Dealing with Envy as a Military Spouse

But I want my tooth to fall out too, Mommy. IT’S NOT FAIR!!!“, cried my five-year-old daughter as she burst into tears. Her sweet little friend had lost her first tooth that afternoon when they were playing at her house – the two of them had been comparing their wiggly teeth for the past few weeks during their monkey bar runs after school. As my daughter and I clomped home through the snow in our boots, I explained that her loose tooth would fall out when it is ready and she should be excited for her friend, instead of being envious. And that’s when I realized that I should probably listen to my own advice – because guys, there are times when the struggle is real and my envy knows no bounds.

While the green-eyed monster certainly isn’t unique to the military spouse community and social media only seems to intensify the feelings, there are aspects of the military lifestyle that seem to be the ideal breeding ground for jealousy and envy. For every exotic assignment to a tropical island, the mediterranean, or Alaska there is a family receiving orders to Fort Polk in the Louisiana swampland or to Cannon Air Force Base in the New Mexico desert. There are some positions that allow the service members to have a robust life outside of work and other positions that demand so much time that the family members are left begging for slivers of interaction. And for every deployment, there will always be some who come home earlier, some who come home later, and some who don’t come home at all. It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.

Margaret Atwood

I’ve been jealous and/or envious for a variety of reasons over the years. I have friends who have lived in some truly fabulous corners of the world while the Army has yet to send us overseas. I have peers who have thriving careers despite their spouses being active duty (totally not discounting their hard work – they’re all badasses who endure a lot of sacrifices to make it happen) while I feel like I got on the wrong train at a different station. I have friends who have planned fabulous events while I am over here on the struggle bus trying to coordinate my husband’s promotion festivities with little notice and changing schedules. I have friends who have parents that visit a lot. I have friends who travel to some jaw dropping places. I have friends who manage to take absolutely gorgeous pictures in their ball gowns while I end up looking like a busted can of biscuits. And I have friends who seemingly have an endless amount of time in the day to accomplish some truly astonishing goals – all while being beautiful inside and out.

I like to think that over the years, I’ve learned to deal with such emotions in a fairly healthy manner. I tend to think of the good in my life and that my life is exactly that – mine. I have gifts. I have talents. And I have many reasons to be grateful. I also remind myself that no one has it all – it simply isn’t possible. And comparing myself to others will always be a losing battle because I do so using the best of others and the worst of myself. Theodore Roosevelt told us that “comparison is the thief of joy” and there are bucket fulls of inspirational platitudes floating around the internet that remind us not to compare our middle to someone else’s ending. On a pragmatic level I know this – but there are still times when envy gets the best of me. So then what?

Honestly? I’m not sure. I suppose recognizing when I let feelings of envy get the best of me is a good start. I’m a complex human who experiences a range of emotions so it’s only natural to be envious from time to time. Such emotions don’t define me but how I react to them certainly impacts my world and how others perceive me. Life isn’t a competition. But it sure can feel like it at times.

Parenting in Our Mid-30s

A few days ago I gave away the last remaining artifact from our early child-rearing years – the jogging stroller. Cribs came and went. Infant car seats moved on to greener pastures rather quickly. The beloved Ergo was passed on to my younger sister and we’ve been sippy-cup free for some time now. But the BOB Revolution was with us the longest – it went on countless runs and long walks. It was pushed along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It rolled along many beaches – from North Carolina to Maine to Michigan. And it went to Disneyland. That stroller served our family well and letting it go earlier this week was yet another reminder that we’re in a new phase of life.

I never pictured myself as a young mom even though I was only 21 at our wedding. Clay and I spent the first five years of marriage blissfully kid-free and loving life with our dog. We’d offer congratulations when friends would excitedly announce pregnancies and then share a look between us that said “I’m glad it’s not us!” We knew we wanted children eventually but we were in no hurry – after all, we were young and had plenty of time to start a family.

But then we received word that Clay was going to deploy for a second time the following year. For the first time, I felt a desire to add to our family. Clay did too. It’s like we went to bed saying, “Babies are cute and all but ummm…no thanks!” and we woke up thinking, “Huh – should we add a teammate?” At the time, I was aware enough to understand that nestled within my subconscious was a desire to have a piece of Clay in case he didn’t come home from the deployment.

I do think that if there wasn’t a deployment on the horizon, we probably would have waited a couple more years. But nonetheless, we decided to try and gave ourselves an end date because neither one of us had the desire for me to give birth while Clay was in Afghanistan. And wouldn’t you know, our son was born a few weeks before Clay deployed. Looking back, I can’t believe that we decided have a baby in the middle of Clay’s Company Command time with a deployment thrown in for good measure but it felt right at the time, if not a bit a lot scary.

So I was 26 when our son was born, which I consider relatively young – especially when compared to my non-military peers. I was 30 when we brought our daughter home from the hospital and now here I am at 35 with an overwhelming sense of peace and closure as I say farewell to the last tangible piece from the baby years. I’m not sad. I don’t wish my children to be younger. I absolutely adored those years but rather than repeat them, I’m relishing in this new phase of life – one doesn’t require a jogging stroller.

We’ve known for quite some time that our family is complete. Even so, it sometimes catches us off-guard that we’re no longer immersed in a world that requires the cutting up of grapes. For Clay and I, watching our children grow and become more self-sufficient is a reminder of our own mortality as well as a beautiful gift that we don’t always feel lucky receiving. Parenthood is hard. Yes – the baby years are in the rear-view mirror but I’d argue that our children need us now more than ever. The next 12-13 years will be a whirlwind of homework, sports, music lessons, friends, puberty, dating, driving, and college applications. Before we know it, the kids will be leaving the nest and Clay and I will be in mid-40s entering a new phase of life. So we better make this one count.