Today I’m thrilled to introduce our first guest author, Susan Silverman, kicking off a series of articles on some of the particular challenges of combining parent, careering and military service . A highly educated and well-traveled individual (not to mention a friend from my American University days), Susan served for a decade as a U.S. Department of Defense consultant before taking time off in support of her family. (For a longer bio, check out our bios page.) Now she’s learning the balance between being a spouse, mother, and individual, all the while residing in the United Kingdom and touring Europe, binging on the latest “X-Files” episodes, and figuring out her future adventures. Despite 10 years working as a civilian for the DoD, her immersion into U.S. military culture as what that institution still terms a ‘dependent spouse’ has contained some real surprises, which she shares with us in this article that gives a glimpse into the perspective of someone peeking into the establishment from the outside.
Why Did I Agree to This? Unique opportunities, and challenges of being a spouse and a mom in a military culture
by Susan Silverman
Since university, I have been set on being a career woman in the international affairs world. Sure, the path has not been straight—whose has—but my career has always been at the center of my personal dartboard. Being a wife and mother were not impossible roles but not ones I conscientiously dreamed of.
That said, I made it a goal to be professionally and financially secure before I married or had a child. During my pregnancy, my husband received a fantastic offer to work for the U.S. military at a base in the United Kingdom. We could not turn this three-year opportunity down. Because every child needs to be exposed to the Beatles, the royal establishment, and socialized medicine.
At that time, I agreed to be a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) with the hope of working remotely. I had this whole vision of getting the best of both worlds: balancing feedings, nappy changes, and the early days of my daughter with the satisfaction of meeting the daily needs of my clients. Unfortunately, it turned out I could not take the job with me. Nevertheless, we believed this opportunity would allow us to tour Europe and have more time to be a family together. Our daughter, LB, would get experiences and our—both my husband’s and my—time, two things experts say are the most important things for children.
Before I continue I need to state that I agreed to this life for our family. I could not allow such a wonderful professional opportunity to pass my husband by. I loved my career as a Department of Defense consultant; I felt I was making a difference that mattered for those in the military and had colleagues that I truly respected. But we had the ability for me to forego working and raise our daughter for three years without feeling financial constrained—a blessing that very few families in the United States, especially Washington, DC, have—so I chose this path for my family.
We moved to the UK in September 2016. Quickly, I realized I was a foreigner in two ways: to the overseas U.S. military culture and to the British child rearing ways (the latter I will not address in this posting). And from that day on, I was a nobody. The identity I have had for so long evaporated. I was only thought of as my “husbands’s wife” or “LB’s mother”—nothing more. I became part of a no-man’s land of professional women: those successful professional women trying to balance work and motherhood, who ultimately have to sacrifice their vision of one to survive. In my case, I gave up my professional identity.