Navigating Veteran Mom Life

I was helping my daughter clean her room the other day. More precisely, I was cleaning her room while she lay on the floor moaning about how she has to do all the work herself (#momlife). She eventually picked up a never-worn shirt and handed it to me. It was a short-sleeved, grey camo pattern shirt with “GRL POWER” written in large gold glitter block letters.

“Here, Mom,” she said. “You can donate this one. It’s too military and they’ve spelled ‘girl’ wrong.”

I paused. Her reaction produced very unexpected mixed feelings for me. See, my daughter knows I served in the military. We’ve talked about how I’m a veteran and what that means. I even used the U.S. Air Force Song as a lullaby (though the third verse gets a little fuzzy).

So, now I wondered, where did I go wrong that my daughter was shunning clothes that were “too military?”

Military Training in Mom-ming

I officially joined the U.S. Air Force on September 11, 2001. That date, however, was a pure coincidence; I had made the appointment to take the oath weeks earlier. But even though the terrorist attacks weren’t what spurred me to join, the desire to serve my country was a significant factor, along with earning money for college, seeing the world, and doing something really cool with my life.

I spent the next seven years actively working and deploying in support of ongoing conflicts.

Halloween 2007. I wore the same bat ears for 2021.

At the time, having kids wasn’t on my radar yet, but it was those years that began to shape who I would become as a parent. During my time in the military, I worked with some of the most amazing mothers around. They were smart, hardworking, and tough. They put up with a lot, including long postpartum hours at the gym, and deployments away from their babies.

Through them, I saw moms who balanced a love of what they do with a love for their kids. There were sacrifices, but they had the inner strength to trust themselves and the decisions they made. They weren’t just service members and they weren’t just moms, they were both. And they made it work.

I eventually chose to separate from the military before I had kids, but the take-away for me was still the same: It’s ok for me to work hard at what I love, while still being a good mom. And to trust myself in that decision.

Navigating Veteran Mom Life

Once I was out of the military, though, the dynamics changed. No longer was I a part of a larger community of women in uniform, but rather just another new mom trying to find her tribe. And as most moms know, making friends when you’re older is hard enough.

When you’re a veteran, it’s easy to feel like the odd-mom out. I was 32 when I had my first kid, meaning I had maybe a one in 102 chance of meeting another female veteran in my age group, and an even smaller chance of meeting another veteran mom. Turns out, self-disclosures like “I served in Iraq” is awkward to casually bring up in a conversation over lattes.

My daughter’s first foray into military fashion.

So, for many years I downplayed my veteran status. I had mom friends at work, and I had mom friends through my daughter’s school, but mom friends as a veteran was something reserved for the friends with whom I served.

It’s only been recently that I’ve started to figure out how to incorporate my veteran identity into my mom-ness. As I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learned to embrace not just my service, but actually highlight that difference that can actually set me apart. Why? Because I know I can be a good mom, and love what I do, and love that I served. That I can trust the veteran part of me is as good a mom as the other parts of me.

This is What a Veteran Looks Like

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of when I separated from active duty, and it has become increasingly important to me to change the narrative about who a veteran can be.

Over the summer, my daughter’s camp asked me to come and speak to her class about my service. On the day of the event, I walked in wearing my finest mom fashion: jeans and a simple t-shirt, with a top knot bun, and tennis shoes. I was soon joined by another veteran, a young, recently separated Marine, who looked the part with his haircut and boots on.

And you know what? We were both veterans. We both had stories to tell. But I could at least talk to the young girls (and boys) in the class and say, “This is what a veteran looks like.”

So, perhaps that’s why it stung an extra second that day in my daughter’s room when she said a shirt was “too military.” But sitting there, the more I thought about it, the more I could appreciate where she was coming from.

My daughter has her own identity, and she stands for it. Saying something is “too military” wasn’t a zing at me being a veteran, but rather her making a decision, and trusting that decision. And I can respect that.

That’s why, in that moment, I decided to let go of any disappointment I might have felt, and instead be proud of her insistence on proper spelling. I’m proud of my veteran mom life. Besides, wearing camo as a fashion choice outside the service never really appealed to me, either.

It’s too military.

Born in south Louisiana, Caroline is an Air Force veteran who, after living in San Angelo, San Antonio, Abilene, and other places, finally made her way to north Texas in July 2020. Married to her (usually) favorite Aggie since 2006, she gets to be mom to CeCe (6) and Bubba (2), and frequently wonders “what in the world have I gotten myself into?” After spending many years with a global consulting firm, Caroline now works for UT Dallas as a Program Manager in Executive Education. Caroline is an award-winning humor writer, an avid/rabid LSU fan, terrible housekeeper, and a holiday-baking show connoisseur. She is also a certified coach that owns her own business, CKH Coaching, supporting fellow veteran women manage their transition back to the civilian world. You can learn more at CKHCoaching.com

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