The military profession is demanding. With deployments, continuous field exercises, readiness exercises, and last minute emergencies, the military tends to occupy a gross amount of any Soldier’s time. It’s easy to let hobbies, and more importantly, our families, take a back seat to these demands. Eventually though, the military will replace weary Soldiers with younger, more energized versions. When that happens, the fatigued must acquiesce the investment they have or have not made in their families over the years.
We should strive to not let the Army (or a particular profession) define us and potentially undermine the value of our families. In short, we must remember to prioritize family throughout our winding careers.
I don’t have sage wisdom from decades of marriage. I don’t even have kids yet. However, while pursuing my wife and preparing for a future with her, I want to ensure I do this right and do right by her. Similar to the initiative required for my own leader development, I aim to be deliberate in preparing to be a good husband and eventual father. So far, I’ve learned several important lessons from examples like our parents, close friends, and mentors at church. I also learn from research such as from Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast and phenomenal books like Sacred Marriage, by Gary L. Thomas (links to both below). My lessons learned so far are not revolutionary; they are simple concepts. The challenge is committing to them, and to one’s family, every day, no matter the circumstances. Below are my humble takeaways regarding family, thus far, while serving in the military profession.
Your spouse is an equal partner. Unfortunately, it is very easy for your spouse and family to feel like they are merely following you during your military career as you pursue professional goals or attain critical duty positions. I’ve learned to treat my wife as an equal partner in our relationship and to value her own goals, personal and professional, as much as mine. All decisions, to include ones regarding future duty stations and timelines, are team decisions between us. Though the Army defines where we go, it does not define what kind of life you live while there.
Do not sacrifice what is unique to you for your job. Your job is not unique to you. There are thousands of other people filling the same duty across the military. Further, in 12 to 24 months, someone is going to replace you in your current position. Do not sacrifice the thing that is unique to you, which is your family, for a particular assignment, which is temporary. Your family will outlast every duty position you fill; ensure your investment in them exceeds what you invest into your job.
“No for now, but not forever.” We all have seasons in our lives, both with family and our jobs. Key developmental (KD) positions throughout our careers are important seasons professionally; military schooling like Captains Career Course or Command & General Staff College are opportunities to “take a knee” from the operational Army. Similarly, raising young children is a demanding and important season for your family. Understand the seasons of your life and how to prioritize them; include your spouse in those conversations so you both are on the same page. It’s important to contemplate possible scenarios and to do so together. If your spouse needs to take a backseat during one of these key development positions, what or how can you invest in him/her to ensure that they still feel like an equal partner? What if it is you that has to take the backseat during a particular season? How do you ensure that you are remaining a good leader, even if you are the one running most of the family errands (i.e. picking up the kids from school every day)?
Nobody at home should feel like they are competing with someone at the office. The concept of an “office wife” can be a slippery slope. Do not leave your spouse feeling that they are on a sports team with your co-workers vying for time on the playing field. Be deliberate with your family time on your calendar. Put family events like family dinner and kids’ sporting events on your work calendar. It shows your co-workers and subordinates that family time is important to you and can encourage them to prioritize family as well.
Your work relationships are not necessarily as deep as you think they are. The bond of military professional relationships is important, don’t get me wrong. Military culture and servant leadership are valuable. However, don’t value these relationships more than your marriage or family. When a particular season of work is over, most relationships associated with it tend to end too. Don’t over-invest in those temporary relationships to the detriment of your familial ones. Your family will PCS with you, your current co-workers won’t.
Defining selfless service. The Army defines selfless service as putting the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own. That often translates to long work hours, and late nights at the office or in the field. However, a leader in my brigade altered that definition during his farewell speech, which was echoed by my brigade commander multiple times in the following year. He stated that selfless service is not working late every night; it is being willing to watch ‘Frozen’ for the 50th time with your daughter when you come home from a long day at work.
I encourage readers that are interested in this subject to check out Andy Stanley and his “Family Matters” podcast (1/3/14) from the Andy Stanley Leadership podcast series. It is a great place to start to learn more. Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage, is the best book on marriage I’ve encountered so far and will recommend it to everyone.