I Blame the Family Readiness Group

I Blame the Family Readiness Group http://wp.me/p1d7d0-7TI

When I go to the Family Readiness Group and no one even says hello to me — I blame the FRG.

When the events are all held during the day or only held at night — I blame the FRG.

When everyone is already in a clique and they have nothing to say to me because I don’t have a baby/work full-time/don’t work at all/look too young/look too old/look like an enlisted wife/look like an officer’s wife/look gay/look straight, I blame the FRG.

These days, when I hear these kinds of complaints from military wives and military husbands, I just cringe. Because when I am the complainer, I feel totally justified.

When I am the one fielding the complaints, I suddenly realize that I was probably wrong all along.

Maybe my heart is three sizes too small.

Hearing these kinds of complaints makes me wonder if any of us ever consider that the problem might not rest with the Family Readiness Group or the Family Support Group or whatever kind of family group you are trying to attend.

Maybe the problem is that it is hard for adults to join groups. It is hard for adults to make new friends. Maybe we even have to try more than once.

Let’s face it: Americans are not as good at being part of groups as they used to be. It isn’t just the FRG or the unit picnic that people don’t attend. We don’t attend as many church groups. We don’t belong to the PTA. Memberships in professional organizations is way, way off.

Mind you, this is not the beginning of a diatribe against Facebook. Declining participation in groups was famously pointed out in 2000 in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone — published four years before Facebook was founded.

Americans not very skilled at joining groups.

This is about the fact that joining a group is a skill set most Americans don’t use any more.

Yet military spouses move every 2.5 years. We give up our groups. We give up our friends. Those young adult friends you made on your first job you left behind in Ohio. The moms in your baby group still get together in Alaska. The parents you sat next to during soccer games are still sitting on the bleachers in California with their umbrellas unfurled against the pounding… sun.

This is one of the things that makes a good FRG so hard to do. The research shows that friendships are most easily made when you have a lot of low-stress, repeated encounters. Like in high school. Or in a college dorm. Or in the Kiss N Ride line. The older you get (and for this research ‘old’ can mean 23) the less frequently these friend-making opportunities occur. The less practice we have with them. The more likely it is that we will take offense and blame the FRG.

Cut me some slack, Family Readiness Group buddies!

So, yeah, I’m out of practice with groups. And I bet you are, too. So give me a break when I seem to be blaming you (because it is so much easier than blaming me). Just post someone at the door of the FRG meeting whose job it is to say hello to everyone who walks in. Welcome newcomers and almost-newcomers and congratulate them on their bravery. Serve cake. Because I like cake.

And I’ll promise not to blame you anymore. I’ll give you a second try and a third and a fourth until I get settled in this new place, too.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Dave Etter

    Myself, I like pie… Just sayin.

    • jacey_eckhart

      Now Dave Etter, this girl can make a mean peach pie! But if you have pie, you gotta have ice cream, too. Just sayin’.

  • ken

    I can only give you a soldiers perspective of bringing in new soldiers in to the unit. We always welcomed the new soldier publically and provided a sponsor to show him/her around post and at work. Saying hello is just as important as saying thank you, if you get my drift.

  • Rquick

    This was awesome. I get so sick of the FRG complainers and whiners. Theyre not built in baby sitters (unless someone offers) ATMs, marriage counselors, etc. Theyre volunteers and not perfect 100% of the time.

  • bjacobs

    I hate when someone walks in, sits in the furthest chair possible and then starts playing with their damn phone. Well if you are going to have your phone out I am not even going to make an effort to say “hello” and I am one of the friendliest people out there! I have no problem going to anything and have no issue being new. People need to understand that while they are the new person yes it should be the FRG’s mission to welcome them in if they are sitting with their arms and legs crossed and playing with their phone it gives the impression that they do not want to be bothered. Are you there to tweet or to meet new people? You can’t do both no matter how much you would like to think you can. These are the people who stay for 30 minutes and then leave complaining that they were not welcomed, I have seen it happen at least three times over the last few years

    • guest

      Maybe they have an anxiety disorder. Maybe they are autistic and the phone is comforting. Maybe, just maybe, you should check the judgment at the door.

      • jojo613

        As someone who has autism, I don’t bring my phone to social events, because I think pulling out the phone in uncomfortable situations is rude. If I don’t want to an FRG/Spouse group meeting, because I’m experiencing symptoms of my autism, I won’t go. The last time we had a spousal group, I was in the middle of a social hangover (Google it), I sucked it up and went. Phone not needed.

        I agree with bjacobs– real people are far more interesting than those on the phone. Candy Crush can wait.

        • guest

          Good for you. As someone who is autistic and has an anxiety disorder, I need the comfort of knowing I can take a step back if I am overwhelmed. And I don’t play games on my phone.

          • jojo613

            Then don’t go. It’s not required.

          • guest

            Wow, isn’t that a bit judgmental. As you yourself has stated numerous times jojo, there are many different forms of autism, and people handle it differently. If she WANTS to go, but doesn’t feel comfortable and would like a safety net, what skin is it off of your back? Maybe she just wants to go for the information and doesn’t really have a desire to interact with the other spouses?

            See you, you’re the O-5’s wife, technically top of the food chain, no one is going to give you a hard time about going or not going, no one is going to say something mean to you or be snotty because they can. That’s not the case for most of the women on these boards, especially the younger spouses that haven’t learned what is and is not acceptable. So before you judge, put yourself in their shoes.

