9 things you should NEVER say to military spouses (and a few things you should)
It’s no surprise that military wives are a tight-knit group. Their shared experiences — spouses gone for extended periods of time, moving their families multiple times, dealing with the emotions of having a loved one in danger — give them a strong bond.
When civilians ask questions about their lifestyles, sometimes military wives can’t help but laugh. Or, in some cases, want to scream.
In honor of Mother’s Day, TODAY's military mom surprise and National Military Appreciation Month, TODAY Moms asked several military wives what questions irk them, how they respond, and what they would really rather hear.
“You must be used to this.”
Mom to four kids ranging in age from 25 to 13, Sue McKechnie of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and husband Bill moved 14 times in his 28 years of service in the Air Force.
“When people say, ‘You must be so used to it,’ they have no idea how much moving affects you. Moving from place to place, family-less and friend-less. Watching your kids get heartbroken. Always resettling. It’s something you never get used to,” says McKechnie, who prefers it when people tell her, “Wow, it’s amazing” that her family has experienced so many moves.
“Oh, your kids will be fine with your spouse’s deployment..they must be used to it.”
Meredith Moore, of Burke, Virginia, a mom of kids ages 14, 12 and 9, has heard this every time her husband has been deployed — and that’s 8 times in the 21 years he has been active duty in the Navy. Moore says each deployment is difficult in its own way, depending on the kids’ ages and stages. “The older they are, the more fear they have about dad being gone because they are more aware of the situation. And they try to hide that fear from the parent at home, “ says Moore. “The idea they are used to it...that isn’t true at all. What’s true is they they know they have gotten through it before, that they can overcome all the things that are going on.” Moore would rather people say to her: “I bet it never gets easy to say goodbye, but I know your kids are resilient.”
“Do you worry about his safety?”
“Well of course I worry. He’s the father of my children,” says Mackenzie Robinson, 30, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who has a 17-month-old son and is expecting her second child. Robinson’s husband Derek has been in the Navy for five years and was deployed on a ship for six months the first year they were married. “I do try to focus on the positive. It’s the life we chose.”
“My spouse travels for work. I totally know what you are going through.”
“Well, his two-week trip to Montreal is not the same as going to Afghanistan,” quips Lauren Kuen, 31, of Alexandria, Virginia, whose husband has been active duty in the Army for 10 years. Kuen says that while she appreciates a woman whose husband travels may have hardships, there is little comparison. “You don’t have to worry about their safety every single moment of the day. You don’t get to talk to them on the phone any time you want.”
Robinson doesn’t see much similarity in the situations. For someone whose husband is on business, “You know where he is and when he is coming back,” she says. “There is no return ticket with a deployment.”
“How are you going to keep yourself busy while he’s gone?”
Robinson, an elementary school teacher, finds this question humorous. “Well, I’m going to work and take care of my son and cut the grass and change the light bulbs and do whatever else needs to be done,” she says.
“Wow, you must miss him.”
This one makes Robinson laugh, too. “A lot of us [military wives] joke and think of all the things that are great. ‘When he’s gone, I get the whole bed to myself. I get the remote control.’”
What Kuen wants to respond (but doesn’t): “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“How do you go such a long period without having sex?
It seems like a question that’s a tad too personal, but it’s common, says Moore, a volunteer services coordinator for the National Military Family Association. Her response to nosy Nellys: “If you are married to the right person, he’s worth waiting for.”
Robinson says whenever her husband returns from a weeks-long stint away, her colleagues will ask her, pointedly: “Sooo, how was your night last night?”
Kuen, who is expecting her first child, says that when she sees people after a homecoming by her husband, it always feels awkward, “like the day after my wedding when I went to see my family. There’s no denying what’s happened.”
So what should a civilian ask about s-e-x? These wives are unanimous: Nothing!
Where are you going on vacation?
For many military families, vacation time is the only time they can see their extended families. So don’t ask if they are going to the beach in Cabo, says McKechnie.
“When your husband has 10 days off, you go see family. All we did for 20 years for vacation was to visit his family in New Jersey and mine in California,” she says (although recently, after her husband’s retirement, they finally did take a family trip Mexico.)
“I don’t know how you do it.”
Robinson says she tries not to be cynical in her response, but rather tells people, “I don’t have a choice.” She admits that sometime deployments are just hard. Most recently, as soon as her husband left, she had a minor car accident and her dog had a medical situation. “We call that the ‘curse of the deployment’...whenever they leave, all hell breaks loose. But, you just have to laugh about it.”
“If you love the person, you do what you have to do,” adds Kuen. “It’s not like we are made of DNA that can handle it better. You rise to the occasion.”
And rise, they do. Military moms, we hope you don't mind if we say: We salute you!