Being a Military Spouse Means I Am My Own Kite

Military wife, but still my own damn self

I scribbled purple waves into my notebook and tried to ignore the touchy-feely couple to my left. The husband’s thumb rubbed circles on the back of his wife’s hand while she caressed his neck. I distracted myself by scratching big, angry circles over the waves I originally drew. My husband was seventy days into his second deployment at the time. Only two hundred days to go. Only.

The speaker at the front of the room wrapped up his portion of the meeting to mild applause and handed the microphone over to the next person on the agenda: a military family life counselor. (As with all things in the military, this one comes with an acronym: MFLC.) MFLCs rotate through units for months at a time and provide free counseling to soldiers and their families. It’s a great service, and something I’ve taken advantage of on more than one occasion.

The current MFLC for our unit wore his striped polo shirt tucked into his jeans and belted. Not five seconds into his presentation, he was gesticulating wildly, moving around the room, and serving up something similar to a religious sermon. Despite the MFLC’s ability to enthuse with the best of them, I zoned out. He was preaching to the choir in my case, and I was more interested in thinking about what drive-thru I was going to hit up for dinner on the way home. Half of the page in my notebook was purple by the time he said something that drew my attention. The MFLC did his best to recall a quote from General Marshall, “Imagine that your husband is a kite. You, you are a kite’s tail. People think you just stand by your husband and look pretty or that you follow him around. Really, you direct him and help him fly higher. The kite needs its tail.”

Mrs. Touchy-Feely nodded to her husband and he smiled back. They were apparently in silent agreement that he was a high-flying kite and she was the ever-important tail. Turning my head a little this way and a little that, I caught glimpses of others nodding along, rapt in the metaphor. Had someone added a “hallelujah!” shout from the back row, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

No offense to our very passionate MFLC or the late General Marshall, but no thank you. I am not a kite’s tail.

I realize that what was being offered to us was a somewhat progressive pep talk. Though people joke about the old adage, “If the military wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one,” it feels true more often than not. No one consulted me when we were sent to live in a tiny town with no jobs in my career field or when eight months later we had to move again. My thoughts are worth less than a penny when it comes to determining how often I’ll find myself living alone and for how long. My husband’s job dictates the arc of my flight. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any control.

In A Christmas Carol, a crotchety Scrooge traveled back in time to take a look at his first employer, the jovial Fezziwig. Scrooge wistfully recalls that Fezziwig “had the power to make us happy or unhappy…” I take it upon myself to be my own Fezziwig. I won’t give the Army that opportunity. If they want to send us somewhere remote, then I’ll use it as an opportunity to catch up on my reading. If they want me to move internationally twice in one year, why, that’s the chance I was waiting for to toss out my old junk. If they want to send my husband away again, it’s a lesson in resilience.

It’s not all reactionary. This year we finally have some glorious stability. (Well, other than that pesky deployment that popped up with ten days’ notice, but that’s par for the course.) We’ve got shallow roots planted at our current duty station, and I managed to find a solid job. Then I took it upon myself to quit. I didn’t like my job, but I could have toughed it out or sucked it up or been a trooper or made it work or every other platitude out there. For days I agonized over quitting, telling myself that I should suck it up, but I’ve spent plenty of time being unhappy at the hand of someone else. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any more of my time to it. I hustled and sought out other opportunities and I fought for something better, something that makes me happier. The Army didn’t require it of me, it wasn’t the result of trailing behind my husband, it was one hundred percent the sole, scary decision and hard work of Amy.

Being a military spouse is a huge part of my identity; I so enjoy the many things that come with that title. And it may be a compliment to say that I support my husband (I’m pretty good at it), to pat me on the head and proclaim what important work it is, but I cannot and I will not allow myself to be relegated to the role of a kite’s tail. I am more than that.

I am a partner, I am a friend, I am a lover, I am sticky-note obsessed, a runner, a reader, a chips and salsa eater! I am an individual.

