My phone buzzed. An email from a brand-new Jo, My Gosh! reader popped up on my screen.
I love hearing from military spouses and significant others who feel a connection to the blog and to me. I get emails and Facebook messages, tweets, and direct Instagram messages. I love hearing from others– after all, what’s the point of this blog if it doesn’t help other people deal with and live the fullest life they can with the military?
Usually the emails are friendly. Sometimes they’re upbeat. Most of the time they ask for resources or help with a specific issue.
But this email, staring me in the face on a Saturday morning, broke my heart.
Dear Jo, My husband is leaving on unaccompanied orders across the world. I have two young children and I am not sure how I can make it thru. Is it ok to cry in front of them?
I’m not going to lie: I teared up when I read her short message. I could only imagine her loneliness and sadness– not to mention the stress that comes with solo-parenting two young kiddos who know that Dad’s gone for a long time and that Mom’s sad Dad’s gone. Then there was the desperation of the tone of the message.
That’s a lot for anyone to deal with– even the most experienced people.
I wanted to give this sweet mom a huge hug, take her out for some ice cream, and give her a chance just to chat. My heart broke for her.
And it broke for every other spouse and significant other who has felt that way.
I don’t have children. I’ll put that out there right now. I taught for five years, took classes in child development, and had a lot of practical experience working with kids. Of course that doesn’t equate to being a parent, and I totally know that. But I also know what it feels like to try to keep up appearances when life is really tough.
That question– is okay to cry in front of someone else?– is universal for military spouses and significant others, regardless of their status as a parent. Someone in the military community always has it worse, so you don’t want to complain. You don’t want to cry. You don’t want to make it seem like you’re the weak link and you can’t hack it. You don’t want to feel less than or look like someone who isn’t as strong as.
Military spouses and significant others are not super human or superheroes. We often deal with loneliness, fear, uncertainty and we often deal with it in places that are far from our family and friends. And we deal with the internal pressure to be perfect, be Army Strong, soldier along, suck it up, put on big girl panties, etc, etc, etc. (You know all of the sayings and the things you mutter to yourself. You could probably write a list ten times longer than mine!)
That pressure and stress manifest themselves in devastating ways. 2008 survey by the American Psychiatric Association of military spouses“found that 40 percent believed their mental health was hurt by their husband’s or wife’s service overseas.” About 25% of respondents had regular issues with sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression.”
We have to learn how to deal with the stress and emotion of being a military spouse or significant other in ways that are healthy. As a community, we need to hold each other up and make it okay to seek help if it’s needed. We need to stop feeling that we’ve got to be so stoic and self-reliant all of the time. And we need to show our kids that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay for Mom (and Dad) to cry, and it’s okay to have fun when someone we love is far away. Those healthy emotional examples and habits will help them grow into resilient people throughout their lives.
We need to give ourselves permission to share our emotions with our family and friends– whether that’s kids or parents or our partners. We don’t always have to answer fine when we’re asked how we’re keeping up with the PCS, deployment, or insert-other-life-changing-event-here. We can be honest and reach out for a hug or help when something is wrong.
We can keep ourselves as healthy as possible so we can be the best version of ourselves for the other people who are in our lives.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to say the wrong thing. It’s okay to be human.