Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Part 1: Pros & Cons of NOT Having Kids in the Military

This is the first part of a series focused on the different stages and options associated with having a family in the Military.



Pros & Cons of
Not Having Children in the Military
By Stephanie Carroll

Stephanie Carroll is the founder of Unhinged & Empowered and is a historical fiction author. She was married to a Sailor in the US Navy for 10 years, during which time they did not have children. After 11 years of service, her husband transitioned out of the Navy in 2013. They still do not have children although they intend to adopt.

Here is her story followed by her pros and cons of not having children while married in the Military.

Stephanie’s Story
The Decision to Wait

Stephanie with her husband.
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I’ve studied women’s history extensively, not only in college, but also as a part of my research for my women’s historical novel A White Room. So the first time my Navy Boyfriend took me on base, the fact that all the Navy couples had children stuck out to me. Then as time went on, I noticed it was everyone we met—everyone had kids. It was seriously years before we met a Navy couple who didn’t have children.

There were many times when I felt pressured to have kids myself. There were even a couple of times when I thought, maybe this thing would be easier with kids. There were even times when I felt like I was doing something wrong or abnormal, and I felt like other Navy Wives considered me different. I felt like an outsider because I didn’t have kids.

Should I wait to have children? Will my children suffer from the Navy Life? Will I struggle to care for my children while he is on deployment? Would it be better if I just didn't have kids while he was in the Military? Would it be better to just be us for a while? Would we be stronger couple if we waited to have children?

Ultimately we decided to wait because:  

We wanted to be mature and stable enough to be good parents.
We saw parents in debt and struggling. We saw young parents who didn’t know what they were getting into, who should have waited, and ended up divorced or bankrupt. We saw people treat children like an obligation and a burden. We saw couples full of regret and resentment toward each other and their children. We saw people treat their children terribly, simply because they didn't know how to manage children. We decided we wanted to wait to ensure we would be financially, mentally, and emotionally ready. 

We wanted to have our fun.
Happy Couple by Ed Yourdon via Flickr cc.
Upon first marrying at the ages of 19 and 22, we liked to live a lifestyle that seriously wasn’t child-friendly. We saw parents our age trying to continue this type of lifestyle after having kids and for some it meant their children suffered. It's one thing to go out every once in a while or have people over sometimes, but when you are this age, you want drink and socialize all the time. As you get older, even without kids, you stop wanting to do that stuff. To surround children with drinking, smoking, and adult conversation on a regular basis just didn't seem right to us.


We wanted to pursue our dreams and our careers.
We both had high aspirations for ourselves and knew that having children would put the brakes on that—not that I haven’t seen women with children achieve all their goals and more. At that time, though, I was in college and had seen women have children and end up at home and not able to return to school because of a lack of time, money, and access to sitters. 

I saw this prior to dating a Sailor and then even more once I met Navy Wives. Many told me that childcare was so expensive, it would eat up their entire paycheck, especially when they had to pursue low-income jobs because they didn't get to finish their education. They told me, working just wasn't worth it and many felt trapped at home because of this.

As we got older our goals and time dedicated to those goals continued to be significant, so we continued to put off having children. We knew we had time, and we wanted to do all the things we wanted to do that might take away from kids later on. Our decision to wait until we have accomplished certain goals was prolonged again when my husband made the difficult decision to transition out of the Navy after 11 years of service. He is now working toward ultimately opening a vineyard while I continue to pursue my dreams of becoming a well-read author.
  

So we didn’t have children, and we experience what it was like to be married in the Military without children. If you are considering starting a family or waiting a while before you start a family, I hope my experiences can be of use.

The Pros and Cons of Not Having Children while in the Military 

PRO
Time to Grow Your Finances
Even though the Navy provides an additional stipend for children, and people get major tax breaks, we always seemed to be doing better financially with less mouths to feed. Let’s face it, when you are a Navy couple living off of an airman’s income, you are hurting, even with extra stipends and tax breaks, and yet this is when most Navy couples start a family. 

Young married couples tend to under-estimate the expense of babies and children. They are kind of money pits. Without having to provide for additional people in our family, we have been able to save and acquire things like a home and reliable vehicles without acquiring much debt. When we do have children, we are confident we have become financially stable to provide for them and not have to live paycheck to paycheck.

Check out Parenting.com and What to Expect, which calculate the cost of a new baby being about $12,000 a year and about $240,000 to raise up to age 18, respectively.

CON
Being Different.
In a Navy that encourages conformity, being different can be hard sometimes. Particularly, when all the Navy Wives have one primary thing in common. 

I felt unwelcome at my first FRG (Family Readiness Group) because I was young and childless. All the Navy Wives got together to do stuff with and for their children, which is great except for the gal without a kid. I would go to these family fun nights and children's birthday parties and had no one to talk to about anything!

