Logo featuring from left to right: Left center is a  military family, upper left “We asked, you answered, Spouses Speak”, bottom left, Stars and Stripes logo. Upper right, german shepherd, below german shepherd, airplane, below airplane is people working around a table and bottom right corner is kids in a classroom

Spouses Speak logo (Tamala Malerk)

No matter how long you have been in, the military lifestyle can be fun, exciting and adventurous, as well as difficult, challenging and even scary at times. Some things get easier over time, and some things are always tough; deployments are never on the top of anyone’s “must experience” list.

Stars and Stripes Europe reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about various topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from the spouses of six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been spouses from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). Over the next eight months, we will share with you the results of this survey. This month we are talking about life at home with military families. Whether you have human babies or fur babies, both, or neither, spouses have thoughts on how military life impacts families as a whole.

From Military Brat to Military Spouse

26 percent of spouses polled said that they were raised in a military family. When asked if that helped them better prepare for life as a military spouse, they had a variety of answers. Army spouse Lisa R. claimed that “Growing up in a military household normalized the weird things I go through as a military spouse: the healthcare system, moving often, living separately at times, etc.” However, Army spouse Jessica A. believed the exact opposite: “No, it absolutely did not. There’s a massive difference between experiencing this lifestyle as a child and then living it as an adult and watching your children go through what you did.” Army Spouse Savannah C. was torn on the issue stating, “Yes and no. It’s different when it’s your spouse. Parents will always try to shield their children, so a lot of the scope and context is lost.”

Having Kids and Impact on Kids

Children are a major conversation topic when it comes to military spouses and families. Some people choose to time their kids’ births around deployments and shore time and some families avoid kids altogether because of the military life. 2/3 of spouses polled have children. While some of them stated that the military did not impact their decision to have kids, others were heavily influenced by their position as military families. Army spouse Elizabeth P. was positively impacted because “Having a family is cheap to do. The benefits really covered all or nearly all of the medical expenses to have a family. That’s been easy. Knowing all their medical is covered is a huge blessing.” However, career impacts and delays affect military families as well when family planning. Air Force Reserve spouse Julie C.’s family “left active duty to create stability for children with health concerns.” Army spouse Rebecca E. had to leave her position to have kids as a military family: “For us, as a dual military family it didn’t work, and I ended up getting out. I don’t think the current structure is built for the modern military family to serve with support.” For Space Force spouse Lorraine M., “My lack of job and professional experience because of our moving has caused me to delay having kids later than I thought.” Even not having kids can be an impactful choice in the military lifestyle. Air Force spouse J.A. stated, “I would like to note that there’s a lot of pressure from other spouses and military personnel to have children. My partner and I are childfree by choice and depending on where we’re stationed this can lead to issues with other spouses. I tend to steer clear of mandatory family fun days, spouse events, or military events in general because of the backlash. If I never hear, ‘why don’t you have kids, why do you want a career, you should be [a]  key spouse, you obviously have the free time since you don’t have children,’ again it will be too soon.”

Speaking of military brats, they are a huge part of the military and there are benefits and hard parts of experiencing this lifestyle as a child. 65 percent of spouses claimed that the best perk of being a military kid is exposure to new places, cultures and languages while 17 percent claimed the best perk is the resiliency and flexibility skills children gain. There was no clear “winner” in terms of what spouses thought the “hardest part” of military life is for children. Below are the “top five” hardest parts

Chart featuring the top five hardest parts of being a military kid

Hardest part of being a military kid (Tamala Malerk)

Pets are Family Too

We cannot talk about military families without bringing up everyone’s fur babies. 70 percent of spouses polled stated that they have at least one pet in the household. Military families claimed overwhelmingly that the biggest perk of having a pet is having a constant companion. Though 14 percent claimed that the best perk was providing friendship and responsibility for military children. Army Spouse Meghan H. simply claimed that the best perk was that “the cats make my spouse happy.” Nonetheless, having pets isn’t all fun and games. Over 40 percent of spouses found that that biggest issue with pet ownership as a military family are the fees/costs associated with moving a pet (especially overseas), while 21 percent have the most issue with finding housing to accept their pets, and just under 20 percent have the most issues with finding boarding and sitting options. Marine spouse Meg F. noted that “After moving our pet to/from Japan, we won’t get another pet while on active duty. It cost in excess of $5,000 for a 15-[pound] dog (round trip).”

Whether you are a human parent, pet parent, or can’t even keep a cactus alive (*raises hand*), military life at home can be crazy. Come back next month to see what spouses had to say about education and volunteering in the military community.

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