News Flash, Army People: It’s OK if your spouse works.*
I can’t stop thinking about the language and tone of Army Lieutenant Colonel “Dom” Edward’s article, 31 Things Your Senior Rater Would Like You to Know That He Probably Won’t Tell You, which I found a few weeks ago while scrolling through my morning news feed. In 31 Things, Edward doles out career advice to younger officers through the lens of an outgoing senior rater (supervisor). Much of the advice he shares rings true for any professional: be aware of the impression you give; learn your organization’s norms; seek out information about your supervisor’s expectations. Good advice, right? Unfortunately, much of that good advice got lost in the noise of some of Edward’s specific examples and judgmental language, especially in the Family Life section of the article.
While I believe most senior raters in any profession leave their personal bias at the door for evaluations, the fact that Edward was comfortable publishing an article for Army officers about career success that includes a section about Family Life in which he states “I’m talking to Family members about you” indicates that we as an Army culture have a very long way to go in communicating professional expectations. I understand the leadership point Edward was attempting to convey — that getting to know an officer’s family helps a leader get to know the officer as a whole person, which Edward says is an important component of Engaged Leadership. My problem with that is this: Engaged Leadership isn’t really about getting into people’s personal business. Engaged Leadership is about strategic and genuine listening, sharing, and connecting with subordinates in the context of your profession. After 23 years as an Army spouse who has a profession of my own and who volunteers in my Army community, I understand the importance of getting new spouses involved in both their military community and the traditions that are an integral part of that community’s culture. From where I sit as the spouse of an Infantryman, the military profession has always placed an emphasis on spouse involvement, and, often by necessity, is an organization that is heavily involved in the family life of its personnel. The words we use to talk about that involvement and connection matter. The words that Edward chose to employ in his article to give family advice to junior officers demonstrate an attitude that I find at best condescending, and at worst pejorative. Given the judgmental tone of his article overall, advice such as “I’m watching your kids. If they are brats…I wonder that how [sic] you’re going to lead Soldiers,” and “it’s OK if your spouse works” leave me absolutely cringing.
Taken at face value, Edward’s emphasis on the importance of a senior rater’s approval of some extremely personal decisions and relationships is harmful to promoting the esprit de corps that I’m certain he is attempting to encourage. Being involved in Army Life looks different for every family. Senior leaders and seasoned spouses should be communicative, supportive, and encouraging to all our Army families, not just the ones that fit old school expectations. Instead of outlining advice that smacks of judgement, we should be engaging in conversations and demonstrating the benefits of being an “involved” Army family.
I am grateful for Edward’s article. Edward’s 31 Things have sparked a number of meaningful conversations about involvement and expectations throughout the last month between spouses, soldiers and officers in our unit, in my workplace, at social events, and with neighbors. In all those conversations, we seem to arrive at a common theme — a little understanding and compassion, together with clear communication, go a long way.
*Also, when my spouse gets home from his latest TDY, I’m looking forward to letting him know that I checked with my boss, and she says it is OK that he works.
3.1 Things a Seasoned Army Spouse Would Like You to Know for Your Own Sanity
Thing 1: You are perfectly unique, so just be yourself. We military spouses are connected by our love for a person in uniform, but we are a diverse bunch of individuals. Be you. We’ve never met anyone exactly like you, and we’re glad you are here.
Thing 2: Most other Army spouses aren’t judging you. Each of us is busy juggling in our own circus; we don’t really have time to judge your juggling. We will find the time, though, to help you learn new juggling strategies when you need an assist. Unfortunately, there are always going to be a few people who are judging you. That is their problem, not yours. Refer to Thing 1 and you’ll be fine.
Thing 3: Being involved in Army Life is pretty awesome. No kidding, it really is. Think about what “being involved” means to you and your greensuiter, talk about it, and prioritize accordingly. My “involved” has looked different at different times over the last 23 years. Sometimes the extent of my involvement was making sure I knew what my key caller’s number was. And, sometimes, my involvement has meant leading, making calls, baking, consoling, advising, informing, and organizing. The reality is that by marrying a military person, you are by default “involved” in military life, so find the level of involvement that is right for you and your own family right now — your Army family is always going to be here for you.
Thing 3.1: Please, oh please, RSVP for events, whether you are going or not. Even if you have decided to not be socially plugged in for a while, you are going to get invitations to things. Please take the moment to reply “yes” or “no” so that the person planning the event isn’t left wondering who will or won’t show. Also, if you have RSVP’d, you will not have to mutter some lame excuse next time you see the host.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but it seemed like a good place to start. If you could share 3.1 Things with other military spouses, what would be on your list?