Over the years, outstanding military spouses have been a source of strength and inspiration to me and my family through the ups and downs of military life. I have made it my mission to share these exceptional human beings with you, along with the invaluable wisdom they have to offer. I believe our stories can make a difference in the lives of others, and it is my hope that you will be inspired by them, too.
Without further adieu, meet this month’s Resilient Military Spouse, Jen McDonald – an experienced editor and writer who’s been published in numerous national publications and several books. She’s the author of You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse, a book for military spouses born from nearly three decades of experience (read my review!). She’s currently the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising.Jen and her amazing Air Force husband have lived all over the world and are the parents of four grown children, including one who is also serving in the military. Find her at her site Jen McDonald: You Are Not Alone, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram as @jenmcdonald88.
Hi, Jen! Thank you so much for being open and willing to sharing your story with us! Will you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience as a military spouse?
Hello! Well, I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a while. 🙂 I’ve been married to my husband for 27 years (he’s served in the Air Force for 30 years), and we have four children who are now all grown. Our older two (sons) are both married, and our oldest son is serving in the Air Force himself. We have amazing daughters-in-law and I’ve found that being a mother-in-law is actually a really nice and lovely thing! It’s been fun watching our family expand and love multiply, and we just welcomed our first beautiful grandbaby this fall. Our younger two (daughters) are both college students who work part-time as well.
I did not grow up in the military world, so it was all foreign to me in so many ways. I won’t say the beginnings were easy, but I have grown into it as the years have gone by and now can’t imagine not being an active duty family as retirement looms ever closer!
What has been your favorite duty station and why?
Without sounding cliche, all of them! We’ve truly tried to embrace the experiences each one has offered. However, if you pressed me on this, I would have to admit that Hawaii holds a special place in our hearts.
What has it been like raising children in military life?
Challenging but rewarding. Military kids go through so many hardships at a young age, but I think what you focus on as a family will be what makes the difference. Deployments and moves were difficult, but we really tried to focus on the positive like visiting new places, opportunities, and homecomings. They don’t know any other life and the older they’ve gotten, the more they’ve appreciated the experiences and travels they’ve had. It was very gratifying when our oldest chose to also join the Air Force. One of his comments was that it was the life he knew and the people he knew, and he wanted to get back into that world. Military kids are my heroes. They didn’t ask for this life or get to choose, yet they are so amazingly resilient and positive.
How do you overcome the challenges of military life every day? Do any specific habits or daily rituals help you?
Oh, goodness. Well, each assignment has been so different and our military life now spans decades.There are some locations where I’ve had loads of connections and amazing friends and others were it just didn’t ever seem to ‘click,’ for whatever reason. For a long time, I felt like it was something I had to do to fix or it was some flaw within myself that was making a specific location difficult. I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that sometimes it’s not going to get better in that regard, and I may never know the reason why. Life is full of seasons and I’ve tried to remind myself when I’m in the midst of a hard season to hang in there and know that change is likely coming. The flip side of that is to be thankful in the really great seasons where I’ve tremendous support and a great community. It’s also helped me notice what others are going through and to be that hand reaching out when I can.
Since my faith informs the rest of my life, I do try to spend time each day reading Scripture and praying. Focusing on praying for others gets me outside myself and gives me new perspective. I’ve recently discovered a love of running over the past couple of years and trained for and completed both a 10K and half-marathon this past year. The time alone running and working on increasing my fitness has been a great thing for me! I really miss it right now as I’m dealing with an injury, but I hope to get back to it soon!
How do you communicate with your spouse while he is away?
Texting, phone calls, Facetime. In the times when he’s been deployed in more austere locations, we looked forward to a phone call each week. During those times, I also sent emails each day with news about what was going on back at home, almost like a running diary. I knew he wouldn’t be able to reply often, but that he could catch up on our lives when he had the time. We also leave each other handwritten notes, which seriously are the BEST!
How have you worked to strengthen your marriage over the years in the midst of stressful events like relocation and separations?
Keeping each other a priority, whether together or apart. Though I’m independent and have to be because he’s gone so often, I try my best to keep him informed and run big decisions past him so he has input, too. We make sure to ask what’s going on in each other’s lives. We’re each other’s best friend.
Speak well of each other. I cringe when I hear people talk badly about their spouses. If I wouldn’t say it in front of him, I won’t say it. I think the ‘do to others as you’d have them do to you’ applies here. How do I want to be treated? That’s how I try to treat him. We are not perfect, of course, but we try to be affirming and positive about each other.
Be each other’s biggest cheerleader. Knowing the person you’re married to is your biggest fan is invaluable. At the end of the day, the person whose opinion I’m most worried about is his.
Looking back, what has been the hardest part of military life for you and your family?
Years ago, I would’ve said all the moving. Now that we’ve had grown kids whom we’ve left behind for college, I would say having your grown children stay put when you PCS is THE hardest part. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult that would be! Of course, part of being a military brat is the independence and confidence they develop as a result, so they do just fine. It’s the parents that struggle!
What has been your favorite part? Feel free to share specific memories!
BY FAR, THE PEOPLE. Friends who’ve come to my side during hard times, like after my two miscarriages. Friends we’ve shared holidays with overseas when we were all far from extended family. Friends who really get this military life, who don’t need any explanations about why my husband is gone again, or question why I’m homesick for a place I only lived 2 years — those are what we’ll carry with us when our active duty time is over. We’ve made friends around the world who will be in our and our children’s lives forever.
Visiting locations I’d only read about when I was younger has been amazing. Walking through places like Paris while we lived in Germany or traveling to Australia from our assignment in Guam were surreal. I’ve often have to pinch myself and say, “Is this really your life?!”
What advice would you give to today’s young military spouses?
Embrace this military life. It can be so amazing! Don’t waste your time fighting against what you perceive as a bad assignment or other circumstance. You’ll end up squandering time and energy that would be better spent on adapting to where you are and enjoying new experiences.
Do you have a favorite motto, Bible verse, or inspirational quote, etc. that applies to your experience of life as a resilient military spouse?
One I’ve had as my “life verse” for many years, and have had on my wall is Proverbs 3:5,6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own
understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct
I don’t always know ahead of time or even understand in the moment why certain things happen, but God does. This is a reminder to me to do my part and trust God with the outcome.