, and a garage. The location is quite a distance from downtown (60-minute bus ride for my husband to get to work) but the bus stop is at the end of the street and the shops are only a five-minute walk from the house.

When I returned to Winnipeg I…

  • Did the laundry.
  • Sold our garden shed. (kijiji.ca is amazing).
  • Prepared and submitted the HHT expenses with the relocation contractor.
  • Arranged for utilities to be disconnected and accounts closed in Winnipeg.
  • Opened accounts and arranged for utilities to be connected in Ottawa.
  • Took dog to vet for annual updates on vaccinations.
  • Booked doggy daycare for pack and load dates.
  • Booked appointment to switch out winter tires for summer tires on car.
  • Took vacuum cleaner across town to repair shop (inconvenient time for it to stop working!).
  • Did month-end financials for my business.
  • Wrote this blog post.

On top of his regular job, my husband booked the dates for the moving company because that has to be done through the military (Movements section) as well as submitted the Notice to Vacate to the Canadian Forces Housing Agency.

We have 21 days before the moving truck comes and 14 of those days, my husband will be training in Ottawa.

Wish me luck!

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

The Posting of 2019 Begins

2019-03-02

army wife in Winnipeg in February In the few months that have passed since my last post, quite a few things have happened. I’m finally getting caught up with everything and have time to tell everyone what has been going on.

When we arrived in Winnipeg in 2017, we knew we would be moving in 2019. We just did not know where or exactly when. In January we received a screening message. My husband was scheduled to do a tour abroad. It is an unaccompanied tour meaning the family does not travel with him. This is fine because the area is not safe for civilians.

Even though only my husband is being posted, the entire family had to go through the screening process to ensure there would be no outstanding medical reasons for which he would need to be repatriated early. We had to visit our family doctors and have the medical forms signed. This presented a challenge to our younger daughter who has a Manitoba health card but is attending school in Ontario. Fortunately, our doctor in Winnipeg is amazing. Because he had just seen our daughter over the Christmas holidays, he agreed to fill out the forms for her after he talked to her on the telephone. (If you want his name, contact me. He really is good and I will miss having an excellent family doctor!)

My husband and I had an appointment with the military social worker to confirm that we were comfortable with this particular posting. Then we talked to the military doctors to review our medical files, and the screening message was given the green light.

My husband still had to go through several more steps, including updating his first aid training, firearms testing, and several vaccinations updates including typhoid and rabies. Yes rabies. Apparently, there are lots of feral cats and dogs in the area where he will be living.

walking dog in FebruaryThere is a condition to my husband going abroad for a full year. I requested – actually we requested – that I would be moved to Ottawa to be closer to the children. If anything happened to them while my husband was gone, it would be very difficult for me to help them from so far away. Additionally, if anything happened to me while he was gone, I have almost no support here in Winnipeg.

This proved true in February when my husband was in Ottawa on course and I ended up with a cold – a really bad cold that lasted almost three weeks! It didn’t help that I had to walk the dog at temperatures of -20ºC (-4ºF). A neighbour tried to walk the dog for me but he refused to leave the front step, “If mommy no go, I no go!”

Anyway, we are waiting for a posting message and we hope it comes soon so we can make our way to Ottawa and get settled before my husband goes abroad in July.

Wish us luck.

A decade of blogging — 27 years as an army wife

2019-01-13

10 year anniversaryIn January 2009, I started this blog to document some of my journey as a military spouse. I don’t post as often as some military spouses who have blogs. I earn absolutely no income from this blog. The purpose of my blog was to share the intricacies of military life with family, friends, fellow military spouses, the public, and to bust some myths.

Many things have changed in the past 10 years. Even more has changed in the military over the past 27 years.

From the Past

Military Family Services

Back in 1991-1992, there were no Military Family Resource Centres (MFRC). Families were “looked after” by the unit. If there was a deployment, the Rear Party (military members not deployed) and the spouses looked after the families. It was challenging. Many of these people did not have the skill set to help, coach, and/or counsel families and civilian resources did not understand the military lifestyle. And, when spouses were involved, there was always the perception of favouritism and cliquishness. Sometimes that perception was justified!

The development of Military Family Services (MFS) and the MFRCs was a welcome change. Employees with specialized training (counsellors, etc.) and experience with the military lifestyle were available to help military families. MFS and the MFRCs are now a wealth of resources from child care and children’s education support, to spousal retraining and employment assistance. There is no bias because of the member’s rank or social group. Everyone gets the same treatment.

Housing

When we moved from CFB Valcartier to CFB Gagetown in 1995, the Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA) was just coming into existence. CFHA provided a consistent housing experience across Canada. There was planning for long-term maintenance and development of all units.

There are still issues with military housing — called residential housing units (RHUs). Most units were built in the 1950s and building standards (electrical, plumbing, insulation, structure) have changed significantly since then. Some old, structurally unsound houses are being demolished. Others are getting significant upgrades. Our house in Toronto at CFB Downsview (2005-2006) is gone. Many RHUs still only have one bathroom and a cold, poorly insulated basement that is subject to flooding/leaking. There are advantages and disadvantages to living in an RHU and to bust a frequently encountered myth, we do pay rent.

Communications

The internet and smart phones did not exist 27 years ago — at least they did not exist in the way they do today. Communication from your deployed spouse was via postal mail (2-week delivery) and one 5-minute phone call per week.

I used to think that it was amazing that technology had come so far because in my grandparents’ day, my grandmother only got letters delivered by postal mail about once per month from my grandfather fighting in WWII in Europe.

Social media, SMS, and ubiquitous internet for an extremely low cost, allow military families to communicate from wherever they are in the world. This has been extremely helpful for military children to stay in touch with their friends. Back in the day, frequent address and phone number changes meant that in two or three years, you would completely lose touch with people. Now we can just connect on a social media site regardless of where we live.

To the Present

Lots of great things have happened over the past year.

To the Future

We will likely be moving in spring/summer 2019. I have no idea where.

We really need to start thinking about retirement which will happen sometime after 2021. There is no fixed retirement date yet but at some point, we’ll have to choose a retirement location. We have no idea where that will be.

For certain, I will continue blogging.

Thank you to all of my readers, my family, and my friends who have supported me over the past 10 years. Cheers!