Talking to one of my fellow Jewish Marine Corps wives recently, I realized we became wives and mothers in a different culture than our civilian peers. The norms in our social groups are to stay home with our children and to support our husbands’ careers. Sometimes it seems we are more like 1950’s housewives than liberal 30-something moms.
This is not to say we lack the education, resources, or drive to work outside of our homes. Almost all of the Marine wives I know have college educations and husbands who view them as equals. Most of us expected to have our own successful careers right along side of our Marines. What we didn’t expect were the demands that a military career would have on our families and on us.
Just the moving alone makes finishing a degree program or starting a career more challenging. I married my Hillel sweetheart right out of college and proceeded to move four times in less than three years.
He began his training as a Marine pilot right away, and I thought I would get my masters in Jewish education at the same time. But by the time I dealt with the logistics of a new home, found a local synagogue, and made a few friends, it was time to move again.
Many Marine wives also have children sooner than their civilian friends. Wars don’t stop for babies, so many of us try to have children before our husbands deploy.
Before I had children, my plan was always to be a working mom. I believed having an equal marriage meant contributing equally to the bank accounts and the child rearing. Then of course, I had my first baby three months out from a major relocation. I didn’t have the pull of a job before we moved, and had no desire to look for a job when we finally settled in our new home. By then, I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby to work.
Unlike my civilian friends, staying at home with my baby wasn’t an isolating experience. Because most Marine spouses stay home, I have always had plenty of play dates and moms to hang out with.
Once my husband joined a deploying unit, staying home with our small children seemed more of a necessity than a choice. His work hours can be long and unpredictable, and can include weeks or months away for training. Staying home provides stability for our whole family. I can’t imagine coming home from a long days work and having to take care of my entire household while my husband is away.
Although my life is very different from how I envisioned it, I wouldn’t want to live it any other way. I have enjoyed being a Marine wife, and I love the lifestyle and the calm that comes with being a stay-at-home mom. For now at least, staying at home is the best choice for my sanity and for the shalom bayit (familial harmony) of my family.