I am my own damn kite.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Thank you, Amy! It feels like a lot of the wives I meet here in Okinawa would also nod along with the kite’s tail metaphor while I had the same reaction you did. I am proud to be married to a man who chooses to serve our country and I think I do a good job of supporting him, but I don’t see helping my husband fly higher as the defining part of my identity. I’m finding though that here, a lot of us have to really work at making sure we find things that are completely our own, separate from our husband’s careers. It’s hard to get jobs (I’m working in education, at least, but only part-time) and our social lives tend to revolve around the military and our spouses’ squadrons (or units or whatever). So I started a masters degree online and joined a dragon boat team and started a neighborhood happy hour group. I’m my own kite too!

    Also, if you’re ever in Okinawa, I will totally take you out for Blue Seal ice cream – beni imo, which is purple sweet potato flavored, which I promise is much better than it sounds!

    • Amy

      It’s a tricky balancing act being proud and supportive, and yet not giving up your whole self to become “only” a spouse. The 8 months that we were OCONUS (small town in Germany), I was especially lonely. Jobs were hard to come by and being in a foreign country was already isolating. I would have loved to have lived there longer (when else will I get someone else to pay for me to live in Europe?), but I’m also glad it was short; I really struggled with my sense of self during that year.
      I’ll definitely take you up on that sweet potato ice cream! Likewise, if you find yourself in El Paso, I’ll treat you to some Carlos & Mickey’s tex-mex!

  • Juanita

    “I am my own damn kite” a wonderful sentiment I think any of us in a relationship can appreciate. I appreciate it being immersed at times in a culture that tends to emphasize the man and what he does over what I can contribute. I just loved every bit of it, especially since I was hanging out with my friend whose husband is away training with the marines currrently.

    • Amy

      Thanks, Juanita!

  • Kate

    If I ever submitted something to APW, I would attempt to somehow capture my process of figuring out what it means to me to be a military spouse. Much as I personally have not struggled much with “wife,” I have struggled with “Army Wife” – there are a whole lot of stereotypes to sort through in my own mind. I know where you’re coming from – finding a space between support for your spouse and all-consuming identification with the milspouse role. I am also fighting for my career even though it is not always convenient (because I know I need and want it). What ultimately makes it okay for me is that regardless of what the outside world might think of our choices, my husband and I figure out each step together, with some degree of compromise, to get us each and us together to a good place in life. So thank you for this post, and for giving me a new way to express a fundamental feeling – I am my own damn kite!

    • mere…

      “What ultimately makes it okay for me is that regardless of what the outside world might think of our choices, my husband and I figure out each step together, with some degree of compromise, to get us each and us together to a good place in life. ”

      These Words. Absolutely.

    • Amy

      “I personally have not struggled much with “wife,” I have struggled with “Army Wife”” – yes! This has been my experience exactly. I had a boss tell me last year that she was “so sick and tired of these wives following their husbands around,” in regards to spouses quitting their jobs when they PCS. I almost threw my hands up. We can’t win when it comes to the expectations of others. Good for you and your husband for already realizing that and putting your marriage first!

      • Class of 1980

        Oh brother. She’s an idiot. It would be interesting to ask what HER solution is so she could realize what an idiot she is. ;)

      • Jessica


        I would love to hear from a “Army Husband” to hear what kind of crap they deal with “following their wives around.” I bet they have an entirely different set of stereotypes to face, but I never hear them talk about it (probably because I don’t know that many).

      • Meg Keene

        I mean… WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO? It’s not like he can be like “Oh, moving isn’t so good for us right now.” I just can’t with that.

        • Amy

          I think my boss felt like she was coming from a feminist perspective, suggesting that women put their careers first. I, however, don’t see it that way. I didn’t like that she specifically said women even though we had a male spouse on staff. Nor did I like that she felt that she knew what was best for me more than I did or that the answer would be one size fits all. And finally, I don’t see myself as “following” my husband; we are a family, we go together. Not to mention this was a part time, hourly job! What kind of employees was she expecting?! Okay, rant over.

