If you were blissfully unaware of the crazy drama that happened on a new, yet wildly popular Facebook page created over the weekend of February 6, you saved yourself some confusion. But you also won’t be able to gather some really important takeaways from the situation.
First, here’s what happened: A young military spouse, who I’m going to call Stephanie, with a robust career who has been married just over two years and only ever been stationed in the D.C. area felt lonely. Her full-time job keeps her from attending any spouse events during the day. She’s very connected with many groups, including the MOAA currently-serving spouse council and a Navy Spouses Club in D.C., but she felt a void. She didn’t know many other spouses with careers. She wanted support. She wanted to feel like she wasn’t alone.
So she started a Facebook group for career military spouses. It exploded — almost 1,000 members in just a few days — and then imploded. Two things that don’t seem related but actually are rapidly became clear:
First, Stephanie, and plenty of others like her who joined the page, didn’t know about the glut of employment resources already available for career-minded spouses that you are familiar with if you read SpouseBuzz.
Second, despite their depth of knowledge and experience, retiree spouses were not wanted in the group. Stephanie said she wanted to keep the group active-duty only, in large part so it would remain relevant to current spouses.
Enter: high drama, the kind only social media can bring. The retiree spouses in the group, many of whom are the networking powerhouses of the military spouse world (like the just-retired deputy director of government relations for a major military spouse advocacy organization and longtime members of the Blue Star Families team), were baffled, as was I.
Why would you purposefully exclude the only people who can really, truly help you? Not only have these people been there and conquered the mountain, many of them are the reason anyone goes up the mountain at all. You don’t just not kick them out, you know to grovel a little and bow to their expertise.
And how could people NOT know about the literal cascade of military spouse career support offered by the Defense Department and private organizations? Is it really possible to be a young, eager, intelligent, interested, active military spouse and still be totally out of touch?
The answer is “yes.” And here’s the things we can learn from all of this.
1. There really are still places where smart people don’t know about resources. I talked to Stephanie on the phone for about an hour this week, trying to get a grip on what happened — and what we can take away from it. One thing was very clear: she isn’t anything near stupid. If any young spouse is going to be connected with resources, it’s her. But until people in that group told her about what she was missing, she had no idea it existed.
Why? Because getting information out is hard, especially in a disconnected military metropolis like the Washington, D.C. area. Few real spouses live in D.C. Sure, it’s where everything is created and it’s where many of the programs are run. But the spouse community there is very disconnected. And the problems we see with involvement with in-person groups are exacerbated as the folks who are very involved aren’t just retirees, they are people who retired a really, really long time ago. They don’t know about the resources, either.
2. The young are, well, young. Two things are important to know about this, especially for those of us who have been in the spouse community for more than a few years. First, a friend reminded me yesterday that studies show that many new military spouses with careers don’t start identifying strongly with the military community until the third move, when things start to get really, really hard with their career. That rang true with me. Although I was involved in the spouse community, if I’m honest about it I can say that I felt like I was doing it a favor — not the other way around — until we arrived at our third duty station. Maturity and desperation kicked in, and I realized that volunteering and involvement were just as much about them helping me as they were about me helping them. I started asking the right questions, learning about the right resources and listening to how others could help — not unintentionally preaching about how my “vast” (ahem) wisdom could assist them.
Which brings us to what one friend wisely called “the hubris of youth.” You can be brilliant and motivated — but still not see that you are missing out on something huge because you aren’t listening. You think you are listening, because you put a high value on the camaraderie of others experiencing the problems with you. There’s no replacement for the maturity gained simply through the time and experience on God’s good green earth during which you learn that every single person you encounter has something valuable to add to you life. In retrospect I am so grateful for the people who put up with me back when I knew everything and only needed people who were experiencing the current struggle. I’m glad they didn’t leave me to my own crazy, because I wouldn’t be here today.
3. The wise know when to call it — but also when to try again. When it became clear that the retiree or former spouses in the group were not really wanted there, an outcry ensued. Stephanie and a few other newly minted admins decided that they could stay on, but as “mentors.” That sounded pretty condescending to people who felt like they had just been put out to pasture by someone despite being the only group that had the experience — and extensive connections — to really help. In the spirit of inclusion, they started a new group for everyone who wanted to be there, regardless of their current or former military affiliation. Those who had not yet been booted from the original group removed themselves. Threads were started wondering what the heck Stephanie was thinking by at least insinuating that these no-longer active duty spouses were too old and out of touch to be of use.
During my conversation with her one thing rapidly became clear: she just didn’t understand who it was she was kicking to the curb. She thought she was keeping her newly-minted community on track, not derailing it.
One of the benefits, though, of the time and maturity held by the wise is that they have already made their mistakes, probably not terribly unlike this one. The difference, however, is that for most, those mistakes were made in a much more private way, before social media made all of our blunders seem so much larger as they are broadcast to all of creation. Stephanie was not so lucky.
The older people also know what it’s like to watch someone make mistakes, while being willing to forgive and step in when needed. We often say the military spouse community is like a family. Parents know that sometimes you just have to step aside and watch your kid fall, but it’s the only way he is going to learn. And when that mistake is over you forgive, forget and move forward side-by-side — because it’s what families do.
And with that I leave you with these, the lessons from this drama: sometimes the young have to make mistakes to learn what they need and what questions to ask. But the mature must also remember that they were young once, too — and their role is to wait with grace and forgiveness for the time the young realize that they need them after all.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tim Green via the Creative Commons license.