Be Prepared: Don't Quit Your Day Job

woman looking up from paper
(Charles Clark/DVIDS)

Lately, I've been working on a project compiling a list of all the active military spouse blogs on the internet. What this means is that I've spent many hours looking at blogs.

Hundreds and hundreds of blogs.

For the most part, it's great seeing and reading what military spouses all around the world are posting. But dozens of the URLs I've clicked on, many for blogs whose very names were about the writer being in love with someone in the military, had final posts that said something like this: "I won't be posting here anymore because we've decided to get divorced."

So, trigger warning: This column is about divorce.

Having written online about marriage for nearly a decade, I know that some of you are going to hate what I have to say. I know that many of you will think, That could never happen to me.

And then you will mentally scroll through all the reasons why you think it could never happen to you. And that's absolutely fine. In fact, that's great.

It would be horrible if you thought it could happen to you. If your marriage is strong, you're happy, your spouse seems happy and life seems good, you shouldn't be sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But ...

Between one-third and one-half of all American marriages will end in divorce. The divorce rate is roughly the same for military couples, by the way, which is an encouraging improvement from a few years ago.

Still, that means that one-third or more of the Must-Have Parents reading this column, who have made a choice to take on a larger share of parenting responsibilities in order to support their spouse's demanding career, will not stay married to that spouse.

And that means that one-third to one-half of the people reading this column will have to support their own household after months or years of putting their career on pause.

People get divorced for all kinds of reasons -- and sometimes those reasons are very good ones. I'm not going to opine on divorce here, but I will opine on preparedness.

When we talk about the so-called wage gap in America -- how American women typically earn less than men doing the same job -- a frequently cited reason for the gap is that women are more likely to accept less demanding jobs or to step off the career path entirely in order to raise children.

And it's not just women. Studies in Norway (where paternity leave is common) have shown that men who take just four months off from work in order to spend time with an infant see their earnings drop for at least the next five years.

Becoming an MHP puts you in a vulnerable earning and career development position. There's just no way around that. Your former peers will be advancing while you are parenting. For many reading this, people who don't plan on ever being the primary wage earner in their home again, that may not matter.

But life doesn't always, or even often, happen according to plan.

So, while you're MHPing, look for freelance opportunities in your field. Not only will these earn you some money and help you stay current, but they’ll also give you something to put on your resume.

If yours is not a field where freelancing is possible, look for volunteer opportunities in your field.

That last part is vital. Volunteering is great. Volunteering is awesome. Volunteers make the world a much better place. But you aren't likely to reap much personal benefit (aside from feeling great about your efforts) if you aren't doing volunteer work that is related to your career field.

Volunteering in your field, however, will expose you to current trends and developments, and you'll get networking opportunities with people who may someday hire you, refer you, or write a reference for you.

To put an even finer point on it, it's wonderful to help out at your kids' school, but that volunteer experience is likely to help you land a job only if your desired job is in education.

It's great to volunteer at your church, or to pick up litter, or feed the homeless -- and please, continue doing all of those things -- but if those specific areas aren't related to a field you want to work in, you should carve out additional time to donate to causes related to your profession.

It's important for everyone to have options.

If your MHP status means that you've left the full-time workforce, it's important -- essential even -- for you to stay connected to what is happening in your field.

Technology changes fast. If you aren't up to speed on the current software and developments, you'll find it extremely difficult to jump back into work when you want or need to work again.

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