Making Peace with the Nomadic Nature of Military Families
As a recent college graduate and brand-new Navy wife, moving in to base housing was like a dream come true. We had it made in our freshly renovated 2-bedroom duplex with linoleum floors throughout. My college friends were mostly living in apartments or houses with ever-changing roommate situations and I was a married woman with a house.
I took pride in being the first of my close friends to make this leap to grown-up land.
Of course, this was almost 20 years ago and my friends have more than caught up, now with their own families and mortgages. Visiting their homes, it is wonderful to see where their kids will grow up and where they’re putting down roots.
Meanwhile, here I am, almost 40 years old, vacuuming my bathrooms in a rental house we live in because the Navy sent us here. Let’s be clear: nobody should ever vacuum a bathroom. It’s a job for Lysol and gloves.
But, nevertheless, every time I tackle this strange chore, it brings up that stinging reality: My friends are putting down roots and I live in a rental with carpeted bathrooms.
We had 10 days to find a house and have made it a home. We love our neighborhood and the friends in our community. We are so grateful for this place the military has sent us. But…there’s always a but.
We know it’s not permanent. And that’s the bittersweet reality of the situation for so many military families.
Throwing yourself into a community and decorating your house as if it’s your final destination usually comes with a price to pay: at some point it will be time to move along again.
I’ve wrestled with this a lot lately and have come up with 3 ways to deal with the nomadic nature of military families:
- Glass Half-Full: This mental trick works every time. If I focus on what I don’t have and what I wished I had, it will only lead to jealousy and bitterness. If I am grateful that I even have a house and bathrooms to clean, I will be joyful and content. A simple exercise, but something I need to remind myself of daily.
- “I Don’t Know” is A-OK: “How long are you going to live here?” “Which high school is your kid going to?” “When is your husband going to retire?” I would love nothing more than to have straight-forward answers, but that’s not the case at all. I used to try to make up answers with what I hoped would happen, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with saying “I don’t know” because when the military is involved, that’s just the truth.
- Let the Journey Begin: This was the Navy’s slogan when my husband enlisted and still rings true today. Life truly is a journey, for military and civilian families alike. Nobody knows their future, regardless of how much they plan. This eases my desire for a permanent home (although it really would be nice, let’s be honest), and helps me to focus on being grateful for today, whatever that looks like.
Whether you’ve lived in one house or 12, it’s okay that your life looks different from your non-military friends. Not being able to paint your walls or have a room that fits your sectional because you bought it for your old house is a small price to pay for a life of adventure you are creating with your family.
And while the ping-pong table that sits where a dining room table should is a dead giveaway that we aren’t at this house for the long haul, I am living every day like this is my home. My children will certainly remember it as home. I might as well, too.
Call it a “bloom where you’re planted” attitude, but that’s what it takes to embrace the nomadic military lifestyle.
So, I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, I’m hanging pictures and vacuuming the bathroom.