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Anchored. is MFLN Family Development’s [https://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/family-development/] NEW podcast created to support and inspire those connected to military families. Each episode focuses on real life struggles and topic areas that many families encounter. We invite you to sit back, relax and get Anchored. with us!
Tabitha McCoy earned her Master of Science degree in Marriage & Family Therapy at Valdosta State University. She is currently the Clinic Manager of FamilyWorks Therapy Clinic, a student run clinic housed in the Marriage & Family Therapy Department at VSU. During the course of her career she has worked with individuals and families who suffered from a diverse range of issues, including family issues related to trauma, family violence, and grief. In addition to offering individual and family therapy she also developed and implemented a children’s divorce group as well as a children’s grief group and served as co-facilitator for the sexual assault support group at FamilyWorks Therapy Clinic. Tabitha has also held clinical internship positions at both a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility where she worked directly with inpatient residents throughout their rehabilitation journey, as well as a local elementary school where she worked in collaboration with other mental health professionals offering services to school aged children. Tabitha has a particular interest and passion working with Military personnel and their families and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Marriage & Family Therapy with a concentration in working with Military Families.
Reg McCutcheon is a retired Lt Col from the US Air Force, a combat veteran and Bronze Star recipient. Reg has served in many capacities in his career to include squadron commander, chief of operations training, NATO senior planner, combat crew commander and regional director of admissions at the USAF Academy. Reg is currently a student in the Valdosta State University Marriage and Family Therapy program.
There was a lot of preparation and conversations that went into this decision (of him enlisting in the army) for us as a family, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with feeling kind of seamless for me and feeling as though I was supported in many ways.
My life adjusted in a very big way. It was the first time I had been away from home… learning to be on my own, learning what it was like to be on a military installation… there is a process for everything you do. Learning to be by myself and more self- sufficient… I think you learn how to be more independent a lot quicker.
Really, the relationships that I built from the Family Readiness Group really helped me a lot… especially when he was gone… Truly, it’s about relationship building and being open to new relationships.
I developed a lot of good relationships with other wives, so we would have playdates for our kids and get together on holidays. The connection piece is the biggest piece that I could offer to any military spouse… It truly anchors you and gives you the sense of belonging.
The daily routines don’t stop just because daddy is gone
The military hasn’t always been the ideal place for marriage. There is the old saying, “if we had wanted you to have a wife, we would’ve issued you one”.
It was always a trade-off. I’ve got to go, you have to handle this here…. Gone for 3 or 4 weeks at a time. Ultimately, mission came first because it’s about national defense, the defense of our country and the things we hold very high in our country.
There’s this honeymoon phase where you are super excited (that your spouse has returned from deployment). They have this big homecoming. It’s just this amazing moment that takes place because you haven’t seen them for so long. The kids were a year and a half old when he came back from the first deployment. The kids and I had our own routines that worked for us because it was just us. My Mother In Law was there a lot during his first deployment. She left and he came home. It was a totally different dynamic. It’s just a lot of work to get back in a routine. It just takes time and a lot of patience… Sometimes the patience isn’t always there.
We ended up being stronger. I became a more devoted wife and he became a more devoted husband in the long run. I think in the big picture, it actually helped us become a better couple. You learn to problem solve. Either you’re going make it work or you’re not. It’s hard. It’s extremely hard work.
My ideas of marriage have changed a lot since he passed away, but a lot of the things are still the same. I still believe in having someone to share a life with. I don’t think I am as petty as I once was… it really opened my eyes up. It matured me. I became very mature in a lot of ways 23 year olds don’t have to be…. Simply because of what I experienced.
Ultimately, when they say goodbye to their spouse to go to that theater, that’s not the person that comes back. Things change. It’s a bell that can’t be un-rung in a family because after the exposure, after the experiences, it’s hectic, it’s chaotic, it’s dangerous and you live in that daily.
Those men and women are not ever going to be the same. They have an exposure that they have never seen before. It’s one thing to talk about an experience until you’ve lived in it. When you’ve lived in it, your whole world changes.
Communication was not good. I don’t know how it is now, but then, it was not great… him being so far away and in a place that is so very dangerous, then that only adds to what I worry about. Essentially, we both have these tasks at hand that we have to take care of- me with the kids and the house at home and then him with his fellow soldiers and service members overseas… and you’re constantly having to ward off these horrible ideas and worrying, worrying, worrying.
He was injured and then he got sent back stateside. In my mind, in my heart, in my body, everything was just total chaos. But, because of my kids, I couldn’t be like that on the outside…. The bills still come, you have to come back to reality. I know that sounds minute in the scheme of what was going on, but you have to include those everyday life things in the chaos.
I was 23 when he passed away. I got very cynical. You have these fairytale ideas that you’ll be together forever. And you didn’t realize that you’re forever would be 50 or 60 years down the road. Everything you ever thought about life and a world and being with someone shatters. And, you have to decide if you want to pick up the pieces and try again and think about it differently or leave them on the floor.
The unknown of what is going on in the world… 9/11 changed us dramatically. It just changed the whole shape and dynamic of war and how vulnerable we are. It truly changed our dynamic a bit.
It’s being able to catch yourself. You lose perspective of the moment you’re in, the people you’re with, and the risk you are putting them in.
In the mental health field, we have this idea of cultural competency… there is also a culture in the military. There is a unique aspect that I don’t think civilian families have to deal with. To be knowledgeable in that is the biggest piece of advice I can give.
For therapists, the thought I have is that you can’t be there soon enough and you won’t be able to stay long enough. It’s just the way it is. But you can make enough difference that it might be just enough. Because it just takes some thought, some existential moment, some phrase, some way that’s going to flip the switch and change it.
We can teach mindfulness in some way… We can teach them that the path home is different from the path going out. But, it’s a long process.
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Please join us so that you can respond to today’s question of:
- Married to the Military Part 1 - In talking with Tabitha today, she emphasized the support received from the family readiness program and other military spouses. In your experience with military families, what have you found to be most helpful for them during their time in the military?
- Married to the Military Part 2 - Reg talked a lot about the balancing act between his obligations to the military and to his family, what have you found most helpful for the military families you’ve worked with?