  • Alyssa M

    Sounds so so much like the platitude I used to hear growing up in a Southern Baptist church. “The husband is the head of the household, but the wife is the neck!” Harharhar! And everyone chuckles and nods and grins knowingly… just…ick.

    • Amy

      Oh man. I’ve never heard that one before. It gives me an icky feeling, too.

    • Ugh. Yes. I grew up with that one, too.

      I watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” enough times to wear out the DVD, but I always found that exchange so icky.

  • Jessica

    I tend to skip the family services part of military family life. I’m not terribly excited about being a military spouse, and don’t really enjoy the fuss people make about me being without the husband. They are only concerned about his well-being and are trying to be supportive, but it gets pretty insulting sometimes when they only ever ask about him and not how I’m doing/anything about my life here. It’s like they have no idea how I could possibly go on without him. I appreciate hearing about other military wives who don’t want their husband’ careers define their identity. Really, I don’t know any woman who wants their husband’s career to define their identity.

    • Amy

      “it gets pretty insulting sometimes when they only ever ask about him and not how I’m doing/anything about my life here. It’s like they have no idea how I could possibly go on without him.” I agree! I recently attended a retreat for spouses of deployed soldiers. I was talking to a few other ladies and it came up that I don’t have children. One of them asked me, “So what do you do all day?” I was so taken back. I have a job, I have a life, I have hobbies! My world is bigger than just my immediate family.

  • Bets

    I’m not a military wife, but I wouldn’t want my partner’s career to define who I am, or vice versa. I think that’s still a very real struggle in relationships today, especially when one partner’s job is more “high profile” or has more taxing demands than the other’s. No one should be a kite’s tail.

    • Amy

      For the 3 years that my husband has been in the Army, this has been our struggle. His job is very demanding and completely inflexible. In turn, I’ve had to become very flexible, and it’s been hard to keep my sense of me along the way. I’ve had to fight for it.
      I know couples in other professions struggle with this, too. My best friend is an anesthesiologist, and her job is very demanding. It’s been good for me to see how she navigates managing the requirements of her job and her family.

  • Jenni

    I’ll be joining the ranks of military spouses in a few months. I hate the idea of being defined by my partner’s job–there’s really no other career where that happens. But I am grateful for the friends I’ve made via my fiance’s work, and reassured to find that most of us are in the same boat in terms of trying to find meaningful work, and managing an identity outside of wife.

    It’s taken me a long time (years) to finally become comfortable with the fact that I’ll have to move and change careers in order for us to be together. I really had to change my entire perception of myself, as I relate to my career and the dreams I had when I was younger. But damned if I’m going to think of myself as someone’s tail, or neck, or whatever.

    Big hugs to you while your husband is deployed … I hope the time will fly for you.

    • EAL

      This is a bit counter to what others have said here, but you don’t have to move. My (now) husband is in the air force and moved 1600 miles away the week after we got engaged. He’s been there for 2 years (we got married 8 months ago). I have an academic position that is great for my career. I couldn’t get a similar position where is stationed. So, we made the incredibly difficult decision to live apart for several years.

      Luckily I have an incredibly supportive boss and now telecommute 20% of my time. That means for that for 2 weeks out of every 2 months we live together at his apartment and I work from there.

      This arrangement isn’t for everyone. It’s incredibly, incredibly hard (there’s a reason the stereotypical military wife is not a med school professor). Each of us has considered quitting our jobs over the past year. However, we decided that right now it was the best things for our careers and therefore the long-term best choice for our marriage. I guess you could say we are each are own kites.

      • Jenni

        EAL, we are living similar lives! My fiance is also in the Air Force, and I’m currently in a fantastic science postdoc position. I’ve been able to telecommute part time, driving 8 hrs back and forth to spend a week or two at a time depending on his schedule.

