Last week we talked about how hard it was to leave your parents and family when you married into the military. Well, guess what? In a blink of an eye, your children will be leaving you. So, the number one thing you should know is — You will become empty-nesters. No way around it. And that applies whether you are a military spouse or not.
To prepare for this eventuality, it is important to work on your marriage before this happens. Go on date nights. Sometimes, before military days, we only could afford to pay the babysitter and drive around, talking. Do it. You are a couple first, then parents. As the Good Chaplain says, “The best gift you can give your children is a good marriage.”
A second thing to know is — if you are a military spouse when your children are grown up, you may actually leave them.
I didn’t have problems when the girls left home to go to college. Sure, I worried about them being in Illinois while I was in Alabama, but since they went to the same school, roomed together, and lived only hours from family, I wasn’t as concerned as possible.
Of course, I knew I would see them frequently — holidays, summer breaks, etc. But, in fact, I became the “Mom who never leaves.” I visited for various reasons once a month from when I dropped them off in August until February. I had legit reasons, but I also enjoyed seeing my girls and making sure they were safe. After that first year, we didn’t see each other as much, but we talked on the telephone and e-mailed frequently.
The Good Chaplain had a hard time every time the girls would leave to go back to school, either from holiday breaks or summer vacations. He’d get quiet, a little teary-eyed and mopy for a day or two, before getting back into his routine.
The hardest times for me were when we left Illinois Girl in Illinois after college graduation and left Mrs. Tech Sergeant in Alaska when we moved to Oklahoma.
Both girls worked at the Child Development Center at Eielson Air Force Base, AK, during summer breaks. The CDC offered them jobs after graduation, and Mrs. Tech Sergeant accepted that offer. She moved to Alaska. Illinois Girl, having already met Soccer Stud, decided to stay in Illinois. I sobbed when we pulled away from her apartment.
By this time, the Good Chaplain and I had gotten down a routine as empty-nesters that did not include children. We went to the Officers’ Club every Friday night to meet up with a group of friends. We went out to eat when and where we wanted. We went to the movies when we wanted.
And then, Mrs. Tech Sergeant moved back in. Which brings me to my third point — sometimes they come home again. I felt strange the first time my daughter came to the club with us and ordered a drink. I had to think about what she might want for dinner or if she would want to go out with us. Once, when we were going to the movies, she asked what we were going to see. She said she didn’t want to see that movie. I said, “Good because you aren’t invited.”
A year later, Mrs. Tech Sergeant met Tech Sergeant in Alaska. She moved into an apartment with a friend. She liked her job and her future husband, so she stayed in Alaska. Neither the Good Chaplain nor I were in good shape when we left her. And it didn’t help that a few days later, while we were somewhere in Canada, Mrs. Tech Sergeant contracted the H1N1 virus, and I was not around to help her.
The bottom line is becoming empty-nesters can be tough, but it is also an enriching time to rekindle your relationship with your spouse.
Next time I’ll tell you what it’s like being a grandparent halfway around the world.
Tell me how you felt leaving home for the first time or having your children leave home in the comments below.