All throughout his service, I struggled to make friends with Navy Wives. Even when I did make friends with a Navy Wife, we couldn't really get together often because our lives, time constraints, and obligations were so different. I always lived off of base too and when most Navy Wives live on base and have kids, it’s just easier for them to make friends with people who are also on base with kids.

As I got older, I discovered ways to manage these types of events and experiences but I could never change the fact that we were just different without kids.

PRO
Freedom.
Love is being stupid together by Nattu via Flickr cc
In addition to having general freedom to go where you want when you want without worrying about sitters, the freedom to go on adventures and just be with your Sailor, there’s also the freedom of not having to become a single parent when he or she goes away. 

I’ve seen Navy Wives without children go overseas to have their own adventures during deployments while others have taken on projects and goals that require time they wouldn’t have if they were raising babies. I’ve personally pursued major projects during every deployment from event planning to publishing my first novel.

CON
Seriously Alone.
When your Sailor goes away, there is no one else in your house or apartment unless you have a roommate. Dogs don’t count. They help, but it’s not the same. There were times when I longed to have kids just so there was someone to make some noise and cuddle while he was gone. But—this is NOT a good reason to have kids.

PRO
Relationship Building Time.
By waiting to have children, we were able to really get to know each other and learn how to be with one another whereas when someone gets married and has children right away, they are learning how to deal with each other and deal with kids at the same time.

It’s weird, that everything in our world requires classes and education except for relationships—no wonder we have such high divorce rates. Learning how to make the universe about you and your partner instead of just you is a process, and it takes time and effort. It’s not natural or automatic. You have to work on your relationship, especially when it is coupled with frequent and enduring separations.
Happy Feet Friday by Khánh Hmoong via Flickr cc

When we had that major marital crisis, which even happy couples can have, we had the time, energy, and financial stability to seek help and follow a plan to resolve our problems. We've seen couples that can't figure this out when they are overwhelmed with an entire family.

We feel like we have had the time to become a strong team, so when we have children, we can tackle that adventure already united through our years of work. 

CON
Missing Out.
Military families have a much different experience in the Military than childless couples and sometimes you just feel like you are missing out on something. The Navy provides a lot of activities and events for Military families that childless couples just aren’t a part of. Not to mention the fact that when everyone your age has kids, they all tell you it is the most amazing experience and the most important thing they will ever do. You can't help but wonder if you are missing out.

PRO
Battling Demons.
Like many people, I have childhood issues and issues with my parents. When I first left my mother's house, I didn’t even realize how big these issues really were. They rose to the surface after a couple of years of distance and perspective, and they were big issues that I wasn’t capable of handling without help. Before I got that help, I was a big mess, and it affected those around me. I can’t imagine how those issues would have impacted my parenting if I had kids at that time. 

There were other demons I had to battle too. Some of them I still battle to this day, but I’ve got a much stronger awareness of them and the tools to deal, whereas when I first got married, my “coping” strategies were not healthy or productive. 

My husband likewise had stuff he had to work through in his 20s and he too had to learn more productive and healthy coping mechanisms. I think everyone does as they are entering adulthood and getting distance from their parents and their childhood. Further, you are still trying to figure out who you are.

Empty Cribs by Lee Cohen via Flickr cc
CON
Worrying You’ve Waited Too Long.
Will I be too old to do the things my kids need me to do because I waited as long as I did? I already have medical issues, and as I age my body is only going to have more issues. 

Will everyone my age have had kids at a younger age, and I will still be different and feel like an outsider because their kids are at different stages of life?

Have I missed my chance?


PRO
Life Wisdom & Being Ready

 When I first got married, I was in college and I thought I was soooo smart, but looking back I really didn’t have much life experience. I’m sure that 10 years from now I’ll say the same thing about myself now, but I feel like if I were a parent in my early 20s, I would have been a much different parent than I would be now, just because of what I now know.

DVIDSHUB by Homecoming for USS McInerney via Flickr cc
Plus, I got to have my 20s and I think if I had children, I’d worry that I missed out on a part of being in my 20s. I got to do things that I wouldn't have with kids. I got to go on trips and have adventures that were adults only and I'm glad I got to have those experiences. I won't have regrets.

I know the old adages: You’ll never be ready. There is no right time

Bull! 

I was not ready back then, at 19 years old, and thank the Lord I knew it. 
Now, at 30, I know I’m ready and able.



Want to know more about the experience Navy Wives have had with having children in the Military? Make sure to check back next week for the next post in this installment by author and Navy Wife Amy Bird and the week after that with the post by author and Navy Wife Nanette Field.


Share with others too. You have no reason to be ashamed or feel like this expereince is only happening to you. You don't have to hide it. Other wives and girlfriends are going through the same thing when their Sailor returns, so share with them, vent your frustrations, and get it out there.

You can share here too! Or on our Facebook Forum of course. So, what are some of your post-honeymoon experiences—after your man gets home—those “awkward” moments that make you feel guilty and confused. How have you coped or are you still in that coping place?

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
  
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at www.stephaniecarroll.net and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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