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Just the Two of Us: Child-Free Couples and Military Culture

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I still remember the first Family Readiness Group dinner that I attended after getting engaged to my husband.  Most of the women in attendance were either pregnant, shepherding fairly young children, or both, and I barely lasted five minutes before a complete stranger hit me with the apparently inevitable (and apparently actually well-intended) question:  ”So, when are y’all going to have babies?”

When I answered politely, “Actually, we’re not,” there was not so much as a cricket chirping in that room.  Fortunately, the friend who had dragged me along quickly rescued me by asking one of the pilots’ wives something about her husband, and I escaped to awkwardly focus on the dinner menu.

I really wanted to be involved and connected; I wanted to get to know these women who were theoretically experiencing the same unusual circumstances that I was experiencing, make friends, and enjoy being part of a mutual support network.  Over the following weeks, I tactfully endured far too much conversation about poop and spit-up, and I tried to be discreet about rolling my eyes at yet another pile of kid-centric arts-and-crafts projects in the weekly e-mail newsletter (which I quickly began to ignore entirely).  I began to wonder if I was just a demographic misfit, so I did some research.

About a third of active-duty couples (including dual-military couples) have no children (according to Demographics 2009: Profile of the Military Community).  Surprisingly, given the popular perception of military culture as more conservative than average, this is actually a higher rate of childlessness than in the civilian population, where 19.4% of all women ages 15-44 who have ever been married have no children (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey).  Couples with no children remain a minority, but they represent a much larger minority in the military than in the civilian community.  31.2% is a demographic minority to be reckoned with.

Despite these shifting demographics, the culture surrounding military spouses remains focused on children in ways that often make non-parent spouses feel excluded.  During my husband’s last deployment, I noticed that most Family Readiness Group activities seemed to be overwhelmingly either for or about children; several other child-free spouses, including some I know personally and some whose blogs I follow, have made the same observation.  The feeling most of us are left with is that without children, we do not count and most FRGs are not interested in including us, supporting us, or offering us relevant, interesting activities.  Especially in the middle of a deployment, this can leave non-parent spouses feeling isolated when they most need involvement and support- and when the other spouses in the unit can most benefit from their involvement and support.

Counting single service members (including the 5.3 percent of the total active-duty force who are single parents), 17.5% of the active-duty military still consists of married soldiers with no children.  That makes married service members without children a smaller minority than female active-duty service members, who make up 14.3% of the active-duty force.  Commendably, military-wide efforts have been made in the last few decades to integrate female service members into the military, involve them in the military community, and make them feel like welcome members of the organization.  Unfortunately, the military has yet to motivate or equip its Family Readiness programs to make a similar effort on behalf of an even larger minority in the military- married service members without children.

If any branch of the U.S. military wants a more cohesive force supported by active, engaged Family Readiness programs, those programs need to welcome, include, and provide relevant activities and information to all families regardless of size.  Children and parenting concerns cannot and should not be overlooked, but programs and activities can and should be added to address topics relevant to all military spouses.  Examples could include scheduling more adult-only social gatherings, outings, or activities; workshops or seminars on topics like employment, educational benefits, or mental health issues faced by service members; or even programs designed specifically to address the needs and interests of couples without children.

The culture and attitudes of the military and its associated social circles have to catch up with demographic realities.  As a society, we are past the period when all marriages must produce children and all women must want babies.  The decision to raise children is an admirable and rewarding one, but it is not the only admirable or rewarding decision a person or a couple can make.  A culture which acknowledges and respects that will lead to stronger families, stronger friendships, and a stronger military.

Comments

  1. Katelyn

    October 31, 2011

    This is a great article and we agree with you, I am the founder of DINKlife.com (the site for dual income no kids couples) and we have seen a lot of interest from military couples who don’t want kids yet. Glad to see that others feel the same way our military members do.

    • Kiona Strickland

      October 31, 2011

      Thanks for sharing that link; I’ll check that out and then post it over in the “Child-Free Military Couples Group” here also.

  2. Phoena

    March 21, 2012

    Good article. I had similar experiences and stopped getting involved on FRGs altogether. What a waste of time and energy! During my husband’s first deployment the FRG leader outright told me it wasn’t for women without kids and acted offended that I even asked to join. By his second deployment they had to be politically correct and didn’t tell me to get-the-fuck-out but I realized quickly they would do nothing that would include me – it was basically just play dates. After that, I refused to even inquire about the FRGs.

    Sadly, I don’t see them changing anything though. Its terribly difficult to get military folks today involved in anything unless its about the kids and, preferably, free. If they did plan activities for just grown ups, they wouldn’t get enough participation, just an avalanche of complaints about not including kids.

    It’s been agony trying to make friends in military communities; mostly my husband and I just had to get used to not having other friends or couples to socialize with.

  3. Lucy

    January 2, 2013

    LOVE this article!! I’ve been an Army wife for 7.5 years and have endured 4 deployments with my husband and we are child-free. My very first FRG meeting I was asked how many kids I had…when I responded “none”, I was asked how old I was. I responded with “22″ and I got an “ooohh” by 2 other wives then they turned around and started talking to someone else. Since then I have only gone to 2 other meetings and they were deployment ones letting me know when my husband was coming home. I don’t even read the e-mails I get from FRG because they are all centered around families with kids. It’s hard enough making friends in the military since everyone moves every few years but add to it that you’re almost 30 and child-free and you don’t like going to “play groups”…..GOOD LUCK! My husband and I just stick to ourselves now!