Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone, and now military spouse and Babble blogger Jessie Knadler have joined the ranks of the mommy-shamed. And in a very painful, public way.
I’m not sure where I first saw Knadler’s Babble piece, “My Soldier is Leaving Me, Again: The Realities of Being an Army Wife,” but it didn’t take long for it to make its way again and again to my Facebook feed.
The social-media bashing was immediate, viral, and hateful.
I read the article twice and then glanced at the comments below. Generally, I don’t read comments beneath online articles. Ever since an anonymous poster called an article I had written about sequestration “a chicken little fluff piece,” I’ve made it a point to avoid scrolling through that particular wasteland. But Knadler’s post clearly hit a nerve among military spouses, and they were, quite colorfully, letting her know.
Within a day, Knadler’s post was called “BS,” “nonsense,” and “whiny.” The commenters repeatedly wrote about being embarrassed by her, saying her piece had somehow abated their own spouses’ deployments.
A lot of the anger was directed at Knadler’s misuse of the term “deployment” to describe her husband’s upcoming stint at Command and General Staff College (CGSC), located in Fort Leavenworth. She has since corrected her error. (Thank you, Jessie, for so humbly admitting your mistake. I commend you for that.)
Other commenters took issue with Knadler’s statement that Fort Leavenworth doesn’t sound like a place she wants live: it sounds “hot and humid and stark.” I disagree with her on this point. My husband served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, and we spent a year at CGSC. It’s a lovely base, and our time in Leavenworth was wonderful. We rented a charming house that was just a short walk from the local library and the quaint downtown shops, restaurants, and coffee houses. I was pregnant when we moved there, so I spent the majority of our first few months there wandering — okay, waddling — around the quiet, tree-lined streets. Having come off of two very long, stressful Operation Iraqi Freedom deployments, it was blissful to have my husband home each night.
But I can disagree with Knadler without having to tear her down in the process.
She’s a fellow military spouse sharing her point of view, and yet we’re treating her as though she’s advocating violence or worse. Agree with it, disagree with it. Write a thoughtful response, or say nothing. Share it with a friend, or keep it to yourself. But let’s not engage in vicious attacks in the comment section, often called the “deep, dark underbelly” of the Internet.
Only 1 percent of the population serves in the military; abandoning one another is simply not an option. There is pride in suffering, and there’s pride in knowing that as military spouses, we sort of kick ass. Just recently, a friend told me she thought I was “hard core” because I had a baby while my husband was in Iraq. I didn’t argue with her.
While these last years have been extraordinarily tough on military families, the one good thing that’s come out of this mess is a profound respect from the civilian community for what we have done and what we can do. But then along comes a spouse who pens a few hundred words about her decision not to accompany her spouse on a yearlong assignment, and instead of offering our support, we subject her to the digital equivalent of a public tar and feather.
Of course people will disagree with each other; in fact, thoughtful discourse can be powerful and productive. We don’t need to hold hands all the time and hug when the credits roll.
But we are at our best when we are not unraveling each other.
We should want to perpetuate the message that military spouses are a community of women and men with not only shared experiences but shared values.
Here’s the thing: we’ve all complained about our spouse being gone so much. And who hasn’t screwed up one of the million or so acronyms that constantly invade our conversations or opted out of mandatory fun or made a tough choice for our families?
A flight attendant friend of mine shared a valuable lesson she gleaned from years slinging peanuts in the friendly skies. I try to remember it when I’m, say, at the DMV or dealing with bureaucratic red tape or behind someone paying with a check at the drive-through window. Or when I disagree with a blog post.
“Not everyone is going on vacation.”
You never know what’s going on in someone’s life so let’s support, not shame. The more we stick together, the better chance we have of making it through the tough times.
Are you a military spouse who could use a little support? Blue Star Families is a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect, strengthen, and lead military families. Learn more at www.bluestarfam.org