When I got out of the Air Force, my plan was to get a government job at our new base. When it comes to any government job, I have two legs up on any other applicant—I have disability preference and I am a military spouse. We moved to Germany, and in Germany, according to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), jobs are first offered to local nationals, then they are offered to other government employees, and THEN if there are no qualified applicants, they are offered to military spouses and veterans. I applied for three jobs when stationed there, and did not receive a call back until I was nearly seven months pregnant. Most firms do not hire pregnant women, and the Department of Defense is no different. I went to Germany with goads of experience managing a $3 million budget and 100 personnel; I left Germany with an autistic child and was pregnant yet again.
Reason Number Two: Childcare is freaking expensive.
When we got back to the United States and after my second baby was born, I was ready to return to work, yet again. We were stationed at Minot AFB, ND. There were plenty of jobs available to spouses, but childcare was expensive. Further, my son, now officially diagnosed with autism, required a ton of time and attention. I tried taking him to childcare, but most daycares would call me ten minutes into the day for me to come get him, so I hired a nanny. I ended up paying her nearly $15-20/hour for a few hours a week; spending anything I made on the few jobs I had on childcare and gas. Friends who sold various direct marketing products encouraged me to try to do that. I was a regular customer, and people selling direct sales have very flexible schedules. My sister-in-law and high school friend are two very successful direct sale managers, both earning directorships and cars. I, however, am not that great at direct sales.
Reason Number Three: I just suck at selling crap.
I would get invited to these direct sales parties. I enjoyed every single one of them, and I bought into the whole ‘you can make your own schedule, you just need to pay anywhere $10-200 and get our starter package. Invite your friends to these parties and the stuff just sells itself.’ Tell that to the socially awkward military spouse, who doesn’t make friends easily. Yeah—I tried Pampered Chef, Traveling Vineyard, Scentsy, Avon, Mary Kay, Isagenix, and a few more that I can’t quite remember. Needless to say, I ended up spending more money on products than I ever made, and I have boxes and boxes of products that I can’t sell. Further, I just can’t bring myself to ask friends to host parties, or attend parties. Now that my kids are in school, I thought it was time to re-apply to professional jobs.
Reason Number Four: My degree is officially outdated, and I’m over-qualified.
We moved a few more times, and once we got to this base, I applied for positions in my field (computer science information systems and management), only to find out that a 10-year gap in a technology degree will not get me hired, so I applied for part time work at places that didn’t require much in the way of experience. Then I was told that there was no way I was going to get hired with my last job being Visual Information Flight Commander at USAF paying $56K annually. Most of interviewers told me I was over-qualified, or I need to upgrade my skill set and re-apply later. I then tried to get a part-time job in the retail or service industry.
Reason Number Five: Non-professional jobs don’t pay enough or aren’t flexible; or don’t pay enough and aren’t flexible.
I applied for a number of positions at various retail stores, restaurants, and different service industries. I needed part time employment, good pay, a somewhat flexible but regular schedule, and an understanding boss. I could only work 5 days a week, with flexibility on weekends. To save on childcare costs, I can only work from 9:00 AM-2:00 PM. If weekends and evenings were required, I would need to have enough advanced notice to find adequate care for my son (and enough pay to pay $15-20/hour for childcare). I would also need the flexibility to take off on a moment’s notice for doctor’s appointments, if my child were sick, or if my son’s one-to-one aide/therapist was sick. Most part time retail jobs do not have that flexibility. I did eventually get a job with flexibility, but it was a good distance away, I was limited in that I could only work two hours a day, and the pay was barely minimum wage. I was paying more for gas than I was taking in.
Many stay at home moms, particularly stay at home moms who are military spouses, face the same obstacles to employment that I have. While many spouses want to stay at home, and see it as their life’s work to be a mother, I am not that mom: I want to go back to work. I struggle now as an unemployed spouse, because my children are in school, and I have no reason to be at home. Many employers are hesitant to hire military spouses, because we move a lot and often our work experience is disjointed and incomplete at best. Additionally, for me, I feel pressure to return to the work force from friends, family, and even my own spouse. My husband can be incredibly supportive of my being at home, but sometimes he is not and he makes me feel guilty for not contributing more. At the end of the day, I would like to say I contributed financially to our family, and lessened the burden on my husband.
Lately, I have accepted the fact that I will probably never be employed again. My son is more severely autistic than we first suspected, and will need continuing care as he gets older. I have resigned myself to that, and now I focus on non-employment and non-monetary goals. I wrote my first novel and am working on my second. I have taken a lot of continuing education classes particularly in the fitness industry, and have used my experience losing weight to help others. I have run 10 marathons. I am planning a trip to France with my daughter and mother in the near future, and have decided to take the French Language Rosetta Stone. I have raised $70,000 for children and adults on the autism spectrum. For the moment, the answer to “Why don’t you have a real job?” is: I don’t want one.