        You’re right, it is incredibly hard, and I’m so grateful that we did it this way, for the things I’ve learned and the friends I’ve made. However, we’ve been long distance for 7 years–our entire relationship. For me, the engagement was the catalyst to decide whether I wanted to continue to pursue my current career, or reinvent myself into a different one that would allow us to finally live together. One thing that made it easier is that I’m pursuing a new career in which I can use some of the skills I’ve already gained. I have no doubts that we could continue our relationship long-distance once married (although I can only imagine it makes it more challenging)–but after seven years, I was just so tired and ready for it to be over. Making that decision was *hard* and sometimes I still have doubts that I’m doing the right thing. The only way to go is forward though.

        Fingers crossed that for your husband’s next assignment (in about a year if timelines are similar to ours?) it allows you to live together permanently! If you ever want to commiserate over an academic/military pairing, I’d be happy to share my email address.

  • Steph

    I really enjoyed the second-to-last paragraph – felt almost like a lyric from La Vie Boheme (Rent)!

  • Sparkles

    I really appreciate this article right now. I’m not a military wife, but in many ways as a farmer’s wife, I’m in a similar position. My partner’s job can be all consuming and leave little space for me unless I can fit around it. I’ve recently also made the very hard decision to quit my job. Partly because I didn’t like it, partly because it works better for us for me to be at home (whether it’s meal prep and cleaning, or being able to see him every once in a while, eating lunch together in the tractor).

    I know I am not a kite’s tail, I am my own damn kite (thanks for that), but I’m worried about how to best differentiate myself as my own person without my own job. I hate that so much of my identify is tied up in my job, but I’m trying to make it a positive thing. It’s a bit of a shift, but I’m trying to channel some of that energy into embracing “farmer’s wife” (sometimes in my head, even farmer) as my new career, with it’s own sense of purpose and identity that’s linked to, but separate from my partner.

    • ambi

      This is interesting to me because, coming from a heavily agricultural area, I have always just kind of thought of the husband and wife as both farmers, even if he is the one out working in the fields. I just always think of her as a farmer too. But your comment made me realize that there are many farm wives that aren’t farmers by choice, and have totally separate careers. Not sure why we tend to think of “farm families” or “military families” as if the husband’s occupation controls the whole family.

      • Sparkles

        As a city girl turning farm girl, I’m having to figure out how this whole farming thing works, and my place in the system. It’s a really different narrative than the one I was raised with. Both of my parents worked, as did most of my friends’ parents. If a parent was able to stay home to raise the children, I usually understood it as a privilege (doctor’s or lawyer’s spouses got to do that). My mom didn’t get to stay home even though she wanted to because we needed the money. Here the money wouldn’t go amiss, but there’s the other equally important role of feeding, clothing, cleaning, running errands, doing chores. All necessary to keep the people and the machinery running on time and effectively (much as those stay at home parents did when I was growing up, now that I think about it).

        I understand why you would have thought of both partners as farmers growing up, and I like that that’s the way it’s interpreted by people in the know. It’s just not part of the narrative I was raised with, and so I’m trying to fit it in with my experience.

        As an aside, farming is a pretty consuming occupation, and usually more than one person is involved in making it run smoothly. Both partners are farmers. I wish it was possible to translate that to other stay-at-home spouse situations, where both spouses are involved in making families run smoothly. Wouldn’t it be neat if both partners were lawyers and doctors!

        • Meg Keene

          You should read “All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.” She actually talks a lot about how much of the crazy making in modern parenting comes from the fact that all the work has been stripped away from parenting, and now we just PARENT. We don’t make clothes, or *farm* food, or do heavy labor to clean houses or wash clothes, or maintain homesteads. So what’s left? The part where you sort of stare at your kid and PARENT. PARENT HARD.

          In my family it just doesn’t work. The kid and I are both just temperamentally BUSY. We wake up busy. So when it’s just the two of us, we immediately set up a job. We’re going to clean the kitchen! We’re going to make the beds! We’re going to mop! Otherwise it’s just sort of…. awful… for both of us.