            I’m an avid phone checker, my phone is tied to me 24-7, I check it every 20 minutes at least. Why? because it is a requirement of my JOB, which frankly I think is a lot more important then worrying about what an overly judgmental person may find “rude”. JOB is more important then people I barely know, that I have very little in common with, and that don’t have any influence on paying my bills.

          • guest 2

            “See you…” omgosh yes guest. no one’s going to say anything to the top of the food chain, but those of us on the bottom are subject to a lot more…

    • Jamw

      If someone is sitting arms crossed it is sign that they are uncomfortable. A phone is a good place to ‘hide’. This is when someone needs and should walk over and say hello and introduce themselves.

  • Lori

    Pie? Cake? I will be there. If you serve food, they will come.

  • Navy Wife

    Clicks and more clicks, bullying, spouses bossing others around because of their husbands rank. If you disagree with anything, you are told to stop rocking the boat. Spouses talking about their private sex lives and more. Very, very bad experience with the last FRG group I was involved with. Never again! I will make friends another way!

    • Jamw

      It’s not about just making friends. It is about having a support group for when trouble arises when your spouse is not available. Calling an organization who will hopefully have empathy and understanding about what your going through. There are good FRGs and bad ones. But it’s their true purpose that is important.

  • Navy Wife

    That is hardly true. Any kind of group “can” be cliquey. It’s human nature. They stick to “like” people and more often than not, when their group is well formed and comfortable, they tend to not be willing to let others in very easily. As someone who has been around the military since the early 80’s, the awkwardness, the complaints and the “blaming of the FRG” isn’t anything new by any means. Common sense would actually tell you that when say….only a handful of the same spouses attend FRG meetings for an enormous command and everyone else complains that they’ve been multiple times and people were rude, unhelpful or just downright unfriendly then it MIGHT just be a problem with the FRG and not each and every individual that has a complaint about it.

    But hey! Let’s put the blame on everyone else. It’s easier to tell people to stop complaining instead of you know…fixing the issues at hand. ;)

  • Jill Stiles

    As the new commander’s wife, I got handed the FRG leader role just about three weeks before deployment. Since most of the “staff” followed the old one, who quit without warning, they followed her lead. However, because I was open and honest with all 200+ spouses, my team was amazing! And they told me that those were the reasons why they helped me. I cared for them, and it showed.

  • JessR

    There IS NO FRG group at the command we are currently PCSing from. I know, I know…it’s my job to start one. But as a brand new military spouse at my first duty station ever, with a spouse on one-year orders, I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I’d have definitely participated if one existed, though.

  • renee68

    As far as FRGs go, you have good and you have bad. You have ones that will welcome you with open arms and those that won’t but the bottom line is that an FRG is not a social group, it is a command program run by the commander with it’s leader often being his/her/their spouse or in the alternative another key leaders spouse. It is a point of contact to give out and decimate official information about the commings and goings of the unit. It is there to provide READINESS to those within the group…. families, friends, single soldiers, anyone who wants to sort the unit. It is not a social group. If you want a social group then form an unit coffee group.

    DawnI did not allow this petty bs to go on in my FRG because it kept the real mission from being accomplish.

    This is a military driven group and those in it would do themselves well to remember that. It’s not like the old family support groups when spouses ran them, this is a COMMAND program from the top down. So check yourselves at the door including your rights to discriminate against others. We are all the same, we all bleed red, none of us wear rank in that room.

    FRGs are only as strong as the weakest member and that will be the one who feels left out. Don’t be the person to make them feel left out.

  • M Meier

    Maybe it IS the FRG. My husband was in 3 units in Virginia over a span of 14 years, and only one group encouraged me to really participate – I was one of the phone tree callers/e-mailers and the treasurer until my husband was transferred to a different unit. But all three of the FRGs had abysmal participation overall. Here in Puerto Rico, I have contacted the FRG leader twice, when we first got here and about 6 months later, wanting to become involved. Because I don’t speak Spanish and because my husband works mainly with Army Reservists (he is AD), I am apparently not wanted. So I will not attend or get involved here. I have only the FRG to blame.

  • Remember it…

    Good points made in defense of FRG’s: (1) They are a “readiness” group, not the all-purpose social, baby-sitting, counseling, money-lending, repair-it group that many think it should be. Yes, find those who share common interests and make a lunch date outside of meeting time. (2) Try to put your best foot forward too, your focus in a smart-phone is a signal to “leave me alone.” (3) Listen, and try to reach out. I was new to a base with a new baby and no family members around. I really hoped to find some “helps” but I reached out first. I found out an FRG member had emergency surgery; she and her family needed a hand. So, I made a few casseroles, looked up the address, and introduced myself w/ some help FIRST.

  • Cindy

    Reading this thread reminds me of a book I finished last month. It’s call ed True Confessions of an Army wife. I’ll post the link at the end of my post. It’s fiction but it’s a series based on an Army FRG group. It’s so realistic that the author has to have been associated with an FRG at some point in her life. You all should definitely read it, it hits very close to home!

  • Dani

    Sorry but I gave up on the FRG when I(along with several other junior enlisted spouses ) were told of/invited to events where bodies were needed (like a bbq where we were there to serve food or an officer’s wife needed help during a difficult pregnancy, was on bedrest and needed housework done) but not told of anything fun or social in nature until the last minute(read: We really don’t want you there and want to make it hard for you to attend).

  • Dani

    Oh and nothing annoyed me more than to see a 21 year old LT’s wife trying to tell us seasoned wives how the show is run…lol…yep, that went over well