by Brooke Goldberg
In December, the National Military Family Association (NFMA) held its annual Leadership Luncheon. This year, they examined the question, “Does a Work-Life Balance Exist for Women in the Military Community?” The question was asked of four women who are very engaged with the military community:
- LTG Flora Darpino – The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, Army spouse, and mother of two
- Lakesha Cole – Business owner, Marine Corps spouse, and mother of three
- Reda Hicks – MSJDNer, Army spouse, and mother of one
- Claudia Myers – Writer and Director of Fort Bliss, spouse and mother
I have a great employer (I work for NMFA) with lots of family flexibility and a great grasp on the challenges of military life, but I admit, I walked into the luncheon actually worried about the conversation that was going to take place because I really don’t like the phrase “work-life balance.”
The idea that you have to balance the two, or even can when your spouse is off to war all of the time, doesn’t seem possible at all. Sometimes life seems okay, and other times it doesn’t. The phrase “work-life balance” implies that it works like a mathematical equation or a puzzle of scales and there is a right answer to be computed if you are smart enough.
Then LTG Darpino gave me comfort with her explanation of how she does it. In her view, in life, you have to “carry your bucket” and you have to decide what goes in that bucket (i.e. work, dinner, a clean house, extracurricular activities for your kids). This was exactly what I was yearning to hear someone say.
The truth is life throws things at you that no amount of preparation can fix. You have to constantly reevaluate what matters and what you can “carry in your bucket.” Maybe you buy ready-made meals or hire someone else to clean the house, or maybe you just let the house be messier for a while. Maybe you don’t do Christmas cards, or don’t throw birthday parties for your kids, because you need to take a breath and your bucket is full. That is okay.
Furthermore, this isn’t just a women’s issue. Men, too, struggle with what to put in their buckets. These challenges are not unique to military life either. We all have to carry our buckets and sometimes, we carry them without the help of our service member spouses, making them seem pretty heavy. We could all take a little more time, I think, to evaluate the struggle that everyone goes through to figure this out, stop comparing what is in the buckets, and enjoy what we are able to put in our own.
All of the women engaged in this conversation shared their vulnerabilities and their challenges. Reda Hicks said that she pays special attention to cues from her son when he feels that he isn’t getting enough attention. Lakesha Cole admitted that her daughter hides her charging cords to encourage her to disconnect from work and engage with her family. Claudia Myers shared her own challenges with balancing the temptation to throw herself into work and still remain immersed at home. All of them felt that their work and the challenges of trying to “carry” it all was important in setting a good example for their children.
These women were all great examples of creatively prioritizing their time in ways that mattered for them. For once, finally, I was happy to not feel like I was missing the math of all of it. I have probably been spilling a lot of things out of my bucket, and it was nice to hear I wasn’t the only one. I’m just going to try to be a little more deliberate about it from now on.
Brooke Goldberg is an Air Force Reserve spouse and serves as Government Relations Deputy Director at National Military Family Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.