The End of an Era

This past week my husband retired with 36 years, 10 months and 12 days of service in the Canadian Army. I’m no longer Canadian Army Wife. I’m the wife of a veteran. Much has changed over the years since we got married over 30 years ago. Back then, MFRCs (Military Family Resource Centres) and CFMWS (Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services) did not exist. We were on our own with the support of our neighbours and other spouses in our husband’s unit.

certificate of appreciation from the Canadian Army to "Canadian Army Wife"

In my early days as a military spouse, the internet barely existed. We sent letters via postal mail, which took at least a week to deliver. We made telephone calls on landlines after 11 pm on weekdays or from Saturday noon until Sunday at 6 pm because the long-distance rates were cheaper. Cell phones existed, but they were unaffordable for most people. Our sources of news were television, radio, and newspapers.

Wider access to the internet changed our lives. Blogs were new when I started writing about being a military spouse in the mid-2000s. It was like creating your own newspaper. Instead of writing a dozen identical letters to friends and family about life as a military spouse, I could write it once and share it online with a wider audience.

Then along came smartphones with unlimited text messaging and phone calls. That was rapidly followed by video conferencing and social media. It’s a double-edged sword. We reap the benefits of connecting and sharing information across a wider network. But the cost has been high too. The quality of connections is low, and misinformation abounds. Many people, even journalists, publish clickbait headlines and controversial opinions just to increase readership. But then again, moral outrage fuels engagement, and engagement increases revenue.

And that brings me to why I haven’t posted in over two years. Everyone seems to have opinions on the pandemic, the sexual misconduct crisis, the recruitment crisis, the lack of funding for equipment and materiel, spy balloons, the war in Ukraine, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, etc. And these opinions are not always well-informed. I am not knowledgeable about these subjects, so I’ve kept quiet, put my head down, supported my family, grown my business, and supported my community as well as I could.

So this is my final post as Canadian Army Wife. I’m leaving my blog online for now because I’m still the parent of a military member. I may post occasionally, but for now, I’m signing off. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Je me souviens.

Couple HOPES

One of the great things about writing this blog is that people who do research and offer outstanding services for the Canadian military community reach out and ask me to spread the word.

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing information about a new service called Couple HOPES. It is a free intervention for military members, veterans, first responders, and healthcare workers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their loved ones. Couples HOPES is an online, guided, self-help intervention for couples to improve PTSD symptoms and enhance relationship functioning at the same time.

The IMPACT Lab at Ryerson University and the TULiP Lab at York University developed Couples HOPES. Experts in PTSD and relationship therapies, both labs, are committed to developing clinically relevant, original research to decrease individual PTSD symptoms and improve relationships. They created this program to provide high-quality care that also overcomes the stigma associated with seeking mental health services and the logistical, economic, geographic, and social barriers to help.

Their current study testing involves freely providing online intervention to military members, veterans, first responders, and healthcare workers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and their romantic partners, if they are eligible. They believe that Couple HOPES can help promote resistance, resilience, and recovery for all military members, veterans, first responders, and healthcare workers who are likely to encounter a serious traumatic event or critical incident.

If you, dear readers are interested in participating, check out Couple HOPES. If you know someone who might be interested, please share this information with them.

The career-less spouse

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 highly depressing.

Many of us have changed jobs every time we have moved. Personally, I have never held a job for 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 probably think 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] of 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 to choose 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 can deal with stress. Typically, 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 the 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 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

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 is 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.

military family resiliance project poster with survey
Download the pdf version.
military family resiliance poster interviews
Download the pdf version.

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.

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

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 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 they 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 their 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 can visit.

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