          Long story short, I think that being a co-farmer/ farm manager/ farmer’s wife, whatever you want to call it, and being a parent, is far more in the old model, and would make far more sense to me. Strap the baby on and DO.

          • ambi

            Meg, I love your approach to this issue. However, my experience has been almost the opposite. I loved baby-wearing, but for the most part I can’t manage all the household jobs with baby in tow. Maybe I am just not up to the old model (I have never been very good at household chores anyway). I find cleaning the kitchen, making beds, mopping, etc., with a baby, just overwhelming. I’ll be honest, our house has been a MESS for almost a year since our daughter was born. Instead, I just let myself spend significant chunks of time doing “nothing” (playing with baby, changing diapers, cleaning up her snotty nose over and over again, etc). I don’t really think of it as “parenting,” and definitely not parenting hard. And I don’t have much guilt about it – frustration that my house is a mess, but not guilt.

    • Emily

      I’m moving away from the topic, but a goal in my life is to not let my earning-a-living work be my identity. I’ve recently decided to stop working in career-type jobs and seriously work on my art, while I support myself through temp jobs. I need mercenary work, otherwise I quickly get too involved in leadership decisions, where the field is going, my training, etc. After two successful but ultimately unsatisfying careers, I recognize this.

      But the identity thing is so hard. I’ve started calling my art “work” because so many people (mother and others) were saying “oh, you aren’t working that day?” I am working. I happen not to be earning money at the moment. But this is my work.

      I am my own kite, and my kite is not defined by what I do to earn money.

    • Apples

      THIS. My mom is a farmer’s wife who used to have her own career, but then quit to come home and do the bookkeeping for the farm. But now I’m coming home to learn to run the (fairly large) farm, large enough to have 10 full time employees plus another 15 most-of-the-year people and an additional 60 at harvest. So it’s not just my Dad and I or something. EVERYONE asks what my fiance is doing on the farm, someone even commented that my Dad must be happy that he has a son-in-law willing to take over the farm (um…no…but he has a daughter who will and is standing right in front of you?). Um, he has his own damn kite in an entirely different career field; yes I do generally quit at 5 because I value being home with him (none of this whenever it gets done I’ll go back in crap), and I really appreciate that he does something else. So. Thanks for saying something about that and giving me the opportunity to rant. Unfortunately some people are hard-wired to think you must always support him by putting everything aside for his job. Side note: in apple season, yes, I work past 5 when necessary and random hours on Saturday and plan things on Sunday and never really stop working but that is about 12 weeks then we’re back to normal. That leaves 40 where we are separate kites.

      • Sparkles

        The whole gendered issue in farming is a completely different ball of wax. I haven’t even started thinking about how to deal with that yet. There are all these issues with me taking on a traditional role that’s expected of me floating around in my head. I can only imagine all the flak you come up against being the woman in the farming role with a partner in his own job.

  • CB

    Thanks for this article Amy. I’m not part of a military couple but am in a LD relationship for work related reasons and just this afternoon made the decision to quit my job and not take a very attractive new offer (sob!) to follow my DH’s career. I feel exactly like I’m fighting becoming relegated to a subordinate position. It feels deeply scary/un-feminist/wasteful of my talents and hard earned reputation/a cop out..but also good for the health of my relationship and challenging in a good way. I appreciate seeing other strong women struggling with the same.

  • Michelle

    Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

    My husband is a pilot in the Coast Guard, and for the 2 1/2 years we’ve been married I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by the culture of the “military wife.” It’s such a relief to hear from others who think a bit more like I do, and your article popped up at a very fitting time (we just moved to our newest duty station). “I am my own damn kite” is such a fantastic way to put it. Thank you!

  • Pingback: Weekend Links: Humblebrags, Life as a Military Wife, Leaning Out, and 10 Rules for Brilliant Women | Cordelia Road – Snippets of art, travel, and culture for your day()