“Great Jobs For Military Spouses” include running errands, making gift baskets and, um, babysitting. I did not know that until Melba Newsome, a copywriter for Care.com, dared to suggest those professions in a story carried by a small newspaper in a military town.
The story went viral among military spouses. Not because Melba’s suggestions were particularly evil. If you need to add a couple hundred extra bucks to your family’s budget and you don’t want to put your kids in daycare, her “great” jobs might help. A little.
Melba’s mistake was the same one Michelle Obama made with the call center jobs. It’s the same one the MyCAA people made. They crossed the line of what military spouses expect for themselves when it comes to career. And got scorched.
Why are smart people so stupid about military spouses and employment? Easy. It’s the numbers. These professionals look at bald statistics and assume there are only two kinds of military spouses — enlisted and officer.
Enlisted spouses easily make up 80% of all military spouses. So surely only officer spouses have college degrees (wrong). Surely all enlisted spouses are so desperate for money that any low paying, low morale job is good enough for them (wrong). Surely those few officer spouses with degrees will whine for a couple of years and then give up and have a baby (wrong, wrong, and WRONG).
People who genuinely want to help military spouses find employment need to know our expectations about work have little to do with whether or not we married officer or enlisted. We love whom we love.
Instead, sociologists say that our career expectations were formed long before we married. We got messages from our parents about what kind of work and formal education we ought to expect (Those are your college dollars, Honey). We got messages from our school performance about what kind of careers would be available to us (e.g. I knew by sixth grade math I would not be an engineer, an accountant or be allowed to count my register without a supervisor).
Those expectations don’t fall along enlisted and officer lines. As Melba herself notes in her story, 84% of military spouses have some college. Nearly a third of all military spouses have a bachelor’s or graduate degree. So when programs, reports and news stories imply that a low-pay, low-status job is all that a military spouse can expect alarms sound:
- How am I supposed to pay off $40,000 in student loans selling gift baskets?
- How will any of those jobs cover the cost of child care?
- I did not write a 275 page dissertation so that I could deliver potato salad!
We military spouses don’t expect the government to tuck us up under satin sheets with a hot water bottle at our feet. We do not expect to have someone hold our hands while we cwoss the dangewous stweet to our interviews. Instead we military spouses expect to make some compromises in order to build a life with a military member. And we expect the government, our program providers and the rest of the world to expect our career aspirations to be as high as what we expect for ourselves.
Note: we did try to contact Care.com for a comment on just what they were thinking when they published this story. Surely they must’ve had a perfectly reasonable thought pattern behind this list? But we will never know — because they did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
We received the following this afternoon from Katie Bugbee, managing editor of Care.com as a reply to our earlier requests for comment on their story. Here’s what she said:
As the Managing Editor at Care.com, I want to express my sincere apology for upsetting a community I hold in highest regard. My mother-in-law was a military spouse for over 20 years, and she is truly one of the most resourceful and smartest women I know, running numerous small businesses while raising two boys. We at Care.com support military spouses, members and families and understand there is meaningfulness in all the varied occupations held in different locations and across our work life. From care-related positions to small business and corporate jobs, from the medical field to customer service, we value all diversity of military spouses and how they engage in the workforce. And we appreciate there is great diversity of job and career aspirations across military communities and for individual spouses. This particular article focused on a few job opportunities, but there are also many, many others unnamed here that speak to the professional strengths, skills, experiences and education of military spouses. Some may turn these jobs into their own small businesses, while others currently have or hold aspirations that include careers in any number of professional fields. This article was presenting a short list of jobs, taking into account the potential of frequent moves, transitions and potential scarcity of job opportunity in various locations, with the intent of providing ideas that could be of interest to our readers visiting the Care.com website.
Thank you as well, for giving us the opportunity to respond to the article. With everything happening over the weekend, we are getting in touch as soon as possible.