Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Parenting Pointers: Military Spouses

THE WAR AT HOME is a vivid portrait of life as a military spouse that is as honest as it is hopeful. It unearths the humor in a grainy Skype call, the romance in a honeymoon spent in a moving van, and the raw hope in an endlessly demanding relationship always worth fighting for. Her story of falling in love with a Navy pilot, confronting a past fraught with physical distance, and discovering firsthand the tension between self-reliance and emotional intimacy is perfect for readers of You Know When the Men Are Gone, Redeployment, and Standing By, and opens a window on the struggles military families face every day.

I had a chance to interview author Rachel Starnes to learn more.

What was the inspiration behind writing the book?
My husband’s job as a US Navy fighter pilot requires us to relocate frequently, (this is true of pretty much anyone serving in the military), and each of those relocations serves as a mark of progress for him—an advancement in rank, a new series of responsibilities, a logical next step in the building of the larger narrative of his career. For me, those moves began to do the opposite. Each time I had to leave whatever job and friend network I’d found and start over again. The moves began to feel like they were erasing parts of me. Writing this book, in some ways, was an attempt to string everything together and see what progress I had made over the years, what I was working towards. Writing is also a pretty solitary pursuit—I also wanted very much to share my story in order to connect with others who might have felt the same way, whether they were military spouses, or mothers who had struggled with post-partum depression as I had, or even people who, like me, discovered they were repeating some painful family pattern in their present day lives despite their best intentions.

What can readers of the book expect?
There are no easy answers in this book. A lot of what a reader will find is me wrestling with how I feel about some pretty intense challenges concerning raising a family in the military lifestyle and trying to solo parent for long stretches. There are also some pretty funny parts of this story, often in places you wouldn’t expect. My hope is that a reader will come away with an intimate look into the workings of one imperfect family, an examination of the early stages of motherhood in a demanding environment, and a greater knowledge and appreciation of what life is like in the fighter aviation community.

What are challenges that the spouse left behind has?
When I’m solo parenting—which I’m careful to distinguish from single parenting—I’m taking on the entire adult load for our family, and depending on where Ross is going and for how long, that can involve getting specific powers of attorney and updating our wills and a variety of worse-case-scenario paperwork. Far more often, however, it’s a less extreme dive into the world of one-adult logistics, which has changed over the years as my boys have gotten older. Where it used to mean sleep-deprivation, constant diaper duty, and limited showering, it now means lots more physical activity to make sure they burn off all that energy and lots more shuttling around to activities. There are a few axioms that seem to hold true—“Everything waits to break until the guys leave” is one. I’ve gotten handy with bolt cutters, plungers, and garbage disposal repair over the years—not so much with lawn mower, dryer, and alarm system repair. You learn to laugh at your disasters and lean on other military spouses for help. 

How can people support military families during a deployment?
Be specific about what things you’re able and willing to help with and check in regularly. Sometimes a meal brought by out of the blue can make the difference for a whole month of small disasters. Often it’s hard for spouses with children to get time to themselves, so if you’re able and willing to take the kids out for an afternoon, that can be a blessing beyond measure. Regular contact in which you can offer a ready ear for all kinds of emotions is also hugely valuable. And in the larger sense, educate yourself about the policy issues affecting military families—talk to them and find out what’s important, what’s working and what’s not, and then get out and vote. We’re all in this together, but sometimes in a divisive political atmosphere, that’s easy to forget. Be a good citizen so that the sacrifices of those who are serving your country are honored and worthwhile.

RACHEL STARNES received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from California State University, Fresno. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Review and Front Porch Journal. She has lived in Scotland, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Florida, California, and Nevada, and is currently on the move again with her husband, two sons, a cat, and a puppy.

Follow Rachel on Twitter (@rachelsstarnes) and Facebook

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